Nicolas Bouliane

Calm tech Posted on

Some time ago, I fell in love with Amber Case’s concept of calm tech: technology that requires the smallest possible amount of attention.

Amber spoke of calm tech in the context of interaction design: calm technology can inform without overburdening, communicate without interrupting, and create ambient awareness through all senses. I fell in love with those principles; they shaped my design philosophy.

But an important aspect is missing: calm requires trust. If you can’t trust your device or software to be on your side, it’s not calm; it’s just silent.

Hostile technology

I suggest a different set of rules for calm tech:

  1. Only act in the user’s best interests
    1. Make recommendations that benefit the user, not third parties.
  2. Require as little attention as possible
    1. A person’s primary task should not be computing, but being human.
    2. Inform without overburdening.
  3. Be honest with the user
    1. Only use data in ways the user intends.
    2. Do not deceive, mislead or lie to the user.
  4. Keep the user in control
    1. Get active, informed consent, and respect the user’s decision.
    2. Let the user have the final say. Ask or suggest, but never demand.
    3. Do not hold data hostage.
  5. Operate safely without supervision
    1. Automated actions should respect the user’s intent.
    2. Errors should call for the user’s attention.