In the countdown to visiting the UXLx Conference in Lisbon this May withStrata3, I’ve been reading a lot about the speakers to help inspire me even before I enter the venue.

This article focuses on the work of Chris Noessel — no pressure @chrisnoessel, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what you have to say at the conference!

So for anyone who isn’t familiar with his work, here’s a quick breakdown of what I’ve learned to date and why I’m pretty excited about seeing him speak.

The SciFi Angle

Chris Noessel’s main area of interest is in the crossover between Science Fiction films and interface design. His blog Sci-Fi Interfaces takes an in-depth look at different interfaces and devices we see implemented in films and how these can influence or inspire designers and engineers in the real world.

Taxi interface, The Fifth Element

In some cases it’s hard to tell which came first, the SciFi film depiction or the real life object.

I could (and will) spend days reading this blog because it’s simply fascinating to look properly at these SciFi interfaces and how, as designers we can learn from them.

Also as a SciFi lover who wouldn’t enjoy reading endless hours of articles on the intricate details of your favourite films!

Take for example the technology we see in Minority Report (don’t hate me@chrisnoessel for mentioning this example, it’s just a favourite mine!!) — a curved interface which allows Detective John Anderton put on some fancy gloves and use gestures to sort through the data from the precognitive visions.


Precognitive investigation gestural interface, Minority Report

“This interface is one of the most memorable things in a movie that is crowded with future technologies, and it is one of the most referenced interfaces in cinematic history.” — Chris Noessel commented on Minority Report’s interface

When I first saw this it felt really natural and futuristic simultaneously. Remember this was in a time when smartphones or tablets weren’t normal accessories so these gestures were not yet commonplace in my life, but anything is possible in the future, right?

Head on over to read the full article on Smashing Magazine by Chris to find out more about What Sci-Fi Tells Interaction Designers About Gestural Interfaces.

I actually completely missed that little moment that Chris describes when Anderton gives Agent Danny Witwer a handshake which also changes what’s happening on his computer screen.

It’s actually nice to see these little technical flaws conveyed in films as it humanises the experience and makes it feel more real for me. Whether it was an accident that then got written into the movie or if it was always there — it makes me smile. But Chris is right, in the real world where designers strive to create a near perfect product a gestural interface should understand intentand clearly in this scene it fails to do so.

So many of the gestures shown in films outlined in this article are akin to our everyday experiences of how we interact with our devices today — pinch to scale, swipe to dismiss, touch to select, etc.

“If these seven gestures are already established, it is because they make intuitive sense …and a designer who deviates from them should do so only with good reason or else risk confusing the user.” — Chris Noessel

Chris touches lightly in this article on how voice can add another layer of interaction for the user. This topic is delved into more detail in an earlier UX Week 2010 talk before the launch of Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff’s book — Make it So: Learning from SciFi interfaces (this is a great video, go watch it now!)

In this talk they explore the connections between SciFi interfaces and it’s effect on the person watching the film, as well as the influence these interfaces can have on designers.

I found the part about voice interaction particularly fascinating — how important it is not to portray your computer companion as too human, as this may set high expectations of their capabilities. The results may be disappointing when they can’t live up to these “human” expectations we set.

Then there’s the other types of anthropomorphism such as we see with our beloved R2D2 in Star Wars. He has no voice per say, but the sounds he omits together with his “body” language bring him to life and communicate clear emotions to the viewer.


R2D2, Star Wars (does he even need a caption!)

This personally reminds me of WALL-e too — that little robot that has no words and yet manages to communicate very complex human emotions through subtle movement of his eyes and “hands”.



As Nathan Shedroff put it we don’t always need visuals or voice to help us understand an interface “sometimes just behaviour is enough”.

Chris goes on to explain the ways how designers can learn from SciFi interfaces in order to create better designs:

“Constraints ease the learning curve for new users” — Chris Noessel

The real take-away from this talk is that if an interaction works and feels natural for an audience, it could also work for users in interface design.

For more great examples of the worst and the best SciFi interfaces watch this short talk by Chris: — the ‘Hilarious Worst’ example from Star Wars is my favourite, that’s some great filmmaking right there!

To sum it all up head on over and watch his recent talk ‘Gorgeous + Catastrophic’ which goes on to describe how great SciFi interfaces may not always be able to influence real world technology because they simply wouldn’t work or would frustrate users in reality — no matter how awesome they look.


Control centre interface, Pacific Rim

So what I’ve learnt from Chris is that SciFi films have a means to explore without limits the possibilities of interface and interaction design which may help influence designers now. But designers need to take it to the next level and consider the impact of all aspects of the interface in order create something that both works easily for users as well as breaking those technological boundaries. And that’s no small feat!

If you don’t already have a copy of the book download or buy a copy nowMake it So, or check out his other collaboration About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design.

Really looking forward to the new talk @chrisnoessel about Semantic Noodling and Meaning Machines at UXLx and how this will influence my UX design thinking.

Read more blogs by Sarah on Strata3