A conversation about fantasy user interfaces

June 17th, 2016

A few weeks ago I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Khoi Vinh about fantasy user interfaces. Khoi asked really great questions, bringing in his experience as a designer and his passion for film. We talked about the overriding directive to support the story, the fantasy bleeding into the reality and, in turn, being shaped by the advances in the world of real-life technology, trying to evaluate how well those interfaces are done, and what might be happening when virtual reality becomes a form of cinematic storytelling.

Here’s the bit where I talk about screens as plot devices that might not seem very believable:

I don’t think that the question here is about how plausible the screens are, but rather how plausible the technology that those screens manifest is. So you’d be talking about the AI engine that is J.A.R.V.I.S. in “Iron Man,” or the AI engine that is manifested as Samantha in “Her,” or being able to track the bad guys via thermal scans in a 3D rotating wireframe of a building in any number of action movies, or even the infamous zoom-rotate-enhance sequences in low-budget procedural crime drama on television. The interface bits are just the manifestation of the technology behind the screens. Are we close to wide consumer availability of J.A.R.V.I.S.-like software? There are certainly a lot of companies working on that.

When we look at the devices around us and see all the annoying bits, and then see those annoying bits not being there in a feature film, that is quite believable in my opinion. So something like not needing to charge your phone every evening or getting a strong mobile signal as you’re driving on a deserted road gets a pass. When we look at the devices around us, and see those capabilities pushed just a few steps beyond the edge of what we see right now, that is quite believable as well. Especially with the recent revelations on the state-level surveillance programs, I as a viewer am not surprised to see similar technology taken a couple steps forward in Bond, Bourne or other similar spy-action thrillers.

The full conversation is over at Khoi’s great Subtraction.com. And as always, the ongoing series of interviews I do with designers working on screen graphics and user interfaces for film and TV is just one click away.