Reader wish: More interviews with authors

A-writer

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

This is a great idea! Many times my critiques pass the buck from the interface designers to the script writers, so in all fairness I should also interview them. I would very much want to have completed a review for them to respond to first, though it’s admittedly not a requirement. I do have a personal connection to the author of Arrival. Maybe I’ll get to that one.

One clarification, though, reader: Do you mean authors for the shows I’ve reviewed, any show, or authors of written sci-fi?

Also: Does anyone have connection to authors of sci-fi? Especially of any shows that I’ve reviewed already? (If you’re an RSS reader, there’s a list of shows on the right-hand side of the site.) If so, send me a private message at chris[at]scifiinterfaces.com and pass me the author name and how you know them. Then we can discuss your asking them if they’d be OK with an instruction to me for an interview.

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Reader wish: More about the narrative side of things

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

I am actually quite interested in this. I have an outline for a book, tentatively titled Worldbuilding with Interfaces, and in my head this would include individual frameworks for common interfaces and what needed to be shown for several models of interaction, among other things.

While I’m dreaming, let me also put out that I have a daydream where I join the faculty down at Worldbuilding Institute to get deep into this with the pros. Hook a nerd up, will ya. Back to reality.

If I started to include posts as a lead-up to a full book on it, though, this would be a pretty major shift in the tone and content. Would that be worth starting a new blog for just that purpose? Or could it fit in here amongst the other reviews? Would the lines be too blurry? Would it isolate existing readers? It would certainly slow down my already pokey publishing pace.

Since this would be a major shift, I’m putting it out there to see if anyone wants to discuss it. In, of course, comments. Or chris[at]scifiinterfaces.com if you have secret, sage words of advice.

Reader wish: More diverse UI work

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

Reader wish: Most of the content is fixated on one type of FUI. It would be nice to see more diverse UI work.

This was really weird for me to read since Scout and I are currently reviewing magic items as if they were tech. In the past the blog has covered bizarre gestural, suicide kits, Krell technology, robot design, ectoplasmic containment units, NUI, AI, service design, and even panopticon teleporting matchmaking interfaces.

I have gone back to the beginning of sci-fi and thereafter spread new reviews out amongst the decades. I review every interface in any given movie or TV show, using a very broad definition of interfaces. The only type of sci-fi interface I won’t cover is weapons, torture devices, or work done by toxic people.

So if you can comment and help me understand more of what you mean I’d appreciate it. But if that doesn’t satisfy, HUDs and GUIs includes the occasional games and some lightweight analysis, too, so be sure to check them out. And of course anyone is welcome to offer to contribute to ensure there is more diversity of the sort you are seeking.

  • You could mean games, and here’s why not.
  • You could mean literature or illustration, and the intro to the book covers why that’s a non-starter.
  • You could mean more obscure sci-fi or subgenres, and that’s just a matter of my limited bandwidth.

I guess what I’m saying is I think the blog already covers a huge range of FUI, within the constraints of movie and TV sci-fi. If you’ve actually identified a blind spot I’ve had, please email me or comment on the site so I can have my eyes opened.

Reader wish: Talk to more creators

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

Reader wish: I wish there would be more interviews whenever you can get creators to talk about their interfaces, because I’d like to have more context about the story behind them.

Sounds good. I like that content, too.

I’ve been explicit about the virtues of a New Criticism approach to critique, which explicitly calls against including a creator’s intention in a critique. I still believe that to be true, despite modern trends toward ad hominem analysis.

But after a review gets completed, I don’t see any harm. Well, except that lots of sites are now featuring creator interviews, and it’s a time-intensive undertaking for—comparitively—not much pay off.

I’ll do my best. Let me know if you have any particular interfaces that you’re thinking of, or even any particular creators you already know about in the comments.

Reader comment: Sometimes the breakdowns are pretty abstract and pedantic or obscure

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

All true. I follow the analyses where they lead, and I won’t reject a line of inquiry because it’s abstract, pedantic, or obscure. My twitter description used to note that “I delight in finding truffles in oubliettes”, and that bit of poetry refers to exactly this.

If I was to flatter myself, I would love for this blog to be considered in a league with PBS Idea Channel. Insightful and unapologetically nerdy. Not there yet of course.

So I hadn’t considered this a bug but a feature.

I’d love to hear from other readers. Do you feel this same way? If a majority of readers feel that the abstraction, depth, and obscure places the blog goes to is off-putting, it might be a good moment to consider the future of the blog.

Reader complaint: Boring

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

This reader free-form comment has two parts.

1. All the analysis lately has just been of lo-res/boring/barely seen interfaces from old programs…

I presume you mean the Star Wars Holiday Special and perhaps Johnny Mnemonic, but Doctor Strange is from 2016, and that analysis began 30 MAY, five weeks before this reader poll. So…maybe check out those?

Also, note that I’m in this for the insight, and hi-res/explosion-filled/blockbusters have no monopoly on insightful ideas. In fact, if anything, I’d wager they’re most often the shallow ones. I hope to encourage readers to explore more sci-fi to learn the cool stuff that is out there, well beyond the most-hyped stuff at Comicon. So, reader, please join me in judging books by their contents, and looking across the whole library.

2. …and now every show is stretched thin over many separate articles.

If it helps to know, my writing style is quite the opposite. I tend to write things out as single posts to get the thinking right, and then yes, make a call as to how to divide it up. For instance, the readership poll posts started out as single post that scrolled for miles and I just couldn’t see asking anyone to set aside a vacation to read it as one post. Reader logs show me that people don’t read the longer posts, so I keep it cut down to digestible chunks. My mental model is something that someone can read in a short  break at work. My apologies if that feels thin rather than digestible.

I should do my due diligence though and just ask: Are people more interested in long-form posts, like I began the blog with (see Metropolis and The Cabin in the Woods) rather than the short-form posts adopted after then?

Reader free-form comment: Would be cool to know how (and if) do you apply these reviews to your design work

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

Short answer: Yes, through critique practice and design patterns. Longer answer follows.

Brainscan-2

Exactly like this.

Generally, improving my thinking

This is broad, but quite true. After making a practice of looking at interfaces systematically, and putting that critique into words that I can read, and vet, and feel comfortable posting on the frakking internet for anyone to read, I’ve gotten better at it. As a design manager, learning to quickly critique other’s work is invaluable. As a direct contributor, I can bring a more sophisticated real-time critique of my own ideas, which makes the design that much better, even doing pair design.

Apologetics

It would be easy to just rag on sci-fi interfaces. But having to put critiques of them out in the world, I have to understand that they’re created by talented (or at least well-meaning) people and I should seek to understand what they were doing, and even give an interface a thought pass, imagining that they’re not broken, but brilliant. That doesn’t always pay off, but when it does the results are golden. Deep insight that is shareable in fun memetic stories. So I’ve developed apologetics as part of my critiques, and it allows me to see the good in a design rather than just trashing them. Which is a lesson the whole Internet could take to heart, n’est-ce pas? Continue reading

Reader wish: I’d really like a better WordPress theme. This one is tricky to navigate at times

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

Yes, yes, yes! I agree. Way back when I started the blog, I modified a default WordPress theme and even I get frustrated with it sometimes. But I’m better at content than I am at WordPress design, and honestly would rather spend my time doing more writing and creating more reviews than selecting and modifying another template. Is there anyone who wants to volunteer to improve the template or suggest a new one? I’d love it. Email me at chrisat-symbol.pngscifiinterfaces.com if so.

Alternatively I might could run a kickstarter to see if we can raise the money for a professional WordPress developer to improve things. (This is an idea from another commenter, which I found awesome.) Until then, please comment with the particular problems you find frustrating, and I’ll see if I can incrementally improve those things in the meantime.

Reader wish: Video games, space combat simulators in particular. :-)

[This is a one-off request from the most recent readership poll.]

I’m a gamer myself, so I’m tempted to venture out. But there’s some stuff to discuss.

Let’s first distinguish between interfaces in cut-scenes, which are very much like the sci-fi interfaces I review here, and the interfaces of the games themselves.

Cut-scene interfaces are very much like the sci-fi interfaces reviewed on this blog. They might be a candidate for reviews. Except they don’t exit in isolation, they’re most often quite tied in with the game-itself interfaces, and those are entirely different beasts. The rest of this post discusses how different those beasts are.

Game-itself interfaces answer to different masters than sci-fi interfaces, even if on the surface they share surface similarities.

  • They are subject to pressures of usability, but the game is not meant to be perfectly usable. (That would be a button saying “win game.”)
  • They have to work exhaustively, meaning that if there’s a button it has to do something. sci-fi interfaces often have parts which actors are told work and parts they’re warned won’t.
  • Makers of sci-fi interfaces often tell the actor to just do their acting thing, and the makers will go back in later and backfill the interface around the actor’s motions. This of course affects the interface. Game-itself interfaces never backfill around users.
  • Sci-fi interface designers may have had no formal training in interaction design, and more around art and motion graphics. This makes those interfaces a kind of outsider art, which is kind of why they are sometimes brilliant and sometimes shite. (Even as more and more sci-fi interface studios are also doing real-world projects, they are clear about which one they’re working on.)
  • Game-itself interfaces are limited by the inputs of the gaming system: Keyboard or handheld controller. Sci-fi interfaces have little restrictions.
  • Sci-fi interfaces only occupy the full screen for at most seconds at a time. Game-itself interfaces are up the whole time during gameplay.
  • Sci-fi interfaces just always work. Even if the actor does something wrong, the effect that the story needs still happens.
  • Game-itself interfaces are customizable, so different people will be using different instantiations of the same thing.
  • Sci-fi interfaces have as their goal to tell the audience something, and can fudge most of the other semiotic layers beneath in the service of that. They mostly convey narrative information. A caused B change. C is happening. D is the intended plan. E is how F is doing this cool thing. The audience never has to use that information except in the service of understanding the story. Game-itself interfaces are about both the knowing and using that information directly.
  • The reviews would be different: we want to evaluate sci-fi interfaces for being believable, for how they contribute to the narrative, and what we can learn from them. game-itself interfaces would be reviewed for usability, for they equipped you to play the game. Just not the same thing.

So it’s because they are such different beasts, requiring a whole different conceptual framework, that I don’t think it’s right to include them here on this blog. There was a fellow a few years ago who started his own blog about game interface reviews, but I can’t find the blog URL in my inbox, or via search, but anyway I don’t think he was able to keep it up. Maybe he or someone else will be able to pick it up sometime.

But if someone started a blog on this topic (or wrote a nice in-depth article about it), I think it would be informative to analyses here. And heck, space agencies and sci-fi makers should pay attention to the lessons learned there.

Also I’m loathe to give too much attention to reviewing warfare and weapons interfaces. Hollywood already glamorizes war a little too much.

Reader poll: Quick-reply one-offs

In the free-form answers, I came across some comments that bear a response. In this first post about those, I’ve aggregated a number of them that aren’t likely to need a comment thread associated with them. So here are some quick replies to these one-off comments.

Reader wish: More examples of interfaces, they don’t all have to be talked about exhaustively.

To this I must reply, firmly: No. Big no. Cosmic no. That’s my thing. My niche. It’s the whole brand promise here. If you just want a stream of images to be inspired by, take your pick, there are plenty. But for some damned fine reasons, I’m not interested in regurgitating screen caps. In fact the notion of just looking at the surface of these things is antithetical to this blog. I want to discourage drool-gazing (that sort of thing will land us in trouble) and encourage critical thinking. So…sorry, mate. Not going to happen. Your good news is there are other options for you!

Reader frustration: Ending a post with an implied follow-up and then switching to a different movie

Yes. Mea culpa. I am sorry. I know I left the Star Wars Holiday Special dangling for like two years and I still have The Avengers to finish. I tended to make progress on the Holiday Special near Star Wars movie releases. The Avengers is still there, waiting for me, but after that I will try to never do it again…

Reader compliant: Sometimes [the site] misses obscure BTS or frame-by-frame stuff I only know because I have a problem.

Ha. It sounds like you should be a contributor to the blog. (Pssst. Message me via chris[at]scifiinterfaces.com) And if contributing is too much, comment on individual posts. (You’ll have to head to the site if you’re an RSS person.) I would love to refine insights based on all the evidence, including missed details. Please! Let me know!

Reader request: More links to relevant research/thought

I think this is a request to include more references to better published or peer-reviewed thinking on germane subjects. I try to do this anyway, but please help. If you know of a related article that I missed, hop onto the site and post it in the comments.

Reader request: More facts about real world interfaces and solutions

I’ll try to do this, but it also presumes a lot of knowledge on my part. There’s so much software out there that I might not know everything. I try to do it when it’s relevant and I know of it. Similar to relevant research/thought above, if I miss something and you know of something, post it in the comments.

Reader complaint: When the subject clearly hasn’t any thought behind it, Dr Strange for example.

This is alarming, since well-reasoned analysis is the core brand promise here. (See my mini-screed above.) First I must disagree with disparagement of the Doctor Strange posts as an example. Note that it contains 4 posts detailing the thoughts around a magic cape. What’s not thought out there? Thinking is what this blog does.

Please head to the particular blog posts you’re thinking about, and add a comments, describing what you think it missed or how it could be developed more. Or, oh, even better yet, contribute a counter-post and submit it!

I’d love an article about space warfare interfaces. How multiple shows tackled vectors, 3D, prediction etc.

On principle I try not to review warfare interfaces. I get that it might be harmless in the context of computer gaming (I’m a gamer myself) but there’s the risk that I end up improving real-world ways to kill people more efficiently, which I’m loathe to do.

So unless it involves a benign pattern, I don’t plan on including these kinds of analyses. I can see the vague outlines of a counterargument in my head, but I’ll need to be convinced. Maybe it’s an opportunity for someone to start another blog? Maybe scifiwarfareinterfaces.com?

In the meantime, if you’re an RSS reader, know that I try to be good about content tags, so you can read up on non-warfare 3D (volumetric projection), and prediction. Haven’t seen anything about vectors, I think.

There are some posts about melee weapons, though, again, I try to focus analysis in ways that don’t improve their kill-y-ness.


OK. These done, now I’ll dedicate some posts to free-form back that probably does warrant separate comment threads.