The One Thing That Stunts Creative Ideas (Like Google Glass)

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Synopsis

Could something small be the thing that stunts Google Glass true potential?

If you haven’t heard about Google Glass yet, I recommend you get an internet connection to that rock you’ve been dwelling under for the last few years. Glass is quite the creative little device and it’s features have been well publicized, and almost impossible to ignore.

The features could be of great benefit but as Glass goes on sale for the general public, one small thing could stunt it’s growth and may prove more challenging than one would expect. Yes, controlling Glass with head nods and swipes doesn't seem sustainable or even beneficial (unless you’re a Chiropractor looking for a new market), the bans in place could prove to be a nuisance, individuals have reported eye-strain and physical tiredness, and of course there’s the risk of being labeled a “Glass-Hole.” But these are likely to iron themselves out. What then, could possibly stand between Glass and massive market penetration? Aesthetics.

If you’ve seen this rare breed in public, you probably agree: People who wear Glass look ridiculous, reminiscent of a bad 1980s sci-fi drama. No one wants to look stupid even for something revolutionary and this tiny fact may be the one thing that stunts Glass’ true potential. The reason we have phrases such as "don't judge a book by it's cover" is because that's precisely what people do. Even eye-glasses suffered from a similar challenge for hundreds of years.

Eye correction apparatuses aren't new, crude forms have existed for quite sometime. Neil Handley, Curator of the British Optical Association Museum says that spectacles finally came about “in the final quarter of the 13th century.” Dr. David Fleishman, founder of AntiqueSpectacles.com and retired ophthalmologist says the research indicates the eye-glass industry may have been the first industry in history.

Developing around Nuremberg, Germany in the late 15th century, “it grew to become quite large and organized, sending simple wire spectacles out to the world.” said Fleishman. Neil Handley points out the market was well established with a widespread distribution model by the 17th century.

The technology was established and obviously beneficial but despite the benefits, history indicates that most viewed glasses as ridiculous and stigmatized those who wore them, even well into the mid to late 1800’s.

Around five hundred years after their invention, in 1840 French designers tried a new spin on a style of glasses that pinched the nose. This method wasn’t new, but the new design emerged as the Pince-Nez. (French for nose pincher) and this new minimzed aesthetic choice caught on, becoming more popular at the end of the1800s. Theodore Roosevelt was even photographed wearing the Pince-Nez. Style continued to take a front and center role at the turn of the century, perhaps due to new improved plastics with comedian Harold Lloyd even being seen wearing a chunky pair of horn rimmed eye-glasses.

American Optical, a company manufcuring eyeglasses since 1884, launched a radical new design in the 1930’s called the “Fulvue frame” and this simple design change ended up being a huge money maker for the company. “People will latch on to something that’s fashionable, that’s true” said Dick Whitney, founder of the Optical Heritage Museum and Manager of Industry Standards for Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc. (Zeiss now owns American Optical). In fact, during the Great Depression, the American Optical workforce in Southbridge, MA found themselves insulated from the difficult economic times primarily due to the popularity of the FulVue design. The same tale of style was evident even in the military. Logic would tell you of the importance for eye protection, especially during combat, but the military found getting people to wear eye-protection a challenge. “The military (and safety lens markets) both found that people were more likely to wear eye protection if it was stylish. Wrap around frames became sought after and popular to wear compared to the uglier traditional frames.” said Whitney.

The innovation has to be proven and Whitney is careful to point out you can’t rely on fashion alone. It was aesthetics however that grew the market. Today the trend is only that much hotter. Eye-glasses have become a part of an individuals brand, like Steve Jobs, Seth Godin, Buddy Holly, John Lennon or Drew Carey, who after Lasik eye surgery doesn’t even need glasses anymore.

So, here’s my question: Was an obvious technological innovation stunted from massive market potential over and over again throughout history simply because it looked silly? We can’t retroactively go back and ask people their reasoning for buying or not-buying a pair of spectacles, but the role aesthetics play is too coincidental, and ignoring it could have negative consequences. An announcement last month appears as though Google has certainly done their home work and isn’t taking that chance.

Luxottica announced a partnership with Google and their Glass project. Clearly, partnering with a brand that owns some of the most fashionable eye-glass brands like Oakley and Ray Ban indicates Glass is about to get a complete makeover. This is a great start at reaching the mass appeal they are obviously focusing on and indicates Google’s acknowledgement of the critical role aesthetics play in innovation.

Remember this: Consumers want to enhance their lives on all levels, sacrificing nothing in return. Just like eyeglasses, relying on edgy technology or state of the art features alone may sell early adopters, but won’t likely achieve massive market penetration by itself. A euphoric product experience never came from, "it's pretty great but..."

I see dozens of startups and innovators focus tirelessly on utilitarian ideas that are quite incredible, but fail to acknowledge humaninty's basic need for acceptance and beauty. Some innovators assume that positive aesthetics aren’t important and something that can be improved on later — when they’re successful. They are wrong, aesthetics are key.

“Ugly” is the one thing that can stunt or stop creative ideas completely. Is Google glass the future? I still have my doubts, but help from Luxottica is sure to help. Perhaps the newest trend in fashion will be ushered in by… nerds.

Justin Brady likes to write, speak and work with loving leaders on how to organically cultivate creativity in their organization. Find him on Twitter @justinbrady. This piece and others like it can be found on his blog.

sources:
5 Places Google Glass Has Already Been Banned 
O.K., Glass.  Confessions of a Google Glass Explorer.I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass
“Death of Captain Cook’s Widow,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, September, 1835 (via Accessible Archives)
“The Sleighing Carnival” The New York Herald, January 28th, 1861 (via Accessible Archives)
Charles Loraine, “The Spectacles”, Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1836. (via Accessible Archives)
Virginia de Forrest, “Mrs. Daffodil at the Theatre,” Godey’ s Lady’ s Book, October, 1854 (via Accessible Archives)
Eyeglasses Through the Ages
The American Optical Comany ( PDF)
LUXOTICA

http://www.opticalheritagemuseum.org/

Article featured image: Private collectionof the author. Photo courtesy of David Fleishman

Tags: aesthetics, google glass, innovation, justin brady

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