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How Lauryn Morris Made A Spectacle Of Snap’s Hit Sunglasses

Here’s why the design lead for Snap’s Spectacles is one of the Most Creative People in Business 2017.

How Lauryn Morris Made A Spectacle Of Snap’s Hit Sunglasses
[Illustration: Angela Ho]

Snapchat surprised every­­one last fall by changing its company name to Snap and introducing Spectacles, the elegant camera-equipped sunglasses that capture videos to share on its popular social media platform. That Spectacles could succeed in being the most exciting new gadget launch of the year in a field where Google Glass failed and Microsoft and Magic Leap have been slow to commercialize a compelling product is a testament to Lauryn Morris, who happened to have a decade of experience in wearable computing and high-end fashion eyewear. Morris had studied industrial design in college, where, for her senior thesis project, she devised a conceptual “head-worn device that allows you to experience music in ways other than hearing it,” she explains, such as through vibration and color. “It created this immersive experience that totally fascinated me.” After graduating, Morris designed eyewear collections for the likes of Michael Kors, Zac Posen, and Diane von Furstenberg, but didn’t want “to get pigeonholed in fashion,” she says, so she consulted for various companies tinkering with wearable technology. “With eyewear, you’re designing a product that enables people to feel beautiful–something they’re excited to wear, and I really like that aspect. But what’s so interesting about tech is that you get to solve real problems for people.”

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Snap came calling in late 2014, and Morris joined a small team secretly at work on early prototypes of what would become Spectacles. She set about refining the eyewear, defining target customers and use cases, exploring materials, and collaborating with the company’s engineers to work through weight and form-factor issues–what she calls a “marriage of the old-school classic eyewear world and the consumer electronics world.” It helps that cofounder and CEO Evan Spiegel is a designer by trade, too. “Evan would bring us college textbooks on optics, children’s books about the human eye, and tell us all these stories about the invention of different camera models,” Morris says. “We even in­­vited PhDs to talk to us about how the brain processes memories in the modern age of photography.” This explains why the field of view that Spectacles capture is circular: It mimics the way the human eye sees. “We went off on a lot of tangents in the first year. It was a good example of how the design process can be both messy and beautiful.”

The resulting product–with its big round lenses, flashy color options, and camera and LED lights accented in yellow in the upper corners of the frames–is a reflection of Snap’s brand: It is designed to be, Morris says, “happy and playful and simple and not meant to be taken too seriously.” Snap always wanted Spectacles to be “like a regular pair of sunglasses that you would have a lot of fun with,” she says. Surprisingly, this meant embracing the product’s tech component. Spectacles “celebrates the camera; it doesn’t hide it,” Morris says. Her team also oversaw Spectacles’ packaging, along with the “Snapbot” vending machines, which have popped up everywhere from Miami to the Grand Canyon to help distribute the device. “Essentially, every customer touchpoint has come from our team,” Morris says. “It’s like having a mini design firm [inside Snap].”

But what Morris continues to value most about the product is that it solves a problem. No longer do people need to interrupt or delay a moment by pulling out a camera; with Spectacles, the experience is immersive and “quite intimate,” she says, citing such recent Spectacles uploads as a baby’s first steps and a couple holding hands on a boardwalk (selfies be damned). Morris herself loves shooting video of her stepdaughter while riding the roller coasters at Disneyland, or building sand castles with her niece and nephew on the beach while her hands are covered in sand. (A user can save his or her videos, but footage shared with friends, like most content on the Snapchat app, eventually disappears.) “These are all perspectives you can’t get with any other product,” she notes. “And that’s what makes it really meaningful to us.”

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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