Report Card: Logan’s Run

LogansRun-Report-Card

For our purposes, Dome City is a service. Provided by the city’s ancestors to provide a “good life” for their cloned descendants in a sustainable way, i.e., a way that does not risk the problems of overpopulation. The “good life” in this case is a particular hedonistic vision full of fashion, time at the spa, and easy casual sex.

There’s an ethical, philosophical, and anthropological question on whether this is the “right” sort of life one would want to structure a service around. I suspect it’s a good conversation that will last at least a few beers. Fascinating as that question may be, looking into the interaction design requires us to accept those as a given and see how well the touchpoints help these personas address their goal in this framework.

Sci: F (0 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?

The Fade Out drug is the only, only interface that’s perfectly believable. And while I can make up some reasons the Clean Up Rig is cool, that’s clearly what I’m bringing to it, and the rest of the bunch, to an interface, has massive problems with fundamental believability and usability. Seriously, the movie is a study in bad design.

Fi: A (4 of 4)

How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

Here the interfaces are fine. The Lifeclock tells us of their forced life limit. The Circuit tells us of the easy sex. Fade Out tells of easy inebriation. New You of easy physical changes.

The interfaces help tell the story of this bizarre dystopia, help paint the “vast, silly spectacle” that Roger Ebert criticized when he write his original review in 1976.

Other interfaces help move the plot along in effective, if sometimes ham-handed ways, like the SandPhone and Aesculator Mark III. So even when they’re background tech, they help. Full marks.

Interfaces: D (1 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

Sure, if you ignore all the usability problems and handwaving the movie does, the characters are getting what they want on a surface level. But ultimately, the service design of Dome City fails for every reason it could fail.

  • The system was poorly implemented.
  • Its touchpoints are unusable.
  • Its touchpoints don’t let its users achieve the system goals.

But the main reason it fails is that it fails to take into account some fundamental aspects of human nature, such as

  • Biophilia
  • The (entirely questionable) tendency towards punctuated serial monogamy in pair bonds
  • A desire for self-determination
  • Basic self-preservation.

If you don’t understand the goals of your users, you really have no hope of designing for them. And if you’re designing an entire, all-consuming world for those same users, misjudging the human universals puts your entire project—and their world—at risk.

Final Grade C- (5 of 12), MATINEE

Related lessons from the book

  • The Übercomputer’s all caps and fixed-width evoke “that look” of early computer interfaces (page 33), as does its OCR sans-serif typeface (page 37) and blue color (page 42).
  • The SandPhone would have been much more useful as Augmented Reality (chapter 8, page 157)
  • The Aesculaptor could use a complete revamp from the Medical Chapter (chapter 9, page 258), most notably using waveforms (page 263) and making it feel humane (page 281).
  • The Evidence Tray reminds us of multifactor authentication (page 118).
  • Of course The Circuit appears in the Sex chapter (chapter 13, page 293) and as my redesign showed, needed to modernize its matchmaking (page 295) use more subtle cues (page 301). Certainly Jessica-5 could have used a safeword (page 303).

New lessons

  • The Lifeclock reminds us to keep meaningful colors distinguishable.
  • The Circuit shows why a serial presentation democritizes options.
  • The Circuit also shows us that matchmaking must account for compatability, availability, and interest.
  • The Aesculaptor tells why a system should never fail into a worse state.
  • Carrousel implies that we don’t hide the worst of a system, but instead cover it in a dazzle pattern.
  • The improvements I suggested for the SandPhone imply that solving problems higher up the goal chain are much harder but more disruptive.
  • The Evidence Tray gives us the opposite of the “small interfaces” lesson (page 296), too large an interface can overpromise for small interactions.

I grew up in Texas, and had the chance to visit the Fort Worth Water Gardens and Market Center where some of the scenes were shot. So I have a weirdly personal connection to this movie. Despite that, on review, the interfaces just suck, bless their little interactive hearts. Use them as fodder for apologetics and perhaps as a cautionary tale, but little, little else.

2 thoughts on “Report Card: Logan’s Run

  1. In my hazy memory of the show when it originally aired, my impressions of the time were not that this series was revolutionary in terms of physical design of objects but that the costume design was something I had never encountered before on mainstream television, and that was very much part of the visual appeal of the show. ‘What world are these people living in?’

    • The series is differen than the movie. The later has aspect that the series didn’t pick up such as the enforced lifespan, the hedonism and the free sex for all.

      To me it is the contrast between the dystopian future and our reality that makes it powerful. How did we get there is the question I’d love an answer to

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s