Chat follow-up: SFX glitz

The live chat of the O’Reilly webinar that Christopher delivered on 27 February 2013 had some great questions, but not all of them made it out of the chat room and onto the air. I’m taking a short break from the release of the sci-fi survey to answer some of those questions.

Q: Joseph Lockett asks: Isn’t there a problem in that sci-fi interfaces almost always obey the interests of drama or SFX “glitz”, rather than actually having to produce fool-proof practicality in day-to-day operations?


A: Not a problem but the point! For three reasons:

  • Sci-fi influences audience’s expectations, and the audience are your users. Their expectations partly drive demand, but we shouldn’t let sci-fi dictate real-world design. We need to be deliberate about understanding them so we don’t simply mimic them and replicate the good with the bad.
  • Sci-fi interface designers are rarely trained interaction designers, and so we get an outsider’s view of what makes for a cool interface. Since they’re not beholden to users, physics, or even actual technology, their imaginations can run much more wild than ours. We can use their work like an elaborate brainstorm.
  • Even when they get it wrong, they get some things right, and we can work out to find out what it is. In fact, if you’ll look for the examples of “apologetics” in the book, you’ll see it’s where sci-fi interfaces break that we can get some of the biggest insight. (A handy page listing is in the index under “apologetics, design lessons from.” I also give a presentation on the subject that includes examples that weren’t included in the book.)

Flash Gordon-002


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