T12: Rockets, Robots, and AI: HCI/UX in Science-Fiction Movies/TV

Wednesday, 29 June 2022, 17:00 – 21:00 CEST (Central European Summer Time - Gothenburg, Sweden)
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Aaron Marcus (short bio)

Aaron Marcus and Associates (AM+A), Berkeley, California, United States



Participants in this course will:

  • Understand how science-fiction movies and television have/have not incorporated fundamental principles of user-centered design to achieve usability, usefulness, and appeal
  • Understand the development of science-fiction in the popular media over the past 100 years
  • Understand how to apply their professional knowledge to analyze this form of popular media

Participants should be generally familiar with user-interface development steps (planning, research, analysis, design, evaluation, implementation, documentation, training) and user-interface components (metaphors, mental models, navigation, interaction, and experience), but may have little or no experience in science-fiction or the history of movies and television.

Participants can use their knowledge of user-experience design, interaction design, visual design, software/hardware engineering, ethnography, anthropology, and usability analysis to find new insights in this course and new ways to apply their expertise and experience.

Concepts covered to assist professionals to design more effectively are these:

  • User Analysis: Specification of user demographics and user-environment, user modeling, task analysis, and accounting for business objectives
  • Metaphors: Easy recognized and remembered, fundamental concepts conveyed through words, signs, and images
  • Mental models: Appropriate organization of data, functions, tasks, roles, and people
  • Navigation of mental model:  Efficient movement within the mental model via windows, menus, dialogue boxes, or control panels
  • Interaction:  Effective input and output-feedback sequencing
  • Appearance:  Quality visual, acoustic, and touch characteristics
  • Information Visualization:  Tables, charts, maps, and diagrams
  • Basic visual design: Scale, proportion, rhythm, symmetry, and balance
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • User-centered design process


Content and Benefits:

This tutorial present examples from notable science-fiction films and videos that incorporate human-computer interaction (HCI) and user-experience (UX) design. The course begins with the advent of movies in the early 1900s (e.g., Melies' "A Trip to the Moon," which was later referenced in the movie "Hugo", 2011) and concludes with the latest sci-fi movies/videos. Originally, many science-fiction movies, taking their cue from pulp fiction, focused on rocket ships and interplanetary travel. Later the scope of the stories broadened and deepened to future consumer products, psychological/social issues, and new technologies such as exoskeletons, robots, and artificial intelligence. Once a rarified genre and primarily products of Hollywood (with notable products from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan), these films/videos now occupy a primary place in modern international popular media, and may originate in China or South Korea, as well as North America and Europe.

For many decades sci-fi movies showed technology in advance of its commercialization (for example, video phones and wall-based television displays, hand-gesture systems, virtual reality displays, and artificial-intelligence (AI)-based robots). In some cases, mistaken predictions about what is usable, useful, and appealing were adopted, sometimes because of their cinematic usefulness. In any case, these media have served as informal "test-beds" for new technologies of human-computer interaction and communication. They provide ample evidence for use in heuristic evaluations, ethnographic analyses, market analyses, critiques of personas and use scenarios, and new approaches to conceptual and visual design. As examples of speculative fiction, they have use beyond their entertainment value.

The course will explore issues of what is futuristic and what is not, attitudes towards technology, gender-role differences, optimism/pessimism about technology and society, and user-centered design characteristics (including typography and sign systems) in more than two dozen films and a half-dozen television shows from Europe and North America. Examples from China, India, and Japan also will be referenced.

New for 2022: Many new examples of films from 2018-22 are cited and illustrated, including “Ready Player One “(USA, 2018), “Wandering Earth” (China, 2019), “2.0” (India, 2018), and “Space Sweepers” (South Korea, 2021), “Dune” (USA, 2021). Each year, new content is added to reflect the latest movies, videos, and trends. In addition, several new books about sci-fi movies have been published, such as Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents: The 100 Greatest Science Fiction Films, which are referenced, as well as the 2019 sci-fi exhibit “Cowboys in Space”,  first shown in Austin, Texas, at the Bullock Museum. During a coffee break, for those who return quickly, some slides from that exhibit will be shown. As always, the tutorial notes show all lecture slides.

Participants will be informally quizzed about their recognition of the media examples shown and about their analysis of contexts, technologies, business models, user communities, and designs. Discussion with participants throughout the presentation will be encouraged. Participants in this course will understand how science-fiction movies and television have/have not incorporated fundamental principles of user-centered design to achieve usability, usefulness, and appeal; will understand the development of science-fiction in the popular media over the past 120 years; and will understand better how to apply their professional knowledge to look at popular media with a critical eye.

Detailed Description and Allocation of Time

Lecture 0: Introduction to instructor and tutorial (about 30 minutes)
Introduces schedule, objectives, speaker’s credentials, and participants.

Lecture 1: Rockets, Robots, and AI: HCI/UX in Science-Fiction Movies/TV (about 150 minutes)
This lecture introduces key terminology and concepts regarding the user-interface design/user-experience design, science-fiction narratives, and discusses the history of science-fiction movies and television. The lecture is continually updated with new publication references, additional film/TV references, and latest-trend concepts, such as robots and artificial intelligence.


Target Audience:

The target audience for this tutorial includes those professionals, academics, students, and researchers who are familiar with UX/HCI concepts, who may be new to thinking about science-fiction movies and television shows in the context of UX/HCI design, and have a strong interest in this topic.

Bio Sketch of Presenter:

Aaron Marcus, Principal, AM+A

Mr. Marcus has been a life-long fan of science-fiction novels, magazines, movies, and television shows. He organized two sci-fi panels at CHI conferences in 1992 and 1999, the first of which CHI acknowledged as the most popular event ever held at CHI up to that time. He edited a special issue  of UX magazine on the subject of UX in Sci-Fi. He has given keynote lectures about UX in Sci-Fi in the USA, China, and Europe. He published as an e-book The Past 100 Years of the Future: UX in Sci-Fi Movies and Television (2012). He has lectured about UX in sci-fi worldwide.

Mr. Marcus has been researching and designing user-experiences since 1969. He received a BA in Physics from Princeton University (1965) and a BFA and MFA in Graphic Design from Yale University School of Art and Architecture (1968). He is an internationally recognized authority on the design of user interfaces, interactive multimedia, and printed/published documents. Mr. Marcus has given tutorials at HCII, SIGGRAPH, SIGCHI, HFES, UXPA and other conferences, and at seminars/workshops for businesses and academic institutions around the world. He has published 39 books and more than 300 articles, including Human Factors and Typography for More Readable Programs (1990), The Cross-GUI Handbook (1994), Mobile TV: Customizing Content and Context (2010), Graphic Design for Electronic Documents and User Interfaces (1992), The Past 100 Years of the Future: UX in Sci-Fi Movies and Television (2012), Mobile Persuasion Design (2015), HCI/User-Experience Design: Fast Forward to the Past, Present, and Future (2015), Cuteness Engineering: Designing Adorable Products and Services (2017), and Aaron Marcus: Way Ahead of You in Another Direction (In preparation, 2022). Mr. Marcus was the world’s first professional graphic designer to work full-time in computer graphics (1967), to program a desktop publishing system (for the AT&T Picturephone, 1969-71), to design virtual realities (1971-73), and to establish an independent computer-based UX and information-visualization firm (1982). In 1992, he received the National Computer Graphics Association Industry Achievement Award for contributions to computer graphics. In 2008, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) named him a Fellow; in 2009, SIGCHI elected him to the CHI Academy. He has been a Visiting Professor, Institute of Design, IIT, Chicago; College of Design and Innovation, Tongji University, Shanghai; and Computer Science Department, Dalian Maritime University, Dalian, China.

Mr. Marcus is Principal of Aaron Marcus and Associates (AM+A), a user-interface and information-visualization development firm with 40 years of experience in helping people make smarter decisions faster, at work, at home, at play, and on the way. AM+A has developed user-centered, task-oriented solutions for complex computer-based design and communication challenges for clients worldwide on all major platforms (client-server networks, the Web, mobile devices, appliances, and vehicles), for most vertical markets, and for most user communities within companies and among their customers. AM+A has served corporate, government, education, and consumer-oriented clients to meet their needs for usable products and services with proven improvements in readability, comprehension, and appeal. AM+A uses its well-established methodology to help them plan, research, analyze, design, implement, evaluate, train, and document metaphors, mental models, navigation, interaction and appearance. AM+A has developed ten concept designs for mobile persuasion design, documented in Mobile Persuasion Design (2015). AM+A’s clients include Apple, BMW, HP, Kaiser, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Oracle, Sabre, Samsung, SAP, Siemens, US Federal Reserve Bank, Visa, and Xerox. AM+A has received design awards from several organizations, including the International Institute for Information Design for the design of five mobile persuasion-based concept designs.