Breaking the Glass Ceiling
The trouble with trying to get into the ‘cool club’ is that if you have to ask to join, you clearly don’t belong and you most likely won’t be let in under any circumstances.
As many of us may remember from our time at school or college, asking (when uninvited) to sit with the ‘Clueless’ crowd in the canteen would normally be met by at the very least mild disdain; more often loud derisive public humiliation; and occasionally threats of physical violence. Or maybe that’s just me?
Facebook wouldn’t exist if Mark Zuckerberg had got the girl and been accepted into a Finals Club.
But there is an upside. Being rebuffed by ‘cool kids’ can often lead those rejected to find their own circle of real friends and allows them to retreat into their own passions such as music, art, writing, design or coding. Rejection is a problem for many, but history is filled with greatness derived from that very rejection—Facebook wouldn’t exist if Mark Zuckerberg had got the girl and been accepted into a Finals Club.
The rejected can be often be smarter, respected, successful and even very rich, but rarely ‘cool.’ And that rankles many.
The problem is that it’s not just at school or at college where cool is seen to rule, it’s in the real world too—and not just behind the velvet ropes of clubs and bars in metrocentric society. The cool still rule in many professional walks of life and even one entire industry: fashion.
The world of fashion is less of a planet and more like a moon orbiting the home world of the merely mortal; Elysium for the fabulous. The fashion moon gazes down upon us, beautiful in it’s pure, unobtainable separateness. Back down on Earth we can buy it, we can wear it, and we can even cover ourselves in its heavenly smell, but we’ll never be part of it. Parting with our money just allows us to take a day trip to the cool moon, not to live there—and no one wearing Google Glass is going to be allowed to board the shuttle.
Google Glass is just not cool. It’s smart (brilliant even) cutting edge technology; it’s brave, a product that’s so new, so different, that Google created an R&D department in the real world just to figure out how people will actually use it. Glass is potentially a game-changing product for personal technology. It’s truly amazing. But it’s really not very cool. In fact, it has suffered much of the same mild disdain; loud derisive public humiliation; and occasional threats of physical violence as is normally reserved back at the college canteen.
Google seem to think that’s a problem—and they’re not wrong. To address it, they recently hired Ivy Ross as head of Glass (who has experience working at Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel, Bausch & Lomb and the Gap) and yesterday released the DVF | Made for Glass collection, “a collaboration that brings chic eyewear designs by iconic American fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to the Glass Explorer Program.”
It may seem like a logical step in the pursuit of cool to launch a design partnership with Diane Von Furstenberg. After all, she collaborated with Sergey Brin back in the very beginning by fitting the runway models with Glass at her Spring Show during New York Fashion Week. It maybe a logical first step, but I don’t agree that it’s the right one.
Much as I respect Diane von Furstenberg and genuinely like (some) of her designs for Glass, she is a permanent resident on the Fashion Moon and consequently has nothing really to do with the real world—nor I suspect many current or future Glass users. Having a DVF logo on Glass just makes it abundantly clear to me just how uncool Glass perceives itself to be—despite it’s obvious technological prowess.
Some have suggested that Google should follow the example of Beats brand coolness. But Glass is not like Beats. People were already wearing headphones; they knew exactly what they were and how to use them. ‘Beats by Dr Dre’ just arrived by shuttle from the cool moon of Urban Music (slightly smaller moon than ‘Fashion,’ but no less exclusive) and that was that.
The problem is that Google Glass is not a very good fashion accessory because it has one fatal flaw: people think it looks stupid.
The challenge for Google is that Glass is a completely new device. It is 100% unfamiliar to everybody. There is literally no precedent for how to market it, or how to instill desire for this product outside it’s niche tech base. Hence the ‘let’s make it fashionable’ approach. Now, in many ways that makes perfect sense, but the problem is that Google Glass is not a very good fashion accessory because it has one fatal flaw: people think it looks stupid.
Many will no doubt retort that looking stupid has never been a barrier to being fashionable. In fact some may claim that it’s an absolute prerequisite of the true fashionista. And they may well be right. But there is one fundamental difference in the case of Glass: high fashion is simply a different take on the design of everyday wear. Even the most outlandish couture is still fundamentally a pair of pants, or shoes, or a hat, or a shirt, or sunglasses, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish. The only job of fashionable clothing is to look good and cover (or not) the naked body.
That’s why Glass will never be fashionable in this traditional sense: its only job is to be a wearable computer that enables you to do things in a completely different way compared to any current mobile technology. Trying to make Glass fashionable is like trying to make a fashionable scuba suit. People don’t wear scuba suits unless they’re going scuba diving, at which point they’re underwater and so they don’t care what they look like; they care about the experience.
That is the essence of the challenge: Google don’t need to make Glass fashionable, they need to make it acceptable. That’s a whole different problem. So if that’s the challenge, what’s the solution? In the words of Deep Thought, “Tricky.”
The Google Glass team needs to remain true to the inhabitants of our home world, to give them what they need to create better music, art, writing, design, teaching (and yes, even fashion) etc. They need to stop trying so hard to be thought of as ‘cool’ and just stick to ‘being brave.’
The team should expand the Glass Explorer Program and reach out to even more people in real-world who work in education, medicine, design, architecture, science, conservation and the environment. Show how powerful Glass can be in opening up new ways of learning, working, designing, creating, and building.
Make Glass THE de facto device for people who are building and doing great things, not for those wearing in the latest fashion and looking good.
Google also needs to associate Glass with the new breed micropreneurs, artisanal businesses and small chain pop-ups run by people who are finding new ways of creating a successful work/life balance. Google should collaborate closely with companies who embody these new entrepreneurial ways of working and in short, make Glass the de facto device for people who are building and doing great things, not for those wearing the latest fashion and looking good.
The greatest irony is that breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ will not come as a result of making Glass look cool or fashionable, it will happen when the device becomes practical, relevant and most importantly, invisible.
Written & photographed by: James Bareham
First published on Medium June 10th 2014