How Movies Have Shaped UI

Last week, in a meeting, we got on the subject of Terminator vision. For the uninitiated, here’s what that looked like in Terminator 2: Judgement Day:


Image from Orion Pictures, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

If you recall, Robocop had a similar overlay readout:

Image from Orion Pictures

Image from Orion Pictures, Robocop

So, for about 25 years, Hollywood has been seeding this vision (ha, pun) of augmented reality, i.e. an overlay of real-time information about visible objects in a heads-up display. Technology has been realizing this vision over the past decade, with Google Glass poised being the most recent, and most polarizing, iteration.

This post isn’t about Glass, though, it’s about how Hollywood, essentially art, has been driving our interfaces for a really long time.

And then came Minority Report, which upped the ante by showing a (dystopian) view where technology dances and jumps around the room at the flick of a wrist.


Image from Twentieth Century Fox, Minority Report

Not too dissimilar from the experience provided by Microsoft’s Kinect, minus the gloves.

At this point, I need to backtrack and mention another film, The Matrix, which goes even further, by providing training directly to the brain (“I know kung fu.”) and altering human perception to see the non-augmented (and more dystopian), reality and manipulate it.


Image from Warner Brothers, The Matrix

Earlier this year, I read an interesting post about this very effect and its impact on modern interface design, How ‘Minority Report’ Trapped Us In A World Of Bad Interfaces. An interesting read, with a money quote:

The reality is, there’s a huge gap between what looks good on film and what is natural to use.

As we close the gap between art and technology, real physiological and usability issues emerge. Arms and shoulders get tired when they’re constantly in motion. Try shadow-boxing for a minute with no breaks and see how you feel. Then strap on 16-ounce gloves (competition weight) and compare. It gives you a new respect for boxing.

This is why, aside from chin down, hands up, the most common coaching mantra is, elbows in, relax your shoulders. Even then, it’s tiring. Floyd (@fteter) knows.

It seems odd, but one of the biggest challenges for interface designers is reeducating people on how interfaces should work, since we can’t any longer say they can’t work that way.

Anyway, food for thought. I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of other influential movies, and let’s leave the discussion of what Hollywood thinks hackers can do for another day.

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