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UX Bookclub Switzerland meeting: interaction design lessons from science fiction

Red attended the meeting of the UX Bookclub Switzerland to discuss the influence of science fiction media on real-life interface and interaction design.

Image showing Red at the UX Book Club discussing the relevance of interfaces from Sci-Fi movies.
At the UX Book Club interfaces in Sci-Fi movies are a hot topic!

Exploring fictional user interfaces

The latest meeting of the UX Bookclub revolved around the book Make It So - Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction by Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Noessel. They investigate how interfaces in science fiction films are presented and how interaction designers can use these fictional interfaces as a source of inspiration. Although there is a lot of technological extravagance in science fiction, certain aspects can be put to use in real life.

Real-world vs fictional interfaces

The technologies and interface designs which we see on screen have a great influence on both designer and user. Sometimes, they may actually inspire real world technology, as it was the case with the Motorola StarTAC phone, which was inspired by the communicator from the Star Trek series filmed 30 years earlier. Fictional possibilities inevitably change our expectations and desires regarding real technology.

The most important difference between fiction and reality is of course the fact that while it is essential that user interfaces in the real world function properly, fictional interfaces needn’t work. They do not necessarily have to be thought through to the last detail or can simply rely on a system which is extremely intelligent. This allows for more freedom in imagining an ideal interface. Though we cannot start designing unfinished interfaces which don’t work, we can gain from this the idea of giving our imagination free rein. It might be worth blocking out the usual project limitations such as budget, technology and client wishes, at least for a moment.

Design itself is fiction

Another interesting realisation when looking at the relation between science fiction and real-world design is the fact that in the end, our work is fiction, too: „All design is fiction—at least until it gets built or is made available to users and customers.“ The personae which we create could be compared to characters, the scenarios and use cases to narratives and prototypes to scenes. We are sci-fi creators! Just as sci-fi writers use their imagination to write an engaging story, we have to be imaginative when designing an interface which satisfies the user.

Conclusion

The idea to learn from sci-fi films and television shows is certainly very interesting. Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Noessel provide a well-organised overview of different sci-fi user interfaces and show that we can gain valuable new approaches by having a closer look at these fictional interfaces. However, the book reads more like general thoughts from an interaction designer’s view and lacks a certain profoundness. Another interesting read on sci-fi and technology is Aaron Marcus’ The Past 100 Years of the Future: Human-Computer Interaction in Science-Fiction Movies and Television. His book also explores how real-life professionals and sci-fi media-producers can learn from one another.

In the meantime, we are also confronted with divining what technological breakthrough the “real” future will bring. Thinking about Google Glass or Siri we realise that technologies such as augmented reality or voice recognition, which several years ago may have seemed like pure fiction, exist. The question is now how things will develop - what will be the next best thing?

Brainstorming in front of the whiteboard...love it! #brainstorming #groupthinking #productdevelopment