[pullquote author=”FutureScapes”]FutureScapes is all about imagining what the world of 2025 will look like and the role technology could play in our lives.[/pullquote]
Sony put up these FutureScape videos — little design fiction films that introduce us to a conflicted world in the year 2025. This is design fiction par excellance at least insofar as we are effectively transported to this world as best as can be done for a little film. There is narrative punctuation that leads us through various epic events that have happened — we don’t need to know the intimate details of these events. Suffice it to say that political, economic and other struggles have swerved things as they always do. There are events, loosely referred to as “2021” — that are this future’s “9/11”. Etc.
As narrative, this sort of thign works. It does something to gradually get me out of the contingent moment and into the fun bits of the story so I can take it all in and see what that world might be like.
And, of course — it’s Sony so there’s going to be some technology. That part sorta sucks, I have to say. The technology is a bit much. It’s more than a prop; it’s a demo. And it’s all screens. Screens screens screen screens screens. Touch touch touch touch touch.
Okay. Fine. I’m the guy who’s looking for the other, other near futures. The one’s where we’ve moved along or took a swerve towards other interaction modalities. The future of UX and UI design seems to be stuck on a rail and no one is looking for anything else. I’m not saying that there *has to be something else; but what good is design if it doesn’t explore other interaction idioms? If it just makes fonts bigger and puts interactions on cupboards and walls? Seriously? Doesn’t that sound like fun? To challenge the existing dominant paradigm, if only to explore uncharted, unknown unknown territories?
I think the technology is fetishized way too much here. The tools are easy *and optimized for rendering and animating a specific kind of technology — touch screens/surfaces/planes. That optimization determines what will go into these design fictions. The tools predetermine the technological surround of these near future worlds that FutureScapes has produced.
But..that’s me. I’m sensitive to these sorts of things — the lineages of outcomes like this, where you wonder — how’d we get to this world of touch interaction? Was it because some films made it possible to cohere a speculative idea because some decision makers were enthralled with a visual spectacle and decided — hey, that’s the strategy. Touch-interactive cupboards and shelves!
You find this all the time. Poorly considered ideas that find their way in the world *somehow — and investigating the *somehow is useful. So too is realizing that you’re complicit in crap ideas if you get enthralled by a tool and over use it to the degree that someone assumes that this is the way things should be. I had a call with an engineer who thought our interaction design was too simple — one button — and should be ‘made better’ by adding a mobile phone interaction where you touch the mobile to the thing and, using NFC, the phone and the thing would connect and then a browser window pops open on the mobile and then you interact with the thing using the browser on the mobile to control the thing over Bluetooth so that anyone can do it.
Nip that sort of thing in the bud. What are the alternatives to consider besides what you see everywhere, or what you take for granted, or what is considered “hygiene” in your industry, or what cool new drop-down feature AfterEffects CS12 has, or what everyone else is doing, or what you think Steve or Sir Jony would do because you can get off their teet.
The other thing to say here is that the VFX amateurs are going bonkers with planar tracking. They love to track something in a scene and then put some semi-transparent animations of UI’s on it. They LOVE it. And then they move the camera a bit so it looks *real — like the UI is actually there in the thing and maybe it’s compelling enough that people think — huh, wow..is that real? At some point the VFX animation of planar tracked surfaces simply jumped the shark and now people do it cause they can. The VFX have determined the design. That’s bad design. Doing it cause you can, not cause you should.
And that, friends, is why we end up with a world of screen-based interactions. Because the folks at Imagineer System made the wonderful and wonderfully over-used Mocha Pro — a relatively inexpensive tool that anyone can use and — lo! — comes bundled with AfterEffects. There’s a criteria in there — when a tool becomes a *tool, rather than a bespoke, handcrafted workflow, then it’s sorta jumped the shark. I don’t blame them – Imagineer Systems. Maybe I blame Adobe a little. But, either way — I would expect more from those who use it to pull back a bit from making everything a planar interactive surface.