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Design fiction – lessons in innovation from Hollywood

By May 27, 2010blog, featured

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

As science fiction foreshadows science fact, design fiction foreshadows design fact

Minority Report was released in 2002. Nevertheless, to this day I to hear non-designers refer to natural interfaces as “Minority Report UI.” In 2008, Oblong’s spatial operating environment, known as g-speak, made Minority Report UI a reality. The lesson is clear. As Alan Kay put it, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Notice that Kay said “invent,” not “implement.” Magical experience sketches, created with little or no concern for implementation details, are extraordinarily powerful attractors that align and inspire product teams. We call these magical sketches “design fiction.” Just as science fiction foreshadows science fact, design fiction foreshadows design fact.

Hiroshi Ishii illustrates the power of design fiction in his talk on Tangible Media for Design and Inspiration:

John Underkoffler went to Hollywood and became a science and technology advisor to Steven Spielberg. In that movie you will see lots of tangible representations, and also ink, and also gesture recognition. So that is the best way to influence the thinking of many, through the movies. So one of the lessons we learned is, if your paper gets rejected by IEEE or ACM, go to Hollywood. Make a movie. You can make a much stronger impact. After that movie, SIGGRAPH was full of Minority Report installations.

Design fiction is as much a technique for evangelism as it is for design thinking. Next time you’re stuck in the design process, try asking yourself these questions:

  • How would the interface work in 2020?
  • How would the interface work if it were magical? [About Face]
  • How would the interface work if it were human? [About Face] (You can even simulate the behavior of the interface by using a human agent. This is known as the The Wizard of Oz technique. For instance, speech recognition can be prototyped with a microphone and a hidden typist.)

Answer these questions in your mind’s eye, grab your favorite sketching tool, and film the special effects for your design fiction: an inspiring glimpse of the future built with smoke and mirrors. Share, evangelize, repeat.

How do I know my design is any good if I haven’t experienced it? So what we try to do all the time is fake it. It’s really easy, in many cases, at the experiential level to figure out clever ways to just use really stupid technologies to do smart things…or really expensive technologies [that will be cheap in the future]. Bill Buxton, mix10


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