Gravity controls


In what may be the only mid-title interface use seen in sci-fi to date, after Barbarella completely strip-teases her space suit off, she restores artificial gravity to her space rocket. To do this, she floats to a panel and depresses one of a set of four transparent, underlit buttons. The row of buttons dim as she depresses one of them, and she drops to the fur-lined floor.

This moment quickly sets the tone for the design of the film, which is more whimsy than utility.

Wouldn’t push buttons be easy to accidentally bump while floating around in zero-g?

Why are they a hard material shaped kind of like bullets? Wouldn’t a softer material and gentler shape reduce the risk of injury?

Why are there four buttons? Are there four levels of artificial gravity that she can induce? Wouldn’t that work better as a dial? Or four different speeds of transitioning gravity? Shouldn’t the controls look a bit different to indicate their different functions?

Why does the gravity shift so suddenly? That could prove dangerous if she was precariously positioned in the air, especially with the bullet shapes protruding from the floor. Best would be a more gradual transition from zero- to one-g.

In zero-g, pushing the button would simultaneously push her away from the wall, increasing the height of her fall. Shouldn’t she have a handle to grip and keep herself anchored?

Then again, why does she need a physical control at all? Once she has her helmet off, why not just speak to Alphy (the conversational computer that we’ll meet in a later post) and have him turn it on slowly?


Despite these questions, there are three things I really like about the design of this control.

  1. The floor is covered in fake fur, which cushions her fall a bit. Hopefully there is padding beneath the fur lining as well, though this is less necessary if the transition is made more gradual.
  2. The control is placed on the floor, which means—since she has to be near it to activate it—her fall is minimized. Of course this raises questions about accidental deactivation later by a foot or a sexy space pillow fight, but let’s presume that’s a different control entirely for safety reasons. Then a design improvement might be to have the buttons recess into the floor after activation.
  3. The buttons are dim when the gravity is turned on. Ordinarily buttons should be illuminated when a system is on, but humans are best adapted to working with gravity, so the on switch should draw attention.