Before we can start thinking about how to improve the user experience of a product, and prior to knowing if something is even technically feasible, gadgets and software are conceptualized by creative minds. This type of innovative thinking happens in various industries, led by everyone from industrial engineers to software developers, and even Hollywood filmmakers.
In 1975, an ambitious young man named Alan Cooper was fresh out of College of Marin in Northern California where he studied architecture and paid his bills by taking on programming jobs in his spare time. He purchased his first personal computer that year, a IMSAI 8080 microcomputer, in an effort to familiarize himself before the inevitable rise of personal computing devices. Back then, computers were designed by programmers, for programmers, and the concept of improving the usability of these devices was not a priority. Eventually the price of computers dropped significantly and the value they provided began to appeal to mainstream consumers. Cooper soon realized that “the way software behaves towards its human users is even more important than what it does.” He started to market his consulting services as an “Interaction Designer” and founded Cooper Interaction Design with his wife, Sue. Today, it remains one of the most important voices in the UX and Interaction Design communities.
That first computer Cooper purchased was famously featured in the 1983 Matthew Broderick film War Games. His character, David, used the IMSAI 8080 to hack into his school’s computer and change his Biology grade from an F to a C. His screen showed a black and white MS-DOS-style prompt, worlds away from the graphical user interfaces that we view on our retina display-toting MacBook Pros of the present day. War Games was a science fiction movie, and as the plot progresses, things become a little more far fetched as David nearly starts a global thermonuclear war.
Science Fiction has served as inspiration for the evolution of digital products for many years, and often this industry’s role in functional technology isn’t recognized in the way that it should be. Here are a few interesting examples along with how they relate to our approach to digital solutions at HYFN.
In 1966, an episode of Star Trek featured a wireless communication device that the crew used to stay in contact with the Starship Enterprise while exploring an alien planet. This device seems to closely resembled a phone called the StarTAC that Motorola would eventually introduce to the market 1996, which could easily mean the designers and engineers of this phone were somehow influenced by the Star Trek episode they had seen 30 years earlier. Smartphone technology has come a long way since the introduction of the StarTAC—new screen sizes as well as camera, location and voice technology improvements all have an impact on the decisions we make as we design and develop for mobile applications. At HYFN, we keep a close eye on each device that enters the market so we’re always at the cutting edge of technical capabilities.
2002’s Minority Report was full of examples. In one memorable scene, as Tom Cruise’s character runs through a futuristic downtown area he is targeted by advertisements that seem to know some of his personal information and interests. Facebook had only been around for a couple of years at the time, but data collection and ad targeting technology were undoubtedly on the minds of not only the makers of this film, but some of the early employees of the newly founded social network. While the complexity of the social advertising landscape of the modern day continues to progress, HYFN strives to create innovative solutions for client’s unique problems. As an official advertising partner to all five major social channels, offering multi-platform capabilities and exclusive native tools, HYFN’s media team is using proven strategies to help our clients’ amplify their brands and target the right potential customers in any market.
During a dramatic scene in 1993’s Jurassic Park, a girl looks at one of the computers and realizes that she is familiar with the Unix System displayed on the screen. It’s a 3D graphical interface displaying each building in the park, and she was able to quickly orient herself on the screen with the mouse and navigate to the correct building in order to lock out the Velociraptors that were hunting them down for a quick snack. After revisiting this scene, I imagined the possibility of HYFN taking on Jurassic Park as a client. Our UX team would undoubtedly explore all possible scenarios that an employee might encounter while using this park management system. We pride ourselves in building a high level of empathy for users, conducting thorough research before we design and putting prototypes in front of users for iterative testing whenever possible.
As technology grows exponentially, we as designers encounter new and interesting problems that sometimes require us to imagine what the future might look like. We are inspired in many ways, including the science fiction of Hollywood that is looking more and more like nonfiction with every year that passes.
Alan Cooper would go on to become one of the great advocates of User-Centered Design and lay the foundation for our field that has resulted in products that provide more simple, usable, and personally relevant experiences. Much like Hollywood filmmakers, we aspire to shape the future and we are open to taking inspiration from wherever possible. What are some current predictions being made by mainstream media that will be realized by technology of the near future? The dystopian anthology series Black Mirror may be the best example of potential technology gone wrong, but some of the ideas in these episodes are either currently being developed or already existing in some form. Virtual reality horror experiences, thought-controlled contact lenses, uploaded consciousness, surveillance honeybee drones—the possibilities are endless.
As a UX Designer at HYFN, I have had the chance to work on a variety of projects that have reshaped my outlook of the future. Our team has designed for e-commerce platforms and learned the nuances of how customers shop and purchase products in an online marketplace. We have explored the potential of augmented reality platforms and how users engage with virtual elements in a physical world. We have researched artificial intelligence and realized that so far we have only witnessed the infancy of what this technology is capable of. No matter what we work on at HYFN, our goal is to help create meaningful customer journeys via content creation, social amplification, and creative technology. As we execute in these areas, we gain a perspective of our end users, making us uniquely qualified to carry out an effective UX Design process. It isn’t just wireframes and it doesn’t end when a product first launches. We want to make sure our clients are taking full advantage of what we offer, that UX Design is an ongoing and iterative process.