The Fifth Element Movie Night Pre-Show


For those who missed the first sci-fi interfaces Movie Night, my friend Reed stepped up and brought a multi-camera setup to the event and edited in post so you could vicariously see what it was like. Watch above, but if you’re more interested in reading, the transcript (edited because the messiness of the spoken word) appears below.

[0:00] INTRO

Hey, good evening. Thanks for showing up. This is actually a wild hair idea that occurred to me in the shower about three and a half weeks ago. My name is Chris Noessel. Every year for the past five years I’ve hosted a private showing in my home, and I thought, "How on Earth and I going to cram all the people I want to invite into my small living room this year?" I tried to work out the logistics and just failed. But fortunately I was able to contact The New Parkway and they said, "We love this sort of thing. And we have a slot open. And we have the film pre-licensed." So for all those reasons a big round of applause to The New Parkway.


So I’m going to do one plug really quickly, if you’re not familiar. You’re here because you love the movie. I’m going to tell you a little about the project that this evening came about from. About six years ago my coauthor Nathan Shedroff approached me with this cool idea about a book. He noticed that the Motorola Star-Tac phone was surprisingly like the Star Trek communicator, and thought, "Hey, there’s probably a connection here." So over the course of about six years we collected every sci-fi interface that we could in an online database. We tagged that cloud with a database and wrote a book about the results. That book was published in 2012. We just went through our second printing where all of the errata (that many people here may have pointed out) is now corrected. In fact, one of the awards for the trivia contest is a copy of that second [printing].


So, that’s what that project is about. Since just before the release of the book I’ve been hosting a website called where I’m slowly releasing that database that we built up and adding a few other things, so it’s actually quite a lot of nerdery all in one place.


So I want to start up the evening. What we’re going to do is some Fifth Element interface trivia. What I need is 10 volunteers…

[No spoilers from the transcript! Answers to the trivia are in the video. If you want to try the questions yourself, put your answers in the comments before watching it, though all the awards have been given out.]

  1. Why is March 18 Fifth Element Day?
  2. How many cigarettes is Korben allowed each day?
  3. How many points does Korben Dallas have on his license when he gets in the taxi, and for extra credit, how does he know?
  4. What Big Label appears on this interface in the film?
  5. What Big Label appears on this interface in the film?
  6. What Big Label appears on this interface in the film?
  7. What is Leeloo looking at when we see this close up of her eye?
  8. What word is repeated three times in the encyclopedia?
  9. This image is associated with which entry in the encyclopedia?
  10. This image is associated with which entry in the encyclopedia?
  11. Fill in the blank "This is a police patrol. This is not an exercise. Can you please spread your legs and _______________."
  12. In the pilot of sci-fi university, the weapon against ultimate evil is an example of what two interface principles?
  13. Can you name any of the four things that the design of the ultimate weapon tests for?
  14. What does it mean that the ultimate evil approaches Earth in exactly the right bearing and at exactly the right time to be stopped by a spinning weapon that cannot be aimed?


As you may have surmised, the blog covers individual interfaces in movies. I’m going to talk very briefly about one that appears in this film.

One of the reasons why I picked The Fifth Element to watch annually is that it has a number of great interfaces. On the blog there are 53, some of which contain multiple interfaces. It’s chock-full of interface goodness. We’re going to talk about this particular one. Note that this isn’t one of the great ones, this is one of the ones that could use improvement.

[22:14] 4 A DAY

So let’s take a little tour. When Dallas wakes up we see that his apartment sort of "comes on" after his alarm, and one of the things he does is he walks to this machine to get his cigarettes. At the very bottom it shows what his goal is. "TO QUIT IS MY GOAL." (That’s what the shirt says.) At the top is kind of a reminder. It says, "Quit smoking!" With "4 Refill" and "4™ a day." On the right side is this utterly inexplicable LCD display. I think those "1s" are meant to represent the cigarettes, but I’m not certain. And I think in the center is a huge, overblown "there are four left." Why on earth would you need that, when you can glance to the left and look? And the last thing. Is that the temprature of the cigarettes? Is it important that they stay at 27.5 degrees? Really, that makes no sense at all.

And then this is the interface panel that’s he’s got, the buttons that he has to push, and they make more sense. You’ll see Korben only presses the bottom one and it’s kind of useless.

Audience member: It’s a tiny humidor! [This is brilliant, whoever suggested it. But I looked, and it’s too warm!]

To explain why this is good, we have to dip down very briefly into persuasive design. Has anybody here every studied persuasive design?

[23:19] HOT SIGNALS IN THE PATH (poorly explained)

Awesome. Did you study under B.J. Fogg? B.J. talks about a principle called "putting the hot signal on the path." What that means is, when you are trying to provide a trigger for a user to get them to recognize an opportunity to change their own behavior, it needs to be a hot signal. Hot in this sense is one that gets the user’s attention readily. And that’s one of the problems with this interface. There are signals all over it to tell Korben, "Hey, you don’t want to keep smoking." There’s a surgeon general’s warning in the back. There’s that reminder of the goal.

But we also know that humans have a psychological capacity to habituate. You see something a number of times and you’ll stop seeing it anymore. (The other thing is that if the surgeon general’s warning is meant to persuade anyone, it’s behind four glass vials where it absolutely cannot be read. It’s a piece of misery.

I have one story to tell to illustrate the hot signal in the path. Back when I had a small apartment in Houston, we had an air conditioner that was located in the attic. It had a drain pan that actually dripped through a hole in the ceiling directly onto the head of the shower-er. That was freezing. I hated this thing. I thought, "Screw that." I took the hole and moved it to the side. (Oh wow you can’t see me there. I disappeared when that happened.)

This seemed to solve my problem. I had no cold water, I could enjoy my showers. But what ultimately occurred was that the water flooded the drain pan above me. My short term goal of not being frozen to death was actually a bad thing to design for. I should have left it above me because it was a hot signal in the path. (The irony there I hope you’ll appreciate.) The signal was in a place where I would encounter it, in a place the designers know I would be. And that’s what hot signals on the path are.


When we take that same principle and apply it to the interface, we want to stop the habituation by having this [the goal statement] be an e-ink display that changes every day. And [the surgeon general’s warning] be an LED screen that changes and doesn’t show text. You can’t read text there, through a glass vial. What you want to see back there is an image. And I borrowed one of the images from the Australian cigarette packages that are really gory and really gross and make you think twice. "What the heck am I about to smoke?"

[26:01] WRAP UP [Leaving off the transcript]

Okey doke. That’s all I’m going to leave you with. Because a) there’s beer and b) there’s a cool movie to watch. But if you dig this kind of thinking, there are four places you can get it.

[26:19] MOAR

[26:41] 3 quick announcements:

  • I have Movie Night shirts up at (What’s that red cross-bar for? The site was down at the time.)
  • If you’re interested in trying some future thinking, come to Cooper’s Design the Future class, which I’ll be teaching.
  • Stick around for a post-show preview of the next sci-fi university
  • OK, we’ll see that start in about a minute. You guys enjoy the show.