A community for open collaboration, design fiction & social innovation.

Share This Post

Amber Case: Calm technology and the future of the interface

We cannot interact with our everyday life in the same way we interact with a desktop computer. Technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary. How can our devices take advantage of location, proximity and haptics to help improve our lives instead of get in the way?

This presentation covers the history of calm technology, wearable computing, and how designers can make apps “ambient” while respecting privacy and security. We’ll look at ambient notifications, compressing information into other senses, and designing for the least amount of cognitive overhead.

Share This Post

Director of Experiential Learning & Applied Creativity @columbia - storyteller & @culturehacker


  1. Thanks for sharing Lance. A few clicks later, it is interesting to see how Amber Case’s talk has evolved: https://youtu.be/wdobpfuB8JY. Very much looking forward to her forthcoming book on the subject.

    In my own product design endeavors, I’ve attempted to provide a layered approach to information transmission and presentation, with dashboards providing a glanceable UI and optional drill-downs when more detail is desired. This is due in part to the fact that I am designing for a range of audiences. Some users only need to see the blinking light and that’s sufficient, or want to go deep to learn more about the reason for the alert.

    I feel this element of personalization is something worth exploring further when we think of ambient or calm tech. If we design for very high-level signals that stand in for or point to more complex information (e.g., a light indicating “the weather”) then there needs to be a corresponding learned heuristic to translate the complexity. I suppose this can be said of any notification or alert system… one learns which signals to pay attention to or how to interpret meaning based on previous experience under similar conditions and/or contexts, but it seems especially relevant when talking about the degree of abstraction required by calm tech.

    ReplyReport user
    • Thanks @jcarey please do share how you’re making use of Calm Tech within your UX / UI efforts. I’m very interested in Calm Tech in its relationship to storytelling. Especially in an mobile saturated world. The concept of making the technology invisible when so much is fragmented is often challenging. In fact a design question that I have for myself is something I’ve been experimenting with.

      “How can we harness technology to evoke empathy and emotion, while at the same time enabling an intuitive, invisible and fluid storytelling experience for the audience?”

      I too enjoy how Amber’s talk has evolved and her book sounds amazing. We had a chance to discuss it during the podcast that we did together for Sherlock.

  2. Have you seen or played Lifeline? https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lifeline…/id982354972?mt=8 I personally haven’t experienced this game yet, though I am particularly interested in the Apple Watch version and it seems to be a decent attempt at the kind of storytelling experience you are exploring. Lifeline actually reminds me of early TRS-80(!) computer games like Zork (http://textadventures.co.uk/games/view/5zyoqrsugeopel3ffhz_vq/zork), which at the time were very engaging and immersive despite (because of?) the “low resolution” of command line text. Lifeline seems to take the empathy factor up a couple of notches, given the relative intimacy of the wearable device and the (simulated) conversational mode of interaction and expression (imagine if a future version simulated the heart beat and doodle features available to the Apple Watch device). Plus, the whole point of the game is keeping someone from dying, adding a heightened sense of urgency. Another compelling aspect of the game is the way in which it does not require full attention and will “go dark” for extended periods, presumably while the main character is off doing what the player has suggested. This adds an element of verisimilitude in an ambient, Calm way.

    ReplyReport user

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Lost Password


Skip to toolbar