ARUN RATH, HOST:
People have been predicting the fusion of technology and fashion for decades, but that day is finally here. Google Glass and other wearable tech, like smart wristbands, are now part of the human landscape. In Silicon Valley, companies are experimenting with new ways to integrate tech into clothing and jewelry. Of course, early adopters always face problems - things don't work right quite right, or things don't fit quite right.
But in the case of wearables, critics say, a big part of the problem is that the design teams are not diverse enough - that most wearables are designed by men, with men in mind. Isabelle Olsson, the lead designer of Google Glass, says, that's why she's encouraging more women to enter the tech industry as developers and designers. When she first joined the team, Google Glass looked very different from what we see on the street today.
ISABELLE OLSSON: I saw a very early prototype of Glass that the engineers were wearing. And it was kind of like safety goggles with a phone attached to it, with cables running off of it. And it was a pretty scary sight, I have to say.
RATH: When you came onto this, what exactly did Google ask you to do?
OLSSON: It was pretty straightforward, actually. They showed me this clunky prototype, and they asked me to make it beautiful and comfortable. One piece is making sure to pack all the technology really to make it a lot smaller, but that wasn't the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge was how do you make something people want to wear? And how can we create something that people can really make their own, which is, for wearables, in general, one of the most important aspects?
RATH: Can you tell us about who's on your team - their backgrounds?
OLSSON: I tried to have a very gender-diverse team. So we're about 50-50, men and women. And I think that's a really, really important aspect.
RATH: That kind of diversity is not really present in a lot of the tech industry. You know, it's a big criticism of the tech industry. Is there a problem in that - that maybe there needs to be more diversity on the other end of the design?
OLSSON: I think that's something that I'm personally really passionate about - trying to kind of change that. I see slow changes, and I see a lot of movement behind this. And I think more and more people understand how the context of where you're designing or developing a product really affects the end result.
RATH: You know, it makes me wonder - talking about both ends of design here - when we think about things like computers or phones, we think of them as unisex. Given the scarcity of women in technology, are those gadgets really a unisex, or do they reflect a male bias in design?
OLSSON: I do think the designs are a reflection of the team that created them. So in many cases, it happens to be a very male-skewed object that comes out in the end. So I think unless we solve the gender balance in the teams that are developing these things, we're not going to see a solution.
RATH: Clearly, we're at the beginning of wearable technology. Where do you see this headed? Do you think we're going to be at a point where technology and fashion are difficult to separate?
OLSSON: I think that wearable technology is actually one of the most natural ways to use technology. So if you think about it for a second, with Glass, for example, it's really close to your senses. It's close your mouth, to your hearing, to your vision. And placing technology there has the potential of making it a much more natural interaction, and I think that's the premise. I think right now, technology kind of gets in our way. And that's where wearable technology has the most potential to be in our lives, to be there for us, but not in the way.
RATH: Isabel Olsson is the lead designer of Google Glass. Isabelle, thank you so much.
OLSSON: Thank you.
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