Carl Ledbetter was so excited. The director in charge of the design of Xbox game console and hololens is very happy. In an exclusive interview with Mark Wilson of fast company, he shared the design story of Microsoft’s latest product hololens 2
I thought Ledbetter was going to show me the early prototypes, instill some ideas, and describe the difficulties in the design process. Then, like the famous director and screenwriter M. Knight shamaland, he skillfully explained the team’s innovative solutions in product development. However, his excitement is just like seeing a good movie, and he can’t help but want to share everything with everyone.
In the continuous shot dialogue, we begin to talk about hololens 2: did you notice the blank cylinder of the mask? This is a small chimney for cooling. The humble rubber on the back? It’s a hard to buy polymer that doesn’t hold your hair when you take off the device. What about the fitting system, a little knob at the back? It asked the engineering team to cut a circle in the circuit board, and no one would. What about the margin around the eyes? Did you see how perfect the diamond arrangement is? You can try the speakers in the high-end audio store and see if there is any difference between the two. Do you know the mask is actually carbon fiber? No, no, no, it certainly doesn’t feel like carbon fiber, because it is coated with polymer, so it feels better, but it must be carbon fiber, because it won’t cause warping or strength weakening due to the increase of temperature, and cause Pico meter level alignment inaccuracy of laser and mirror optical system of head display (1 Pico meter equals 1 trillion parts of 1 meter). Also, also, do you see the plastic case used to wrap the lens and protect it? We call it “the boat”
I’m totally intoxicated because I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an electronic product where the hard and soft parts can be so seamlessly integrated, not to mention that my eyes can quickly adapt to the fusion of more than a dozen different materials.
Of course, it’s no surprise to take each individual detail apart, but the experience combined is amazing. Hololens 2 weighs 566g, which is a little lighter than hololens 1, but its wearing comfort is more than three times higher.
How to realize it?
1. Create “instinctive interaction”
The first generation of hololens was launched in 2016. For Microsoft, this is a top secret project. In a sense, it was not really known to the world until it was released. Hololens is Microsoft’s attempt to superimpose holograms on the real world and to mix reality. On the one hand, it’s amazing. We’ve never seen such a device. On the other hand, it’s embarrassing in almost all other ways.
The UI is confusing. You can’t grab or poke holograms the way you want them to. Instead, you have to clumsily raise your finger vertically and tap on the target as if you were a child, raising your index finger and poking around, just like the savage Friday in Robinson Crusoe. The field of view has always been disappointing, and the hologram has always been cut into a square frame, thus breaking the illusion. Hololens 2 has doubled the visible area and better on-board AI to solve the above shortcomings. You can grasp each corner of the hologram and stretch it out, or grasp it completely with your hand.
Another highlight of the new model? A truly people friendly user experience. When I put on my device for the first time, it was obviously a bit silly to stretch out my hands. At this time, a flying hummingbird breaks into the scene, and after hovering, it will stop at me. This hummingbird is the first thing that holens 2 users will experience, and it’s also one of the magic moments you’ll experience in mixed reality. However, as I played with the bird, the system was quietly calibrating to identify my hands.
Microsoft calls this approach “instinctive interaction” or “instinctive design.”. They want to integrate this into every part of the hololens experience. The company’s goal is to make UX learn to feel natural, rather than conscious third-party instructions, including ways to wear new head displays (thanks to iterative industrial design, wearing devices is now as easy as wearing a baseball cap).
To be sure, hardware itself is still the biggest obstacle to the popularization of hybrid reality. The first generation of hololens was an all-in-one computer. It’s amazing, but you’ll feel very uncomfortable after wearing it for a long time. The head is tilted forward and close to the bridge of the nose, forcing you to keep fiddling like adjusting an inappropriate pair of presbyopic glasses.
Microsoft listened to early adopters’ feedback and acknowledged that in addition to accommodating more sensors, more computing power, more power, and larger displays, the hololens 2 design also needs to be more comfortable.
“I was like, ‘wait till I see if it’s right,'” Ledbetter recalls with a smile. At that time, I was full of worries. “
2. Technology should not be a fad in the pan
Ledbetter and Alex kipman (the founder of Kinect; also known as the father of hololens) agree that the final version of hololens should be a very lightweight glasses style, which is no different from LensCrafters’ glasses. “The reality, however, is that the technology is not yet mature,” lederbert points out
Kipman also did not deny the camouflage, so hololens 2 did not take the approach of its competitor magic leap, unloading the weight to a small computer on the waist to solve the problem. What’s more, they didn’t give up the promise of hologram as Google glasses did, and instead designed a smaller, less immersive device. The development team takes a philosophical approach, and they think you have to accept that it’s a tool, not an accessory.
“Hololens is not about being trendy,” kipman points out. Technology should not be fashion. Fashion is short-lived and will expire. Hardware should be eternal. If aliens come to Earth thousands of years later and find this device in the course of archaeology, they should understand that it is a meaningful device. “
So for hololens 2, Microsoft started the ergonomics research again. They performed three-dimensional scans of 600 people of different ages, genders and races to try to calculate thresholds for occipital eminence (the eminence bone in the back of the head) and forehead (the two thresholds vary from person to person). All of these provide basic support for the fitting system of the new device, because hololens can’t be customized for different sizes of heads, just like shoes.
I look at these prototypes of tables in front of me. Bare frame and foam show the dedication of the design team. They are so primitive that they inadvertently show a special aesthetic feeling. One of the prototypes has springs, and the mirror legs contain complex ratchet adjustment components. The other one designs a webbing with huge aperture and coral foam, and I told luxehome that it looks like Yeezy version of Hololens (Note: Yeezy is the personal fashion brand launched by the famous rapper Kan.
3. The art of balance
Since the laser display of hololens 2 is completed after the head display module, the team must be creative and test with a low fidelity reference. They 3D printed a long tube and attached it to a test mold to simulate a tiny window perfectly aligned with your eyes. In the other case, they will use acrylic resin to simulate the lens. When wearing this prototype, the device would clip my hair and cut my skin. But in the optical aspect of simulating real equipment, they have successfully completed the work.
Another major design issue for prototypes is weight. The team has realized very clearly that the front end of hololens 1 is very bulky. But by studying cultures around the world, especially countries and regions that often use their heads to carry heavy loads, the team realized that hololens might not need to lose weight, they just need to maintain a more reasonable balance.
In a wide range of prototyping processes, they weigh the various configurations of the hololens model to explore the comfort benefits and losses of different designs. Human factors experts in the team run electrodes behind the neck of the subjects to test how the body reacts. They found that if hololens maintained a balance of about 50 / 50 between the front and rear of the head, they could triple the activation of the supporting neck muscles.
But from the perspective of industrial design, it is easier to say than to do. This requires the team to divide the head display’s single computer vision system into two parts: one at the front and one at the back. To achieve docking, you have to wire through the headband (only a few inches across), you can’t solder all the components to a single circuit board as you did when designing a mobile phone. For UX, any additional wiring is a serious problem, because as kipman said, in mixed reality, the device needs to read and respond to eye, head and body movements at the same time, “the speed of light is too slow.”.
One last question: how do you wear hololens? How do you take it off? The team finally chose a design that can be put on and off like a baseball cap with only one adjustment. This can be combined by ergonomics, stretchable materials, pivot components, and adjustment components as described above. As for the laser lens itself, they can also be removed.
Ledbetter looked at me eagerly as I put on my device.
“Just lift up the front.” He urged me and imitated the posture of putting sunglasses on the top of my head. So I tried to push my head up. They look like solid plastic, and I feel like I’m about to damage this expensive pre production laser display. But the mask flipped up like a baseball cap, and the rest of the hololens 2 was still firmly attached to my head.
“I don’t know what to say, man.” I was suddenly very concerned about my image. “I’m not sure.”
He replied, “I understand.”
I said sarcastically, “do I look cool enough? Is that what you mean? “
Ledbetter said with a smile, “no, not at all. There is controversy. Some people laugh at it, and as designers, we’re also like, “no, no, they’re geeky and a little stupid.”. But we found it useful. Function first, practicality first. We found that this kind of flip function, although it seems funny at first, will gradually get used to it and become instinctive behavior. “
Maybe it is. But to my surprise, I don’t mind chatting with other people while wearing this head display, or chatting with people wearing this device. I believe it’s because Rydberg’s team made the most practical decision to cut out the extra plastic that would have blocked the field of view. This brings a sense of openness and naturalness to the conversation, otherwise the conversation will be lost behind the heavy package.
Of course, I only wear it for about 20 minutes during the chat. But unlike the original model, it’s comfortable enough that you really forget you’re wearing the device, or at least it won’t distract you because of its weight and fit.
Besides, I don’t look cool in hololens 2, but to be honest, even Drake doesn’t look cool.