Followup: Video games? Anime?

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 27 February 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m slowly answering those questions as I continue to release the sci-fi interface survey.

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Q: Dario Fuentes asks: You seem to be completely ignoring video games and anime. Some of the best examples of interface both beautiful and innovative come from these spaces. Any reason why you left them out? [later] …not the game interface itself, the interfaces featured in cut scenes…as well as the game UI… (and what about anime…?)

A: Well, writing a book about the life cycle of tigers doesn’t mean you’re ignoring bears, does it? Video game interfaces serve different masters for many reasons, not the least of which is that non-diegetic interfaces must be used by players where sci-fi interfaces are used by actors faking it. Cut scene, or diegetic video game interfaces might be includable, but they’re tied up in looking or feeling like the non-diegetic ones, and so can’t be considered in isolation. Sure, video games probably have a lot of influence for gamers’ expectations. I’m a gamer myself, and am inspired by some of the awesome interfaces I find there. I’d be happy to investigate and write that other book, that’s not what Make It So is about. (Maybe I should call for clever names for the video game book in the comments.)

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As for the second part of the question, anime is indeed awesome. But when choosing how to narrow down the vast scope of science fiction, we wanted to first focus on those things that were…

  • most influential to the broadest public
  • analyzable

Anime is wildly popular with a particular subset of fan, but sources like boxofficemojo tell us that genres like “sci-fi/adventure” and “alien invasion” outrank “anime” by nearly an order of magnitude.

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Additionally, some of our favorite anime is hand-drawn, and that makes it difficult to study. It is harder for the interfaces to stay the same over time, in a way that’s similar to comic books. When you want to talk about an interface that changes from depiction to depiction, you have to then talk about which version you mean, and worry about whether these changes are meant to be diegetic or just a mistake, and then you have to try and suss out which one is the “real” one, and…it’s just risky. We’re aware that much hand-drawn animation tries to minimize the number of screens it redraws and so reuses as much as it can, but even a change in camera angle requires a redrawing, and that’s less reliable than interfaces that are made in the world or that are 3D modeled.

Believe us that we intend to get to some of the most seminal anime. Ghost in the Shell, Redline, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Vexille, Cowboy Bebop, to name a few. But if we wanted to get a book out, we had to prioritize the stack of sci-fi, and anime ended up being lower priority. I’ll get to it in time, but also don’t forget that if you’re really eager to get some anime in there and you think you’re up to it, I accept contributions (though no one has taken me up on it yet.)

Followup: Is voice the future?

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 27 February 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m slowly answering those questions as I continue to release the sci-fi interface survey.

Q: Paolo Montevecchi asks: Is voice the future media of interaction?

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A: Let me first provide a biiig caveat. Doing a survey and analysis of 100+ years of interfaces in screen sci-fi has granted many insights and a degree of authority on sci-fi interfaces. In contrast, this question is about the future of the real world, for which we haven’t made a case for why either of us would have any special authority. So, take this with a grain of salt. But of course I’m a designer by training and in my day job at Cooper, I’m always thinking about what these imagined futures will mean to the real world, and I do have an opinion.

The short answer to your question is that I think voice is a big part of the future of interaction, along with “big social”, agentive and ubiquitous tech, and “natural” user interactions, which stack up into a neat little acronym SAUNa.

The longer answer is that I’ve been talking about the future of technology since the fall of 2011, near the end of writing the book. Following are links to videos of those talks. In Moscow with game company Innova I gave a presentation called The Interface Parenthesis making the case for “natural” UI, but also forecasting future trends. I later gave a version of that talk at RE:Design UX with Stefan Klocek.

…These thoughts evolved into a talk about “Implicit Interactions” at Kicker Studio‘s Device Design Day also with Stefan…

…which evolved into thinking about SAUNa technology and the generative metaphor of the jinn. I’m currently developing that material into a number of posts for the Cooper blog (and possibly more), but in the meantime you can see this talk that Stefan and I gave at the UXConference in Lugano, Switzerland last year for a preview, and how it relates to the concept of smarter cities, with two nifty illustrated scenarios, to boot.

So the longer answer is also yes, voice is part of the future, but I think it’s going part of something even bigger, and more mythical.

Chat follow-up: SFX glitz

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 27 February 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m taking a short break from the release of the sci-fi survey to answer some of those questions.

Q: Joseph Lockett asks: Isn’t there a problem in that sci-fi interfaces almost always obey the interests of drama or SFX “glitz”, rather than actually having to produce fool-proof practicality in day-to-day operations?

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A: Not a problem but the point! For three reasons:

  • Sci-fi influences audience’s expectations, and the audience are your users. Their expectations partly drive demand, but we shouldn’t let sci-fi dictate real-world design. We need to be deliberate about understanding them so we don’t simply mimic them and replicate the good with the bad.
  • Sci-fi interface designers are rarely trained interaction designers, and so we get an outsider’s view of what makes for a cool interface. Since they’re not beholden to users, physics, or even actual technology, their imaginations can run much more wild than ours. We can use their work like an elaborate brainstorm.
  • Even when they get it wrong, they get some things right, and we can work out to find out what it is. In fact, if you’ll look for the examples of “apologetics” in the book, you’ll see it’s where sci-fi interfaces break that we can get some of the biggest insight. (A handy page listing is in the index under “apologetics, design lessons from.” I also give a presentation on the subject that includes examples that weren’t included in the book.)

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Chat follow-up: Ultimate Weapon Against Evil & Constraints

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 18 April 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m taking a short break from the release of the sci-fi survey to answer some of those questions.

Q: Dennis Ward asks: There’s a gaff in The Fifth Element scene referenced—Corbin Dallas places one of the stones upsidedown relative to the other three. Is that a constraint issue?

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Yes and no.

Yes, if the stones could be placed on their pedestals in the wrong way. You wouldn’t want to design the weapon such that that were possible. As we saw, seconds count, and the stakes are pretty high. (c.f. Ultimate Evil.) Constraints, as Don Norman defined them in The Design of Everyday Things, would be one way to fix that. For example, you could widen one end of the stones so they were too large to fit in the pedestal the wrong way.

But (and here’s the “no”) it turns out that in The Ultimate Weapon Against Evil, the stones work whichever way they’re inserted. Take a look at the scene and though the stones aren’t all oriented the same way, i.e. pattern- or smooth-side up, they all work. (There is a third possibility, that orientation does matter, but they just got lucky in orienting them correctly. The odds of getting this right the first time is just over 6%, so we can discount this.)

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This is a superior design solution since it eliminates the need for the user to worry about orientation. Let’s call the pattern Make Orientation a Non-Issue.

But wait, we’re not done. We shouldn’t disregard the fact that you perceived it as a gaff. The design of the object signaled to you that there was an orientation that mattered. So yes, let’s keep the stones the same basic shape such that orientation is a non-issue, but one small improvement would be to have the visual design match the interaction design: The patterns should be symmetrical, perhaps completely covering each long side of the stones. That way, anyone wondering how they fit the pedestals wouldn’t falsely perceive that there is an orientation issue when there really isn’t one.

Thanks for this question, by the way. The Fifth Element is one of the first I reviewed for the Make It So survey since it’s one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. It makes me want to post that one next. I’ve got other plans, though, so perhaps after that. :)

UPDATE ————————————–

Since writing this post, I’ve done deeper analysis on this topic. See the Pilot episode of Sci Fi University for an even better and more thorough answer to this question.

Chat follow-up: Humanoid robots

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 18 April 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m taking a short break from the release of the sci-fi survey to answer some of those questions.

Q: Adrian Warman asks: Humanoid robots (android) are not as efficient mechanically, yet we ‘prefer’ them (C3PO v. R2D2?) Will our preferences always override efficiency?

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A: I think it depends on the context of use. Humans are good at humans. So, when robots have social functions, it’s best that they appear humanoid, while avoiding the Uncanny Valley (or see page 183 in the book for more). They should stick to the Canny Rise, to coin a term. When they need to do other, non-social things for us, like build cars, or vaccuum our floors, or mine for rare earths in asteroid belts, they should be fit to task.

Giving credit where credit is due, this is exactly the case with the Star Wars robots. C-3PO’s a protocol droid, for “human-cyborg relations” and R2-D2 is ostensibly an astromech maintenance droid. Their appearances match their functions.

Make It So on Jared Spool’s SpoolCast

Science fiction films often take liberties with the technology that they display. After all, it is fiction. Though they can make up essentially whatever they want, technologies still need to be somewhat realistic to the audience. This influences the way that sci-fi technology is presented in film, but in turn, it’s how sci-fi influences technological advances in the real world.

Nathan Shedroff, Chair of the MBA in Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts, and Chris Noessel, Managing Director at Cooper, took it upon themselves to study the lessons that can be learned from science fiction. They analyzed a variety of interfaces from all different time periods of film and television. They discovered that when new technologies are developed and released to the market, people already have expectations of how it should work. This is based upon having already seen a similar, fictional technology.

Of course, there are instances where the technology in film is all but an impossibility, or at least impractical in real life. This changes as gestural and voice recognition technologies become more advanced, but a lot of interfaces in sci-fi are developed simply for the “cool” factor. Even then, looking to these interfaces as a reference point can help focus a design.

Nathan and Chris join Jared Spool to discuss their Rosenfeld Media book, Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction in this podcast.

Give it a listen (and/or read the full transcript) at http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2012/10/24/make-it-so-interaction-design-lessons-from-science-fiction-with-nathan-shedroff-chris-noessel/

UX Podcast #25: @axbom and @beantin make it so

UX Podcast #25: @axbom and @beantin make it so

In this show we joined James and Per, interaction designers in Stockholm, Sweden. We talk to them about the background to Make It So, how the book came about, the influence that Sci-fi has on real world interfaces (and vice versa), and we nerd it up on a few occasions with some specific sci-fi examples.

All this whilst spanning three time zones (Stockholm, New York and San Franciso).