Security Alert

The security alert occurs in two parts. The first is a paddock alert that starts on a single terminal but gets copied to the big shared screen. The second is a security monitor for the visitor center in which the control room sits.  Both of these live as part of the larger Jurassic Park.exe, alongside the Explorer Status panel, and take the place of the tour map on the screen automatically.

Paddock Monitor


After Nedry disables security, the central system fires an alert as each of the perimeter fence systems go down.  Each section of the fence blinks red, with a large “UNARMED” on top of the section.  After blinking, the fence line disappears. To the right is the screen for monitoring vehicles. Continue reading

Bike interfaces

There is one display on the bike to discuss, some audio features, and a whole lot of things missing.


The bike display is a small screen near the front of the handlebars that displays a limited set of information to Jack as he’s riding.  It is seen used as a radar system.  The display is circular, with main content in the middle, a turquoise sweep, and a turquoise ring just inside the bezel. We never see Jack touch the screen, but we do see him work a small, unlabeled knob at the bottom left of the bike’s plates.  It is not obvious what this knob does, but Jack does fiddle with it. Continue reading

Compartment 21

After the Communications Tower is knocked off, Barcalow, looking out the viewport, somehow knows exactly where the damage to the ship has occured. This is a little like Captain Edward Smith looking out over the bow of the RMS Titanic and smelling which compartment was ripped open by the iceburg, but we must accept the givens of the scene. Barcalow turns to Ibanez and tells her to “Close compartment 21!” She turns to her left, reaches out, and presses a green maintained-contact button labeled ENABLE. This button is right next to a similar-but-black button also labeled ENABLE. As she presses the button, a nearby green LED flashes for a total of 4 frames, or 0.16 second.


She looks up at some unseen interface, and, pleased with what she sees there, begins to relax, the crisis passed.


A weary analysis

Let’s presume he is looking at some useful but out-of-character-for-this-bridge display, and that it does help him identify that yes, out of all the compartments that might have been the one they heard damaged, it is the 21st that needs closing.

  1. Why does he have the information but she have the control? Time is wasted (and air—not to mention lives, people—is lost) in the time it takes him to instruct and her to react.
  2. How did she find the right button when it’s labeled exactly the same way as adjacent button? Did she have to memorize the positions of all of them? Or the color? (How many compartments and therefore colors would that mean she would need to memorize?) Wouldn’t a label reading, say, “21” have been more useful in this regard?
  3. What good does an LED do to flash so quickly? Certainly, she would want to know that the instruction was received, but it’s a very fast signal. It’s easy to miss. Shouldn’t it have stayed on to indicate not the moment of contact, but the state?
  4. Why was this a maintained-contact button? Those look very similar when pressed or depressed. A toggle switch would display its state immediately, and would permit flipping a lot of them quickly, in case a lot of compartments need sealing.
  5. Why is there some second place she must look to verify the results of her action, that is a completely separate place from Barcalow (remember he looks forward, she looks up). Sure, maybe redundancy. Sure, maybe he’s looking at data and she’s looking at video feeds, but wouldn’t it be better if they were looking at the same thing?


I know it’s a very quick interaction. And props to the scriptwriters for thinking about leaking air in space. But this entire interaction needs rethinking.

Matchmaking in Dome City


So in prior posts I spent a lot of pixels describing and discussing the critical failures of the interaction design of the Circuit. The controls don’t make any sense. It is seriously one-sided. It doesn’t handle a user’s preferences. In this post we’re going to go over some of the issues involved in rethinking this design.

Circuit goals

As I express time and again in design projects—and teach in classes on interaction design—to design a system right you need to understand the goals of each actor. In a real-world project we might get more into it, but our “tuners” and “travelers” have some pretty simple goals to achieve in using The Circuit.

Goals of our users

  • Find a compatible partner for satisfying sexytimes™
  • Minimize social awkwardness
  • Have an easy way to opt out of mismatches and, if they’re just tired of it, of the whole matchmaking process for the evening

For Jessica, social awkwardness entails not getting matched with an authority, since she’s a resistance fighter.

We’d want to establish what “compatible” means for each in a categorical sense. Is Carl homosexual? Is Logan bisexual? Is Jessica heterosexual? For design in the real world we’d also want to know about their mental model of sex, but for purposes of this scene it may not be too important, just that we help maximize compatibility between users.

Personas account for most but not all actors here. There’s another, more sinister character to consider here, and that’s the Übercomputer. Put in place long ago, it has a primary goal to maintain the status quo within Dome City, which breaks down into a number of other goals.


Goals of the Übercomputer

  • Maximize pleasure among the populace
  • Discourage pair bonding (it might interfere with Carrousel [sic] and general compliance)
  • Overcome the resistance movement
  • Solve the problem of the decaying DNA base (a secret subplot revealed later in the movie)

It seems like these latter goals don’t have much to do with the Circuit, but read on, because they do.


A designer also needs to take into account the broad facts of the domain. In this case, we have to think about matchmaking. For this, a person looking for a casual encounter wants to find a person who is compatible, interested, and available. (Source: reason.)


Being Compatible

If Logan wants to be spanked in a monkey suit but Jessica wants to cuddle, little else in the equation matters. For a successful match, two have to have compatible preferences. This is kind of complicated because what a person wants depends yes on categorical interests, but also on mood, and there are a large number of abstractions to manage. Logan might not have particular acts he’s interested in, just as long as he’s able to please his partner with whatever it is they’re into. Sexuality is a fluid spectrum, especially in a hedonistic culture like Dome City. But I suspect some set of categorical preferences is workable if handled respectfully and thoroughly, and users have some means of communicating preferences that don’t fit the mold. A supercategory for those common categorical preferences would be:

  • Desired/Undesired traits (both physical and psychological)
  • Desired/Undesired activities (and role in those activities)
  • Desired/Undesired individuals

Given the high-tech world of Logan’s Run, there are a number of ways for the Circuit to have a model of each user’s categorical interests. Logan can express them directly upfront, or through use of the system, but living in a sexy panopticon means that the Übercomputer can also infer it over time, note when it’s on the verge of changing, and maybe even nudge it in useful directions.

Making compatible

If we’re going to respect the Übercomputer’s need to nudge the system, then we should also consider that the humans can be primed. In this sense, priming means being exposed to stimulus that affects mood and influences subsequent choices the user makes. The interpretation I offered in the previous post that Carl was put there as a way to make Jessica look better is an example of negative priming, but it’s possible that Logan can be positively primed, too. It’s what modern advertising is based on, and those same tools are available to the system.


Being Available

If one of the parties is unavailable for a hookup, the compatibility doesn’t matter. In the real world this could mean one is committed to a monogamous partner. But for Logan’s Run, this isn’t an issue. Sexual pair bonding is not part of the culture. In this case, it means available at the moment, receptive to an offer to hook up. This could be as simple as an indicator that “he’s online right now,” but with a sufficiently smart system, this could include

  • Predictions that he will be available soon
  • Knowledge of routine times he’s available
  • Warning that he’s losing interest, and his window of availability is about to close

Making available

Again, the Übercomputer can just act as more than a passive go-between, but can also influence things to make sure that two people happen to be available at the same time. Encourage Jessica to stay at the gym a few extra minutes. Clear a way through the computer-driven traffic to get Logan home an extra few minutes, and oh, hey, gurl…


Being Interested

If compatible is a gauge of categorical fitness, interest is a gauge of specifics. That is, at the decision point, does Carl dig Logan and Logan dig Carl? Modern sites and apps let people express and respond to interest in the moment using interface, and we can use some cool tech to design this right, but again, Dome City is a panopticon with ubiquitous tech and a central artificial intelligence. It can detect expressed interest and disinterest as it happens in the world as well, and let people when they hit the sweet spot of someone in whom you’re interested who’s also interested in you.

Making interest

If the Übercomputer wants to make sure that, say, Logan notices Jessica, it could outfit Dome City with cinematic tools to make that happen. Say they’re sitting near each other in Carrousel, the moment that Logan glances her way, an amber spotlight subtly and magically makes her slightly brighter and warmer than the people around her. “Who’s that girl?” he thinks, and things are underway.

Tech to use

So these are the things that need to be handled by any dating system: compatability, availability, and interest. What tools does the world of Logan’s Run have to design with? If we were just using tech from the original, we’d have a small set of tech:

  • Analog controls
  • Slideshow-like projection screens
  • Voice interface
  • Wireless communication
  • Slow teleportation
  • Lifeclocks
  • Artificial intelligence (the Übercomputer)

If we’re thinking about a reboot, the sky’s the limit. I’m more interested in thinking about future technology, so I’ll leave the 70s constraints behind and instead focus on:

  • Real time social interfaces
  • Big Social data
  • Ubiquitous sensor and actuator technology
  • Wall-sized OLED displays
  • “Natural” user interfaces, especially gesture and voice

Since it’s really hard to guess what the future looks like past the singularity, I’d ordinarily focus on algorithms that are merely agentive and not full-blown AI. But the Übercomputer is a core part of the story of Logan’s Run, so I’ll presume that as a fait accompli, as I take all these factors into a rethink of The Circuit in the next post.

The Pointlessly Menacing Learnerator


Though their spaceship and robot technology are far superior to Terran technology, alien gadget tech trails pathetically. How else to explain a learning device whose affordance is at best part prickly eggbeater and part disturbing sex toy? It is also sad that its designers didn’’t think to use the same material in Gort and the spaceship—impervious as it is to bullets and our finest welding—instead opting to use a material that suffers catastrophic impact failure when dropped from a height of three feet onto a bed of grass. Perhaps in the future mankind will find its place in the universe offering basic material consultancy and product design to otherwise-superior alien species.


Thermoptic camouflage


Kusanagi is able to mentally activate a feature of her skintight bodysuit and hair(?!) that renders her mostly invisible. It does not seem to affect her face by default. After her suit has activated, she waves her hand over her face to hide it. We do not see how she activates or deactivates the suit in the first place. She seems to be able to do so at will. Since this is not based on any existing human biological capacity, a manual control mechanism would need some biological or cultural referent. The gesture she uses—covering her face with open-fingered hands—makes the most sense, since even with a hand it means, “I can see you but you can’t see me.”

In the film we see Ghost Hacker using the same technology embedded in a hooded coat he wears. He activates it by pulling the hood over his head. This gesture makes a great deal of physical sense, similar to the face-hiding gesture. Donning a hood would hide your most salient physical identifier, your face, so having it activate the camouflage is a simple synechdochic extension.


The spider tank also features this same technology on its surface, where we learn it is a delicate surface. It is disabled from a rain of glass falling on it.


This tech less than perfect, distorting the background behind it, and occasionally flashing with vigorous physical activity. And of course it cannot hide the effects that the wearer is creating in the environment, as we see with splashes the water and citizens in a crowd being bumped aside.

Since this imperfection runs counter to the wearer’s goal, I’d design a silent, perhaps haptic feedback, to let the wearer know when they’re moving too fast for the suit’s processors to keep up, as a reinforcement to whatever visual effects they themselves are seeing.

UPDATE: When this was originally posted, I used the incorrect concept “metonym” to describe these gestures. The correct term is “synechdoche” and the post has been updated to reflect that.

Fhloston evacuation


When Fhloston Paradise’s bomb alarms finally go off (a full 15:06 after Zorg’s bomb actually starts. WTH, Fhloston?) four shipwide systems help evacuate the ship.

First, a klaxon is heard on a public address system across the ship. A recorded female voice calmly announces that…

This is a type A alert. For security reasons the hotel must be evacuated. Please proceed calmly to the lifeboats located in the main hallways.

This voice continues to speak a warning countdown, repeating the remaining time every minute, and then when there’s less than a minute at 15 second intervals, and each of the last 10 seconds.

Second, in the main hallway, small, rows of red beacon lights emerge out of the floor and begin flashing and blinking. They repeatedly flash in order to point the direction of the lifeboats.


Third, in the main hallway large arrows on the floor and “LIFEBOAT” lettering illuminate green to point travelers towards ingress points for individual lifeboats.

TheFifthElement-FhlostonEvacuation-007 TheFifthElement-FhlostonEvacuation-009

Fourth, the lifeboats themselves eject from the ship to get the passengers far from danger.



  • The voice warning is a trope, but a trope for a reason. For visually impaired guests and people whose attention is focused on, you know, escape, the audio will still help them keep tabs on the time they have left.
  • The racing lights provide a nice directionality (a similar interface would have helped Prometheus).
  • The arrows and beacons require no language skills to comprehend.


  • The voice warning and the “LIFEBOAT” signs do require language to comprehend. They couldn’t have used Running Man?
  • You know when’s a crappy time to add trip hazards to the floor? When a herd of panicked humans are going to be running over it. Seriously. There is no excuse for this.
  • The beacons and the arrows should be the same color. Green is the ISO standard for exit, so while we’re moving the beacon lights to the ceiling where they belong, we can swap them out for some #33cc00 beacons.
  • The green arrows at first seem badly placed as it’s difficult to see when there’s a crowd of people, but then you realize that when the room is empty, people will see and follow them. People in a crowd will just follow whatever direction the horde is currently going, and seeing the arrows is unnecessary. But in a light crowd, people will get a glimpse of the arrow and become stressed out over an occluded, potentially life-saving signal or worse, get trampled to death trying to stop and read it to make sure everyone is going the right way, so ultimately awful. Put that up on the ceiling or high on the walls, too. Because people genuinely panic.


Rhod’s rod


One of the most delightfully flamboyant characters in sci-fi is the radio star in The Fifth Element, Ruby Rhod. He wears a headpiece to hear his producers as well as to record his own voice. But to capture the voices of others, he has a technological staff that he carries.


The handle of the device has a microphone built into it. Because of the length of the staff, his reach to potential interviewees is extended. The literal in-your-face nature of the microphone matches Ruby’s in-your-face show.


To let interviewees know when they’re being recorded, a red light in the handle illuminates. This also lets others nearby know that the interviewee is “on air” and not to interrupt.

Ruby also has a single switch on the handle. It’s a small silver toggle. It’s likely that he can set this switch to function as he likes. The one time we see it in action, he has set it to play back an “audio cut,” (the sound clips morning radio talk show hosts insert into their programs) in this case an intimate recording of the Princess of Kodar Japhet. He flips the toggle to play the cut, and flips it back when it’s done.

Here, a different input would have worked better. The toggle switch is too easy to bump and kind of ruins the design of the handle. Better would be a billet button. This sort of momentary button sits flush with a bezel, which prevents accidental activation from, say, a finger laying across it, or resting the button against a flat surface. If Ruby wants the recorded sound to play out completely, and the button press only starts or stops the playback, it would be good to know the state of the playback, and using a billet button with a LED ring would be best.

We also know that Ruby is a performer. He would be happier if he had more than a play button, but a way to express himself. His hand is already in a grip to hold the staff, so the control should fit that—If you could outfit the billet button with directional pressure sensitivity, he could assign each direction to a control. So, for instance, while he was pressing the button, the audio would play, and the harder he pressed up, the volume for each echo would increase. Or pressing down could lower the sample in tone, etc. This would allow him to not just play the audio cut, but perform it.


To work as a device that the character would want to carry, it has to match his sense of style. I mean this first in a general sense, and the device does that, with its handle of ornately carved silver. Ruby’s necklaces, bracelets, and rings are all silver, and they work together. The staff also works in his hand like a drum major’s baton, augmenting his larger-than-life presence with an attention-commanding object.

It has to fit his daily fashion as well, and the staff does that, too. The shaft can change appearance. I don’t know if it’s an e-ink-type surface, replaceable staves, or fabric sleeves that change out, but when Ruby’s in leopard print, the staff is in leopard print, too. When Ruby’s decked out in rose-adorned tuxedo black, the staff matches.



Though this is more a portable than a wearable technology, the fact that it can change to match the personal style of the wearer makes it not only functional, but since it fits his persona, desirable as well.