Saturday, April 18, 2015

It Came From 1968

I've been noticing that the concept of "design" - especially as in "interface design" - has been gradually permeating my professional life of late. I don't mind - I loved the human factors classes I took back in college, and I've always loved a good user interface. Even in television and the movies, and especially when it's not just a bunch of crap buttons that somebody threw together in a hurry. Which was pretty much the standard at one time.

I think it all changed in 1968, when Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke got together to make a movie called 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm going to guess you've seen it. I was 8 years old at the time, and those monkeys at the beginning scared the crap out of me. And the next couple of hours were somewhat tense, 'cause a) I was 8yo, b) I had even less of an idea of WTF was going on than most people, and c) I just knew those fucking monkeys were gonna come back.

But I was wrong, and over the next several years I found the movie richly rewarded repeat viewings. Although I'll be damned if I remember how I managed that, back in the early 1970s. But 1968 was also the year I started to read science fiction, and most of Clarke's work is surprisingly accessible, even to the single-digit-age crowd. If you're young and single-minded enough about something like, oh, science fiction, you will find a way.

Even back then, there were things I "got": like, there were many, many displays and controls, and it was obvious that they weren't the same crap that usually showed up in science fiction movies. I could tell someone put some serious thought (and time, and money) into really thinking about what this kind of stuff might look like, and how it might function. I ate it up. The early exposure to computer graphics was probably a big part of why I ended up being interested in computers and eventually majoring in CS. In fact, I went to college at the place where the fictional HAL 9000 was supposedly manufactured.

All of this is preface to the fact that when I saw the HAL 9000 OS running as a screensaver in Alessandro Cortini's studio, I knew I had to have it.

A few other things, in case anyone actually reads this far down:

The iPad and iPhone have been hotbeds of some really serious radical UI design. I have many, many synthesizer and audio apps and I confess that I've bought some of them just because they cost $.99 and I loved the user interface.

I've got hundreds of projects lined up. One of them is that I should make a User Interface blog and post all of the designs I've collected over the years. I believe this has been done, perhaps more than once, by other people. But I think I have some material than no-one else has even thought about.

There have been two or three other movies before 2001 that put some effort into special effects (which sometimes included misc aspects of UI design): Forbidden Planet (1956), Voyage to the End of the Universe (aka Ikarie XB 1) (1963), and Things To Come (1936) (which was arguably not big on the UI side of things, but it still had some impressive SFX work near the end).

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