The first computer interface we see in the film occurs at 3:55. It’s an interface for housing and monitoring the tesseract, a cube that is described in the film as “an energy source” that S.H.I.E.L.D. plans to use to “harness energy from space.” We join the cube after it has unexpectedly and erratically begun to throw off low levels of gamma radiation.
The harnessing interface consists of a housing, a dais at the end of a runway, and a monitoring screen.
The housing & dais
The harness consists of a large circular housing that holds the cube and exposes one face of it towards a long runway that ends in a dais. Diegetically this is meant to be read more as engineering than interface, but it does raise questions. For instance, if they didn’t already know it was going to teleport someone here, why was there a dais there at all, at that exact distance, with stairs leading up to it? How’s that harnessing energy? Wouldn’t you expect a battery at the far end? If they did expect a person as it seems they did, then the whole destroying swaths of New York City thing might have been avoided if the runway had ended instead in the Hulk-holding cage that we see later in the film. So…you know…a considerable flaw in their unknown-passenger teleportation landing strip design. Anyhoo, the housing is also notable for keeping part of the cube visible to users near it, and holding it at a particular orientation, which plays into the other component of the harness—the monitor.
In the underground laboratory, an (unnamed?) technician warns lead scientist Selvig that, “it’s spiking again,” and the camera pans down to this monitoring interface.
The header is a static barcode followed by the initialism J.D.E.M. along with its full name, the Joint Dark Energy Mission. (Sounds super cool and sci-fi, right? Turns out it is a real program between NASA and the US DOE.) Another label across the top identifies the screen as LEVEL 5 and that it belongs to PROJECT PEGASUS and NASA.
A main display shows a 3D wireframe of the tesseract, with color-coded nebula-like shapes within the cube. The wireframe (and most of the text on screen) are a bright cyan, with internal features progressing in color from the cyan through white to a blood red, all the way to lens flares near the most active areas in the cube. The color choices make for a quick read of what is “cool” and what is “hot,” so are effective for being immediate, but if the lens flares are designed into the system to indicate peakness, it’s a bad choice for obscuring other data in the display.
Note that the wireframe of the cube is also rotating slightly, which is very helpful for a user to more fully understand 3D information from a 2D screen. It might be even better mapping with less cognitive load if the display was a volumetric projection. (VPs exist within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but so far I believe we’ve only ever seen them in Tony Stark’s possession so perhaps he has not released it to the outside world.) Hopefully in its rotation on this monitor it does not rotate in 360°, as the regularness of the cube would make it difficult to understand where an internal anomaly might exist in the real thing. Hopefully the wireframe only wavers back and forth within a few degrees, and is oriented in roughly the same way an observer glancing at the real thing would see it in the housing, to allow for instant mapping of problem areas.
Just to the left of the 3D map is a data monitoring panel. Its top label blinks a red WARNING CRITICAL ENERGY LEVELS and a percentage readout. The panel also features a key whose colors match those of the map. (As it should.) Hopefully a microinteraction allows a user to touch any part of the map, freeze the rotation, and get the percentage details of the touched point. A detail box wavers its vertical position along the key to provide a user a quick assessment of its value, and also contains a percentage readout for precision. Judging by the position of the box and the readout, it looks like the 100% mark is about halfway up the screen. Hopefully the upper part of the scale is logarithmic to accommodate massive surges in values.
Additional elements of the display include several scrolling waveforms and text boxes with inscrutable data and labels. It’s easy to imagine these as useful (say total energy values for specific electromagnetic frequencies) but they’re difficult to read, so difficult to formally evaluate.
All told, a nice display (per some assumptions) for monitoring what’s happening with the cube.
Now if only they had applied that solid design thinking to that dais vs. cage problem.