When he was just a boy, Noel Rubin, now 44, spent much of his time daydreaming about outer space, advanced technology, and alien worlds. He filled books with doodles of moon bases and exotic digital watch designs. Flash forward and Rubin is now living his childhood dream. As a concept UI/UX designer, Rubin designed the extraterrestrial operating systems of the battleships and pod racers of the Star Wars prequel films.
"I guess you could summarize my story with one word: persistence," Rubin tells Co.Design. Growing up in the era of the great science-fiction films of the late 1970s and early '80s, Rubin loved the strange, futuristic computer displays he saw in movies like the original Star Wars, Blade Runner and Tron and he wanted to make user interfaces for movies.
After a stint at Microsoft in the mid-1990s as a UI/UX designer, Rubin met Michael Brunsfeld, the senior art director of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). Brunsfeld forwarded Rubin's demo reel to a team that was creating the effects for the next three Star Wars films; ultimately, Rubin was offered a job. As he was hired, though, he was warned that there was "no guarantee" that he would actually end up working on the film. "I didn't know what to expect moving forward from there," says Rubin.
He lucked out. "On my first-day orientation tour, I saw my name on the art department whiteboard. It said, 'Noel Rubin—Star Wars.' I almost fell over."
Rubin's work on the Star Wars prequels encompassed five distinct interfaces. His designs are most heavily featured in The Phantom Menace where Rubin created the UI for the Trade Federation Battleship, the Naboo Queenship, R2D2's Naboo palace hologram, and Anakin Skywalker's Pod Racer. However, an additional interface designed by Rubin pops up in Revenge Of The Sith, in the Trade Federation Cruiser.
Although he acknowledges that an imaginary interface designed for filmic aliens will never have to pass user testing, Rubin takes pride in trying to make sure that his interfaces are logical and based around real UI/UX design principles.
"The root of my career lies in building user interfaces for real hardware and software products," Rubin says. "Even for alien UIs, try and apply user experience rules to justify every element possible."
Even in a galaxy far, far away, Rubin says, the guiding principles of good UI/UX should always remain the same.