The Summer blockbuster season is underway and you know what that means: Millions of movie-goers lining up to see the very best in action-adventure…and the very worst in software usability.
According to UX expert Jakob Nieslen, we could all learn a thing or two about poor user interfaces from Hollywood. Whether it’s exceptionally large fonts or absurd ease-of-use, movie-makers continue to make some common mistakes in the realm of usability. Though it was written in 2006, his article on the Top 10 Usability Bloopers in the Movies is as relevant today as ever before.
Here were a few of my favorite bloopers:
The Hero Can Immediately Use Any UI
Break into a company — possibly in a foreign country or on an alien planet — and step up to the computer. How long does it take you to figure out the UI and use the new applications for the first time? Less than a minute if you’re a movie star.
The fact that all user interfaces are walk-up-and-use is probably the single most unrealistic aspect of how movies depict computers. In reality, we know all too well that even the smartest users have plenty of problems using even the best designs, let alone the degraded usability typically found in in-house MIS systems or industrial control rooms.
Integration is Easy, Data Interoperates
In movieland, users have no trouble connecting different computer systems. Macintosh users live in a world of PCs without ever noticing it (and there were disproportionally more Macs than PCs in films a decade ago, when Apple had the bigger product-placement budget).
In the show 24, Jack Bauer calls his office to get plans and schematics for various buildings. Once these files have been transferred from outside sources to the agency’s mainframe, Jack asks to have them downloaded to his PDA. And — miracle of miracles — the files are readable without any workarounds. (And download is far faster than is currently possible on the U.S.’s miserable mobile networks.)
Access Denied / Access Granted
Countless scenes involve unauthorized access to some system. Invariably, several passwords are tried, resulting in a giant “Access Denied” dialog box. Finally, a few seconds before disaster strikes, the hero enters the correct password and is greeted by an equally huge “Access Granted” dialog box.
A better user interface would proceed directly to the application’s home screen as soon as the user has correctly logged in. After all, you design for authorized users. There’s no reason to delay them with a special confirmation that yes, they did indeed enter their own passwords correctly.
“This is Unix, It’s Easy”
In the film Jurassic Park, a 12-year-old girl has to use the park’s security system to keep everyone from being eaten by dinosaurs. She walks up to the control terminal and utters the immortal words, “This is a Unix system. I know this.” And proceeds to (temporarily) save the day.
Leaving aside the plausibility of a 12-year-old knowing Unix, simply knowing Unix is not enough to immediately use any application running on the system. Yes, she could probably have used
vi on the security terminal. But the specialized security system would have required some learning time — significant learning time if it were built on Unix, which has notoriously inconsistent user interface design and thus makes it harder to transfer skills from one application to the next.
What other software bloopers have you seen in the movies? Be sure to share them in the comment section.