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Feature: LTH alumna on designing Google Glass

2014-01-10

Isabelle Olsson - LTH alumna and designer of Google Glass

GOOGLE GLASS IS one of Google’s latest and most exciting projects in which user-friendliness – not technology – is the focus. One of the key people behind the glasses which always provide an answer is Swedish Isabelle Olsson, an industrial design graduate from Lund University’s Faculty of Engineering, LTH. LTH News obtained an exclusive interview with Isabelle about Google Glass, her studies at LTH and how she got her job at Google.

Google X belongs to Google and is one of California’s most mythical organisations. The division is located a stone’s throw from Google’s headquarters Googleplex in Silicon Valley, and this is also where Isabelle Olsson works. Google X is where most of Google’s exciting and futuristic projects are developed – things like self-driving cars and internet via balloons. A rumour, persistently denied by Google, is that Google X is also developing a space elevator which would be able to move things from earth out into space.

”Google X does not shy away from the impossible. If it weren’t a truly challenging project, we wouldn’t be working on it. Glass is just such a project, in which the goal is to get the technology out of the way and get closer to the senses. As a designer, this is an enormous challenge which would normally lie five or ten years ahead”, says Isabelle Olsson.

She says that Google Glass has the potential to improve people’s lives by allowing people to be more connected, while the technology itself is less distracting.

According to Isabelle, taking a new product like Glass to the market is as challenging as designing it. Before Google Glass was launched, a video was presented about how it might feel to wear the glasses. Google Glass was also shown at a fashion week in New York, in a show together with fashion icon and former princess Diane von Fürstenberg.

A super-secret project at a super-secret division in one of the world’s most influential companies. Everyday life for Isabelle features many exciting experiences.

”I remember the first time I realised what I was working on; I flipped out a little at the time. But as soon as I understood what the whole thing was about, I was on track and kept the overall goal in sight. So far, I have been overwhelmed by how positive everyone is to Glass, and I look forward to giving people the chance to use the product”, she says.

The rumour about Google as an employer that carefully evaluates its potential employees is correct. Isabelle’s career at Google started with a recruitment officer contacting her via the CV website LinkedIn.

“I was working for the high-profile design company Fuse-project, led by the industrial entrepreneur Yves Béhar in San Francisco, with everything from watches and glasses to furniture and exhibitions. After the initial contact with Google, I went through more than ten interviews with different people within the company’s core team. I subsequently received a job offer”, she says.

How useful are your studies at LTH in your work with Glass?

“My studies at LTH and the industrial design programme have so far been invaluable to my career. Through my studies, I acquired a lot of good basic knowledge. Perhaps even more important is the fact that I also developed self-confidence and problem-solving ability. During my studies, we were encouraged to present our work in English, which has proven to be extremely valuable.” She also highlights the positive aspects of teamwork on projects from the ”real world”, as this provides good insight into what life will be like after your studies. “Living and studying in Lund is really fun, and the proximity to Europe is a definite advantage. When one is engaged in a creative activity, it is very valuable to have close connections to the kind of expertise, both technological and artistic, that LTH offers”.

What is it like to live and work in the US?

”Living and working in the US is different. Your fate is not based on where you come from or how many years’ experience you have – it is based on what you bring about. It is simultaneously nerve-wracking and liberating. Americans are very welcoming and it is easy to live here, but it is also challenging to create an environment in which you feel at home. When I first arrived, I thought I would stay for six months. Now it has been over four years and I can’t see myself moving away in the near future.

 

Read more features in English from the latest issue of LTH News