Jessica Helfand and Tony Stark vs. Don Norman, Paul Dourish and Joss Wheedon

Jessica Helfand of Design Observer on Iron Man’s user-interfaces as part of the dramatis personae:

“…in Iron Man, vision becomes reality through the subtlest of physical gestures: interfaces swirl and lights flash, keyboards are projected into the air, and two-dimensional ideas are instantaneously rendered as three and even four-dimensional realities. Such brilliant optical trickery is made all the more fantastic because it all moves so quickly and effortlessly across the screen. As robotic renderings gravitate from points of light in space into a tangible, physical presence, the overall effect merges screen-based, visual language with a deftly woven kind of theatrical illusion.”

Made me think back to a post I wrote here about three years ago, on “invisible computing” in Joss Wheedon’s “Firefly”.

Firefly touch table

“…one notices that the UI doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems ? when there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.”

Firefly touch table

Instead of the Iron Man/Minority Report approach of making the gestural UI the star of the sequence, this is more interesting – a natural computing interface supports the storytelling – perhaps reminding the audience where the action is…

As Jessica points out in her post, it took us some years for email to move from 3D-rendered winged envelopes, to things that audiences had common experience and expectations of.

Three years on from Firefly, most of the audience watching scifi and action movies or tv will have seen or experienced a Nintendo Wii or an iPhone, and so some of the work of moving technology from star to set-dressing is done – no more outlandish or exotic as a setting for exposition than a whiteboard or map-table.

Having said that – we’re still in tangible UIs transition to the mainstream.

A fleeting shot from the new Bond trailer seems to indicate there’s still work for the conceptual UI artist, but surely this now is the sort of thing that really has a procurement number in the MI6 office supplies intranet…

Bond Touch table

And – it’s good to see Wheedon still pursuing tangible, gestural interfaces in his work…

0 comments
  1. I am so thrilled that my winged-envelope reference has an extended life because of your post! Thank you, Matt.

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