Google Cardboard and Emotional Design

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I am absolutely in love with my Google Cardboard, which by now is pretty worn and tattered but is fortunately still useable. 


It’s clunky, it’s ugly and at first assembling it as not as obvious as you would think. Having said that, it is easily the coolest gadget I have ever bought. Now that I have the Cardboard I try every new virtual reality app on the Apple Store and every now and then I find an app that dumbfounds me and has me completely immersed. There is some excellent content out there that enables storytelling that is so compelling and moving that you cannot leave from it unchanged. In particular I really like the VRSE content that can be viewed with any old Google Cardboard. My favourite so far has been VICE News VR: Millions March by Chris Milk and Spike Jonze. It’s about the Dec 16 Ferguson protests and everyone should see it. 


Still from Millions March

Recently, I’ve been digging into Donald Norman’s Emotional Design. I haven’t had that much time with it but on the surface there seems to be something that does not make sense about the Google Cardboard: it is extremely popular (with over half a million users) but is in direct violation of one of his first points, that attractive things work better because they make people feel good, which makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and causes them to think more creatively.


The Cardboard is singlehandedly one of the ugliest things I have ever owned. But I can overlook its aesthetic flaws and appreciate its ingenuity and the emotional impact of the apps it allows me to use. Since this post is a discussion of the medium and not the content, that’s also point that shouldn’t count in its favour. Especially since the market is getting flooded by other more functional and durable low cost headsets. Why is the Google Cardboard ahead of its other slightly late competitors? 

The Cardboard has succeeded in spite of its flaws I think perhaps because it is riding the Gartner Hype Cycle. 


Smartphone technology and internet infrastructure has finally gotten to the point where a VR-enabled future seems within reach. And now that I can watch VR content on my smartphone without experiencing any lag and latency, I simply don’t care about how ugly the Google Cardboard looks. And clearly neither do half a million other people. 

But for the Google to experience VR growth after it has ridden the peak of the Gartner Hype Cycle, it will have to make significant changes to the feel and durability of the Google Cardboard. Because very few technologies are immune to the so-called “through of disillusionment”. 

I guess a take-away for us in ES22 is that sometimes desirability is not about what’s the most beautiful or functional. Instead, sometimes desirability is about how quickly you can go to market with a technology that is straight up from the future.   

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