Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Usability in the Movies -- Top 10 Bloopers

UI bloopers in movies ...

"User interfaces in film are more exciting than they are realistic, and heroes have far too easy a time using foreign systems.

The way Hollywood depicts usability could fill many a blooper reel. Here are 10 of the most egregious mistakes made by moviemakers.

1. The Hero Can Immediately Use Any UI
Break into a company -- possibly in a foreign country or on an alien planet -- and step up to the computer. How long does it take you to figure out the UI and use the new applications for the first time? Less than a minute if you're a movie star.
The fact that all user interfaces are walk-up-and-use is probably the single most unrealistic aspect of how movies depict computers. In reality, we know all too well that even the smartest users have plenty of problems using even the best designs, let alone the degraded usability typically found in in-house MIS systems or industrial control rooms.

2. Time Travelers Can Use Current Designs
An even worse flaw is the assumption that time travelers from the past could use today's computer systems. In fact, they'd have no conception of any of modern technology's basic concepts, and so would be dramatically more stumped than the novice users we observe in user testing. Even someone who's never used Excel at least understands the general idea of computers and screens.

You might think that people coming from the future would have an easier time using our current systems, given their supposedly superior knowledge. Not true. Like our travelers from the past, they'd lack the conceptual model needed to make sense of the display options. For example, someone who's never seen a command line or typed a command would have a much harder time using DOS than someone who grew up in the DOS era.

If you were transported back in time to the Napoleonic wars and made captain of a British frigate, you'd have no clue how to sail the ship: You couldn't use a sextant and you wouldn't know the names of the different sails, so you couldn't order the sailors to rig the masts appropriately. However, even our sailing case would be easier than someone from the year 2207 having to operate a current computer: sailing ships are still around, and you likely know some of the basic concepts from watching pirate movies. In contrast, it's highly unlikely that anyone from 2207 would have ever seen Windows Vista screens.

3. The 3D UI
In Minority Report, the characters operate a complex information space by gesturing wildly in the space in front of their screens. As Tog found when filming Starfire, it's very tiring to keep your arms in the air while using a computer. Gestures do have their place, but not as the primary user interface for office systems.
Many user interfaces designed for the movies feature gestural input and 3D data visualizations. Immersive environments and fly-through navigation look good, and allow for more dramatic interaction than clicking on a linear list of 10 items. But, despite being a staple of computer conference demos for decades, 3D almost never makes it into shipping products. The reason? 2D works better than 3D for the vast majority of practical things that users want to do.

3D is for demos. 2D is for work."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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