Designer, filmmaker, and Berg creative director Timo Arnall recently wrote that "interfaces are the dominant cultural form of our time." So much of how we experience modern popular culture, he writes, happens inside or adjacent to UI. This is no more apparent than at the multiplex, where characters in films as diverse as Fred Claus, Zero Dark Thirty, and Star Trek: Into Darkness are all shown interacting with "fantasy user interfaces," or FUIs. These interfaces don’t really exist--they’re a subset of a film’s visual effects--but the example they set about how digital devices could or should work is a fascinating barometer for UI trends. And now there’s a website called Kit FUI that gathers all this cinematic chrome into one place. Think of it like Internet Movie Database for UI nerds.
Like the IMDb, Kit FUI lets you browse by designer, company, or title. Curious about who made the creepily authentic dystopian screens in Children Of Men? That would be Mark Coleran, a designer who specialized in FUI creation before decamping for design in the real world.
Kit FUI indexes concept videos, too. Feel like sending an angry letter to the designers behind Microsoft’s brain-dead vision of the future, or Corning’s myopic paean to glassy touch screens? One click gives you all the reference material you need.
Besides its obvious appeal to nerdy specialists, Kit FUI makes an intriguing case for Arnall’s bigger point about the cultural impact of digital interfaces. Much like greenscreen visual effects, fantasy UIs don’t just turn up in science-fiction films anymore. They’re anywhere and everywhere that film and TV characters use computers. Kit FUI’s list of pop-culture products isn’t as bottomless as IMDb’s, but there’s a heck of a lot more in there than you might think, and they’re adding more all the time. Most of them wouldn’t be much good as real-life UIs, since they’re created to serve the purposes of visual storytelling rather than actual usability. On the other hand, FUIs offer an unvarnished aspirational vision of what our cultural id wants (or thinks it wants) out of digital interactions--now and in the near future.
In 30 years, the sleek screen designs in Star Trek will seem as dated as the monochrome command-line UIs in Alien do to us now. But by capturing this kind of creative wishful thinking, Kit FUI offers an intriguing lens on the evolution of one of our most un-noticed, but increasingly dominant, forms of cultural expression.
[Images: via Jorge Online, Oblivion and Ironman 3 via Kit FUI]