Jack lands in a ruined stadium to do some repairs on a fallen drone. After he’s done, the drone takes a while to reboot, so while he waits, Jack’s mind drifts to the stadium and the memories he has of it.

Present information as it might be shared

Vika was in comms with Jack when she notices the alarm signal from the desktop interface. Her screen displays an all-caps red overlay reading ALERT, and a diamond overlaying the unidentified object careening toward him. She yells, “Contact! Left contact!” at Jack.


As Jack hears Vika’s warning, he turns to look drawing his pistol reflexively as he crouches. While the weapon is loading he notices that the cause of the warning was just a small, not-so-hostile dog.

Although Vika yells about something coming from the left side, by looking at the screen you can kind of tell that it’s more to his back—his 6 or 7 o’ clock—than left. We’re seeing it with time to spare here, and the satellite image is very low-res, so we can cut her some slack. But given all the sensors at its command, the interface would ideally which way Jack is facing and which way the threat approaches, so she can convey correct and useful information quickly.

“Contact, at your 6, Jack!”

That’s much more precise and actionable for Jack.


Don’t cover information

It might be useful to put the ALERT overlay somewhere other than on top of Jack, since it might obscure some useful information. Perhaps the “chrome” of the interface could turn red? Not as instantly readable for the audience, but if we’re designing for Vika…

Provide specifics

Another issue is that neither the satellite image nor the interface help Vika to identify what ends up being just a dog. Even when Jack manages to stay cool through the little scare jump, adding at least some information about the object would go a long way to make Vika and the situation less tense.

Jack’s encounter with the TET gives clear evidence that the TET has sophisticated computer vision, so the interface could help Vika a bit by “guessing” what any questionable object might be. It doesn’t need to be exact (and it probably couldn’t be with that kind of video feed) but the computer could give its educated guess just by analyzing the context, shape, and motion compared against things in the database. So instead of telling there is an 87% chance of being a dog or a 76% chance of being a fox, the interface could just predict unknown animal (see below).


Share off-screen information

Fast viewers saw the unknown object before the warning. During a split of a second while the object is entering the screen, it remains blue. So the computer does keep track of any movement, even if it’s not a threat. In that case the issue is that the computer seems to be tracking movement far beyond the visible area of the screen but it doesn’t let Vika know something’s coming from off-screen. The display doesn’t need to zoom out to reach the contact—that could distract Vika from following Jack—but at least it could show some kind of signal pointing at the incoming contact.

What of multiple contacts?

I’m cautious to talk about what ifs, since most of it is just guesswork—but bear with me. On the sequence the interface keeps track of just one contact, but how it would behave if there were more than one? If the computer does track of contacts beyond the camera display Vika is watching, then just marking them is not enough. If Vika needs to inform Jack on the number of contacts she’s getting on the screen, then you need some sort of overview. Pointing at the direction of the contact is useful, but it does mean you have to sweep all the screen to know how many of them are. But that can be easily fixed by adding a list of all the current contacts.

Show trending

Pausing the film a bit and looking closely, it seems that the only difference between all-is-fine and contact! with the dog is about a meter long. And what is more, by the time the interface triggers the warning the dog is really close to Jack. If that was feral dog and it was to attack him, the warning to Jack would come very late.

In such mission-critical monitoring, it’s not enough to show changes of state. Change the state subtly to indicate as things are trending—as in, this dog is likely to continue its intercept course and getting closer.

We got this

So to wrap up, the interface does a well enough job, but it could certainly benefit from some design changes. The issues are ones that any designer might have to face when working with a monitoring interface, so worth summarizing.

  • Share all the information that is at hand
  • Give the user the information in the form they might pass it along
  • Assign an easy-to-distinguish hierarchy: information, suspicion, warning
  • Provide best-guesses as to the nature of problems with as much specificity as you can
  • Provide unobtrusive but clear signals about the mode
  • Anticipate and show trending dangers

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