Wireframe S2 Episode 5: Faking Good Design in Movies and TV

“Faking Good Design” by Lucas Wakamatsu

We’re in the back half of our second season of “Wireframe,” the documentary podcast about good user experience design hosted by yours truly, and we have a couple of killer episodes lined up. See the end of this post for a preview of next week, but first up and out right now, we have a topic that combines two of my great passions: design and film. This episode is called “Faking Good Design” and it looks at how fantasy user interfaces, or “FUI,” are created for movies and television. Listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.

You’ve seen these in everything from the “Bourne” franchise to Marvel movies to “Black Mirror” and more. As filmmakers and TV producers increasingly embrace technology in their storytelling, designers have been called upon to add verisimilitude to these productions with elaborate, sometimes wildly fanciful interfaces.

As a designer, these creations have always fascinated me, especially as we’re seeing them more and more. On the one hand, I admire the sheer imagination that often goes into the design of them. On the other hand I sometimes bemoan how often storytellers lean too heavily on fantasy user interfaces to carry the burden of their narratives. In fact this episode’s producer, James Green, starts off our discussion with this quote from a blog post that I wrote three years ago:

…Often, a computer interface serves as a kind of a crutch for the plot. I always balk when a tense moment relies on a progress bar getting to 100% or something; it really feels like the screenwriter didn’t really do his or her job of creating a legitimately compelling dramatic challenge for the protagonists.

That came from an interview I conducted with designer Kirill Grouchnikov, who runs an amazing resource for FUI work over at pushing-pixels.org. If you’re interested in this subject then that interview is well worth a read, though unfortunately Kiril does not appear in this episode. However, we were able to include some terrific commentary on FUI from designers like Mark Coleran, who worked on the the “Bourne Identity” series, Gemma Kingsley, who worked on “Black Mirror,” and Robyn Haddow, who works on Marvel films. They provide some wonderful insight into what it takes to bring these to life, including an aspect I had never considered: the need for the designers to be on set, coaching actors on how to use the unique, one of a kind interfaces.

As with each episode, there’s plenty more background on this topic in a companion blog post at Adobe. If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.

Finally, tune in next week for our last episode which draws back the curtain on the weird, mysterious (to me) world of dating apps, and how user experience design drives the way people find love in 2019.

Art by Lucas Wakamatsu, who is illustrating each episode of this season.