By Jessica Webster
Art Director, Horizon Display
Wouldn't it be great if all you had to do to create an awesome interactive experience was copy what we see in the movies? It works for Steven Spielberg, shouldn't it work for me? No. And it's totally not fair, right?
Your job isn't to repackage Spielberg's vision of the future
Even if you're not a science fiction person, nothing is more frustrating than seeing something awesome in theaters, something that also seems absolutely plausible in real life, just to find that Hollywood has bamboozled us yet again! (And if this doesn't frustrate you, you're obviously a cyborg.) Take Minority Report for example, where Tom Cruise famously twirled his gloved fingers through 3D graphical windows with holographic animations and other neat randomness. This scene was ... impactful to say the least, especially to the interactive solutions industry. Christian Brown of TheAwl.com said, "I wish I could get away with charging my clients a fee for every time they say 'Minority Report' to me ... I spend a lot of time trying to repackage Steve Spielberg's vision of the future." I totally agree.
So the biggest problem here is not our personal annoyances, it is that we are being contacted by prospects who are looking for a style similar to what they saw in "Minority Report" or "Oblivion." This futuristic idea of interactive technology is what many people expect, and somewhere along the way, we got the idea that our job is to give our customers what they want without fully and accurately diagnosing what they really need.
So what lessons about interactive technology can we learn from our favorite Sci-Fi movies? To be honest, they're mostly tips on what not to do and how you can explain why to your customers.
1. Your interactive solution doesn't have to be designed to blow people away with breakthrough technology.
You don't always need an "Avatar" experience, especially if you're working off of a "Star Trek" circa 1997 budget. The technology in "Avatar" was amazing and memorable, but almost as mind blowing was its $237 million budget. On the other hand, "Star Trek," despite a restricted budget, had special effects which were superior to most TV shows and movies of its time. Why? Efficient repurposing of content. Some of the production staff from "Star Trek" also worked on "The Outer Limits" and often made creative re-use of props and effects from this earlier series. The lesson here is to start with what you have. Audit your content assets, as there may be a chance to repurpose what you already have in a completely new way.
"Star Trek" was also one of the most culturally influential movies/TV series in Sci-Fi history. Not because Captain Picard used something that looked exactly like an iPad 23 years before it was invented, but because of its amazing storyline (a.k.a content.) In the end, we humans don't remember the technology, we remember the experience.
Now, although you may not need the most astonishing technology, you should future-proof your interactive solution. "By future-proofing your solution, your hardware will be able to deliver UI/UX principles or new gestures for multiple user software without costly upgrades or replacements," said Steve Gladden, the creative director for Horizon Display.
2. Your interactive solution shouldn't just be a blatant ploy to look hip and cool.
In our industry, we always love the opportunity to create a dynamic experience that makes other humans say "Wow!" But there's no reason to create a mindless interactive solution that just gets in their way or slows them down. Take 2010's "Tron: Legacy" for example. How long do you think Kevin Flynn spent hunched over his touch table writing code on his virtual keyboard? I mean how many hours does it really take to create the Tron universe? I've only spent about an hour writing this article and I'm already getting wrist cramps!
This interactive solution in "Tron" forces the user to sit at a touch table, look straight down and type awkwardly on a very flat surface. In my opinion, the most amazing part of this movie is the fact that Kevin doesn't have crippling neck cramps and carpal tunnel when Sam finds him in The Grid. The point is you don't have to sacrifice ergonomics to have a cool user experience. If your interface requires a lot of data entry and you insist on using a virtual keyboard, tilt the face of the display for a more comfortable experience.
3. Interactive technology in the movies is way cool when you can see right through it. Not so much in real life.
Taking a step back, there is definitely a use for transparent touch technology. Interactive vending machines are a great example. You can see through the glass as you would a typical vending machine, but there's an overlay of interactive animations to make your experience a little more wholesome as you feed your junk food cravings. This works because vending machines are bright inside, and backlighting is critical if you actually want to see what's on screen.
If you've watched any Sci-Fi flick created in 2000 and beyond, chances are you know what I'm talking about in lesson No. 3. In movies like "Minority Report" and "The Avengers," nameless henchmen pinch and flick away on sheets of non-reflective acrylic with glowy blue and yellow holographic images and video. This is something we haven't figured out yet. "The primary issue with transparent displays is the light source," said Ryan Miller, display solutions specialist for Horizon Display. "These images show a healthy brightness and contrast that can't be achieved without a directional light source. You have backlights in LCDs that are encapsulated, or edge lights that sit on the side of the display. The problem is edge lights require a diffuser — an opaque white plane that goes across the back of the LCD which scatters light uniformly."
This is real life
As dysfunctional as interactive technology is in our favorite Sci-Fi movies, it doesn't mean we don't love seeing it and have to be completely uninspired by it. Touch technology on the big screen is playing a part in creating demand for our interactive solutions, and that is something we can all be excited about. We just have to remember that our real job as interactive solutions strategists is to take seriously our obligation to figure out exactly what technology our customers need before prescribing them just what they want to see.
Jessica Webster is the art director for Horizon Display, an interactive solutions company which focuses on creating dynamic experiences that significantly align with customers' business objectives. She is responsible for working with Horizon's interactive strategy team to engineer graphical representations of their wire framed concepts.
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