Stark Tower monitoring

Since Tony disconnected the power transmission lines, Pepper has been monitoring Stark Tower in its new, off-the-power-grid state. To do this she studies a volumetric dashboard display that floats above glowing shelves on a desktop.

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Volumetric elements

The display features some volumetric elements, all rendered as wireframes in the familiar Pepper’s Ghost (I know, I know) visual style: translucent, edge-lit planes. A large component to her right shows Stark Tower, with red lines highlighting the power traveling from the large arc reactor in the basement through the core of the building.

The center of the screen has a similarly-rendered close up of the arc reactor. A cutaway shows a pulsing ring of red-tinged energy flowing through its main torus.

This component makes a good deal of sense, showing her the physical thing she’s meant to be monitoring but not in a photographic way, but a way that helps her quickly locate any problems in space. The torus cutaway is a little strange, since if she’s meant to be monitoring it, she should monitor the whole thing, not just a quarter of it that has been cut away.

Flat elements

The remaining elements in the display appear on a flat plane.

To her upper left a spectrum analysis shows bars all near the middle, and the status is confirmed with a label as REACTOR OUTPUT NORMAL. Notably the bars are bright cyan at their top and fade to darker near their bases, drawing attention to the total arc. There few bands that are lower or higher than others are immediately visible from the contrast. That’s good visual design for attention management.

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In the top center is a ring chart with three bands of colors: slate gray, cyan, and dark red. A large percentage read out in the center hovers around 90%. To her upper right are three other ring charts with the same color scheme. Above the three rings is a live trend line chart in red with a separate line in white (Target? Trend line?). A tiny side view of Stark Tower stands to the left of the three rings and trend line. The purpose of these are unclear as the labels are too small to read, but it seems strange to have the physical representation here. If the rings or trend lines are related to the physical tower, how they are related is unclear. If they are unrelated, having the rendering present there is misleading.

In a band across the middle are some tiny text blocks spitting out lines of data and auto scrolling. There are more of these, so for ease of reference, let’s call them teletype boxes. They look too small and move too fast to convey much meaning, as such things often do.

The lower left of the screen has a dim white section labeled MAGNETIC CONTAINMENT. It contains a 3D cuboid with a wildly undulating surface. As this shape doesn’t match anything else in the display, nor is it visually connected, its utility is unclear. If she is meant to track some variable other than undulationness, I can’t see how this would help. Also in this panel are some sliders wildly sliding back and forth, and some more teletype boxes.

In the lower center part of the screen is an overhead-view wireframe of the reactor that does not change in this segment, as well as a dim white box that appears to contain a static formula.

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This display is not fit to Pepper’s task

Sadly, Gwen Paltrow looks a little wall-eyed here, so it’s hard to tell where exactly where she’s looking to determine as she says that “Levels are holding steady.” Her gaze appears roughly above the large ring chart, so let’s presume she’s looking there. If she is actually meant to be monitoring a set of levels to determine if they’re fluctuating or not, the ring chart and percentage are the wrong display types. These are valuable for showing a state that doesn’t change very often, i.e. where change over time is not of concern.

Sure, she might be able to suss out the steadiness of the variables by focusing on the percentage and the ring chart elements to see if they’re currently wobbling, but that requires her to keep her focus there to observe what’s happening with those pixels. That puts an unnecessary burden on her attention and short term memory. What if she has to glance away for a few seconds, and in those seconds, levels begin to wobble unsteadily? Sure, an alert could sound, but when she looks back she’ll have no idea what has happened while her attention was elsewhere. Humane interfaces remove unnecessary burdens from their users, and this display should do the same.

Use line charts and sparklines to show change over time

For any variable that is meant to be monitored for changes over time—like the scripted steadiness of levels—the line chart or sparkline is much more fit to task. Each plots variables over time, so even if a user glances away for a bit, it’s not a problem, she can look back and quickly suss out what’s been happening. The thing she’s looking at should look more like a ECG than a page out of an annual report.

3 thoughts on “Stark Tower monitoring

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