Film at Eleven

It's Olof again, liveblogging from C4.

John Gruber took us on a tour of Apple User Interface last night, and talked about consistency and uniformity.  But he really got the thought provokage started with the observation

   "Designing an app is like directing a movie."

There is a building wave of people thinking of software in cinematic terms.  Do you remember seeing the genie effect for the first time?  Functionally, a window gets collapsed into the dock.  But if you were like me, you played with the genie effect a few times just to see it. 

Whether or not the genie's swoosh motion into the dock really does help the user  by, it was a defining part of the user experience.  For Mac developers in 2006, the idea of 'software as movie' is taking hold. If you haven't heard the phrase 'cinematic experience' enough this year, you haven't been drinking enough Kool-Aid.

And increasingly, application developers have more and more tools available to make animation and high quality sound a part of applications.  We've got compositing windows and serious CoreImage graphics processing, and computing power to spare to waste on pixel candy.  There are more subtle hints, too.  'Spotlight', 'Sherlock' or 'Time Machine' as names for technologies feel very Hollywood.  But at what point does building an application turn into directing a movie?  And is that a bad thing?

Gruber offers Delicious Library as an example of an application where a big part of the Wow factor was an only marginally useful but stunningly gorgeous library display shelf:

   "If I was a competitor to Delicious Library, I'd be demoralized looking at it.  Here I thought I was writing software and I got beat by a movie."

Continuing in that direction, its easy (but perhaps scary) to imagine a world where applications are differentiated like movies are.  Easy because Apple ships examples like GarageBand and iTunes that are moving in that direction.  Scary because there are examples like Kai's Power Tools.

Scary, too, because it means software developers need to think more and more like filmmakers.  Maybe MacBU needs to hire some people with movie industry experience.  What's that?  We already do?  Cool!   

Comments (6)

  1. Phil Bowell says:

    Out of interest will this make you rethink the interface for Mac Messenger?  I find the office interface fine and feel it blends with the OS well, but Messengers does not.  WIll you be planning to make it integrate with the OS to a greater extent?  Address book integration?  SPotlight? Applescript? Tabbed chat window? No brushed metal?  What you have is getting better, I just feel it could be built upon to give MSN users the same experience AIM users get with iChat!

  2. Nikolas Blanchet says:

    Does that mean you’re bringing the paper clip with a Godzilla skin into Mac Office?  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

  3. MOR says:

    The danger in cinematic design is taking away the users ability to control the app.  Software should be an interactive medium, totally participatory – not passive like film.

    It’s a design principle that I’ve always felt was misapplied in MS Office.  I do Mac support at a university and the #1 complaint I hear is “Why is Word  changing what I typed”.  Of course the user can turn that off, but they can’t stand it when the computer takes over and starts formatting things for them, making email addresses into links, etc.

    Apple describes this problem well in the HIG.

    “User Control

    Allow the user, not the computer, to initiate and control actions. Some applications attempt to assist the user by offering only those alternatives deemed good for the user or by protecting the user from having to make detailed decisions. Because this approach puts the computer, not the user, in control, it is best confined to parts of the user interface aimed at novice users. Provide the level of user control that is appropriate for your audience.”



    This is a brilliant post.  It reminded me that Delicious Library is one of the very few apps that I’ve actually shelled out money to buy in the last 3 years – and one of the few apps I keep on my computer and NEVER USE.

    On the other hand, I’m not unsatisfied with it.  It’s quite a bit like my bookshelf (I don’t use it everyday, but it’s an important part of my workspace) and when I do use it it’s an intuitive experience.  However, it doesn’t really do what it should.  It should have the functionalities of EndNote and Google Books.  If it did, I’d use it more often.

  4. Olof says:

    Nikolas –

    ’nuff said about the paper clip.  Lessons have been learned.  However, for Win Office 2002 Japanese, the paper clip was replaced by a dolphin, who swam around the screen offering paper-clipish advice.  It was kind of screen-saverish and the experience was much happier than the paper clip.  

    MOR –

    It’s no coincidence that Gruber’s talk was actually titled ‘The HIG is Dead’.  That is, the meaning of the phrase ‘appropriate for your users’ has evolved well beyond what was envisioned at the time, and the HIG is no longer a living document, so it is quickly becoming stale as a question-settling reference.  

    But the substance of your point (and of the HIG) is that we shouldn’t be violating the user’s expectations about who is in control of their document.  And there’s no debate on that point. That should always be true for a productivity app.

  5. I am not at C4, yet I believe I know what Gruber is talking about: The same issue that has plagued UCD (and HCI-fileds) for a long time: There is no good way to design extremely complex interactions using standard methods such as UCD and HIG:s.

    From a Semiotic point of view the interface should always communicate what it is to the user and always “tell a story” about what is possible. Thus:  UI design is like making a movie.

  6. Ilgaz says:

    Don’t let nice, beautiful, art like look of applications such as Delicious Library fool you, there is very advanced/object oriented/state of art code inside.

    Especially Delicous Library uses everything offered by OS X technologies/frameworks.

    They are true OS X Applications offering Mac user experience.

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