Friday, November 14, 2008

Critiquing James Bond's Multitouch Computer

OK, it's Friday, the new James Bond is out and it's gonna be great!! Quantum of Solace is must see TV. Go, go now.

But before you do, let's take a look at the incredibly cool multitouch UI eyecandy. It has a lot to teach about designing for multitouch.

It is filled with interesting ideas, yet it contains core usability issues that I see clients struggle with every day.

Comments are keyed to the numbers in the figure below:

1. Windows, Size and Orientation.
Windows- So, James Bond is working on the world's largest touchscreen, yet there isn't enough room for all of the content????? Why is the map covered up?

Size- It's really hard to use 12' interactive maps that are 3 feet away. They look cool, but IMAX-scale images do things like can cause epileptic seizures when they move around.

Orientation- Looking down all day causes a lot of stress on the neck. That's why old school drafting and writing tables are angled. Even Startrek got this one right.

2. Secondary content. It's a great idea to have a gridded secondary area for content that isn't actively being manipulated. This would be more useful if it was rotated 90 degrees so both M and Bond could read the text.

3. Is M scanning a piece of paper in here? Very cool. Someone, please do this with Surface. It doesn't have the resolution of a proper scanner, but if you can OCR a crappy fax, a 12 pt. laser print should work just fine.

4. It's great that there is a "communal content area", but it would work better for both users if it was nongridded, like a Surface scatterview. It looks like there is text next to the headshots. unfortunately, it's to small for both M and Bond to read. There should also be an orientation strategy that enables both users to read it.

5. What is this? How does it work? Why is it here? What if M wants to use it?


  1. I just found your blog, so reading through all your posts. And I love that you're critiquing the Bond table. My reactions to your points:

    1. I believe they showed this linked to a vertical display as well, so presumably they aren't looking down all the time. But I think the real point here is that this application is clearly designed for collaboration, that's why they are on opposite sides of the screen. Having the display perfectly flat has its pros and cons (I discuss this topic as it relates to Surface quite often) but the primary plus is that it allows for manipulation from all sides.
    I don't think they're saying this a workspace that M stands at all day. It's more of a conference table.

    3. I've actually seen this done in a closed-door demo that combined Surface-like technology with a hidden digital camera. So when you placed the paper, it would quickly take a 5mp color picture and then load that onto a digital object. Very cool, and totally doable.

    2,4,5 Agreed. Ahh to be a hollywood special effects guy who only has to make things look cool. :)

  2. 1. My issue isn't with the device as a concept. I could sure use one. My issue is with the size of the hardware and the interface actually making it UNUSABLE for collaborative interaction.

    2. The way Surface handles visual data is very odd. There are a bunch of arcane technical and political reasons for it.

  3. Well it seems to me that as long as people on both sides can reach the center, then it's fine. If M wants to get at something that is over by Bond, then he asks him to pass it over.

    And I've never heard there were political reasons for Surface's visual limitations. The way I understand it, there are a few factors that limit the resolution.
    1. The drivers have to process the image data from 5 cameras multiple times a second without having any noticable effect on application perormance. So you can't have each camera feeding megapixel images or it would slow to crawl.
    2. The light diffraction layer on the screen helps you view it from all angles, but also blurs the camera's view.
    3. IR cameras are inherently limited in what they can 'see' vs. our eyes or a traditional camera.

  4. Did you watch the movie? The OS was applied throughout the film on all MI6 gadgets, just curious. Cheers

  5. Hi James,

    Yes I did see the film. Twice. I focused on the table because it was the only setpiece that showed multiple, practical tasks being completed on it.

  6. Nice! Very interesting read by the way, its nice to see the devices engaged on this level of discussion.

  7. Hey James,

    Could you tell us a little bit about your shops' work on Quantum of Solace?

    BTW. All the motion graphics looked friggn' awesome!

  8. i think we're still limited in what we can and can't say, but i think in general I can talk about it loosely.

    We were tasked with coming up with the OS that would apply to all gadgets in the film. The big ones of course were the smart wall and the smart table at MI6. We wanted to create an interface that felt intuitive and node based. A lot of the early concepts came from neural networks, and brain mapping. We really wanted a system that felt like it was working alongside you, so it would group things by similarity and importance, and shuffle away things that weren't relevant. Another important factor was creating something that felt plausible. Having a real world feel to the technology, as if MI6 had just slightly better tech then everyone else, but still possible. I think the two biggest references/influences was Surface and the iphone. Both devices that feel intuitive and very tangible.

    I guess that is a general gist? Glad you enjoyed the film enough to watch it twice! :)

  9. @James
    It's very cool to hear that a large amount of thought went into designing something that theoretically makes sense, instead of just something flashy. Especially considering the history of Bond movies (and hollywood UI's in general).

  10. Hey James, you probably can't tell us, but how did you figure out what you wanted the devices to do?

    Hollywood would typically go to someone like John Underkoffler for this sort of thing, but I didn't see anyone in the credits :~}

  11. Yeah not so sure I have the best answer for that :)

    A solid foundation makes any piece better, it also helps all the artists working with the interface to be on the same level. Everything has rules so the animation is consistent and easy to follow.

  12. Ah, a polite, yet oblique nonanswer :~P

  13. :) Sorry i meant that as part A to you Jonathan and part B to Seraph. But yeah hopefully in the near future things will ease up on the details. There is few interviews that are out / coming out that I think are insightful to the process as well. The only one of the top of my head is the latest issue of CineFX -- we chatted a little bit in there about our work in the movie.

  14. @James
    I for one am super excited to learn more!