Probably about once a week for the past several years, I’ll hear an art director, marketer or technologist say these words: “You know, like Minority Report.” And in the case of some clients: “You know, like that movie with Tom Cruise, set in the future with that chick that yells RUUUNNNN at the top of her lungs.”
Steve Spielberg’s Minority Report premiered nine years ago with a slew of futuristic gadgetry and has easily become the go-to reference for slick user interface design. Spielberg actually hired a team of futurists to envision a viable version of what 2054 could look like. At the center of the PreCrime HQ, we find a unique, glass-screened computer interface that continues to influence interactive projects and design aesthetics nearly a decade later.
For those of you who need a quick refresher, here’s the scene. What’s interesting is that nine years later, it’s not necessarily as grand as I remember (now that our industry has adopted many of these principles), but it’s still exceptionally dramatic and extremely well executed.
So here they are, the top 5 reasons Minority Report is relevant in 2011:
Multi-touch Glass Hardware
Rumors of the transparent, all-glass monitor continue to perpetuate, but let’s look at the here and now. A couple of years ago, Apple switched to glass displays because they’re apparently “highly recyclable.” But I’m not sure if recyclability actually has much to do with the decision. Look around town and what you’ll find is a diverse population wielding slabs of multi-touch glass (iPods, iPads, Androids, etc.). Though they’re not transparent (yet), the future is here.
Intuitive Interface Design
Minority Report’s interfaces were a definite precursor of the rich GUI’s we now know and love. The Multi-touch user interfaces demonstrate cool, touch-based search and scrubbing functionality that’s been used and reused in films as recent as Iron Man (1 and 2) and TRON: Legacy.
Minority Report landed just beyond the tail end of the late 90s’ Virtual Reality craze. Everyone thought VR was the future, so (of course), Tom Cruise’s character wears Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out-style Power Gloves. The gloves turned out to be unnecessary, but the gestures he uses to navigate the interface are much like the ones we’ve adopted as standards: swipe, drag, pinch, expand, rotate.
For years, personal computing devices were simply relegated to the desktop or laptop. In this one scene, we see a desktop screen, an extremely large flatscreen and a portable glass tablet that transfers content between the two larger displays. This one’s a little bit of a stretch, but even as I write this post, I’m surrounded by multiple computing devices quite similar to what’s illustrated in this scene.
Spacial Operating Environment
This is the principle that’s just beginning to take off. With Wii and Kinect bringing real-world geometry into interactive interfaces, you can see a not-too-distant future where spacial UI navigation is the norm. One of Spielberg’s futurists, John Underkoffler says it best via his TED Talk.
I’m sure at some point, another filmmaker (let’s face it, probably J.J. Abrams) will produce the next sci-fi flick to inspire a generation of interface designers. Until then, it seems that interactive designers will continue to endure the now classic phrase, “You know, like Minority Report.”