What is there for us to learn from the film industry?

22 Feb 2012 - 3:29am
4 years ago
10 replies
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Sofia Klasson

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Im a student at Linköpings university, writing my master thesis in Cognitive science/ IxD. My theses is focusing on what there might be for interactiondesigners to learn från the methods used in filmmaking. My plan is to do a designjob of a product using the methods of a screenwriter.

I got this idea when I was reading Bill Buxtons book Sketching user experiences where he refers to Laurie Vertelney paper from 1989. I have noticed that there is a discussion about this in the world of gamedesign with critics as well as believers.

In IxD I only seem to find Adam Connor, Brenda Laurel (who might be more of a gamedesigner) who is pro, but is there any one who thinks that it is a bad idea to take in methods from these other disciplines (theater and movies)?


I also wonder if any one knows about some scientific papers or other writings about this subject which might have an appropriate scientific level for my master thesis.


I would be very thankful for any kind of tip.


22 Feb 2012 - 10:39am
Moses Wolfenstein

I just wanted to note that there are a couple of different debates tied to the use of leveraging film approaches in video game design. On the one hand there are critics who have a problem with taking a filmic approach to narrative in games. These designers and pundits believe that games as an interactive medium become very limited by relying on cinematic techniques to convey narrative, and that games should focus on interactivity to create emergent player narratives rather than using storytelling as a tool.

The other related debate revolves around the production of AAA games and the manner in which the games industry has come to resemble Hollywood by investing huge amounts of money in extensive production processes guided by risk averse production due to the huge outlay. I haven't seen a whole lot of debate in the game design community focused specifically on screenwriting methods. Rather, for better or worse borrowing from screenwriting is the de facto model of writing for games.

22 Feb 2012 - 4:11pm
Joel Eden

One short answer is, look at Walt Disney (storyboarding, critiques, etc), and Pixar (again storyboarding, etc); Pixar's focus on story is so in line with what good scenario based design is all about (I think).

Many of today's great film making techniques come down to the basics that Walt Disney and Pixar focus(ed) on...the discipline of previsualization  (previz) has so much to offer directly to interaction design.

I'm looking forward to what you find.

23 Feb 2012 - 3:16am
Jonas Löwgren

Joel mentions pre-viz practices such as storyboarding. Even though they are demonstrably useful for scenario-driven design etc in our field, it might be worth reflecting on the key difference between film-making and ixd:

When you are making a movie, it is within your power to make it go exactly like the pre-viz (if you want to). When you are designing for interaction, a more realistic ambition is to make it easier for the user to take certain actions, go down certain "story paths", but you can never be sure.

This problem is compounded even further as interaction design moves from single-user, task-based situations to the design of collaborative media, of platforms for people's communication and collaboration. If the original Facebook designers had been storyboarding and wireframing in 2003, how much of the user experience would they have been able to capture/predict? None of the significant parts, I would argue.

23 Feb 2012 - 11:05am
Joel Eden


You are right. I shouldn't have used storyboards as the main example, becauase I actually try to focus my work on ideas such as your "interaction aesthetics," or basically getting closer to representing design ideas in a way that let us try them out in as close to the real context of use as possible. So, when I think of previz, I think really of the overall mindset of trying ideas out at cheaper fidelities, as early as possible. So far Pixar, they get to try out how the story "feels" using previz, and for IxD work, we get to try out the different aesthetics (not just visual, but rhythm, timing, etc, again, the interaction aesthetics concepts) for many alternatives and iterations.

23 Feb 2012 - 11:36am


You may want to look at the concept of Emergent Narrative

Ruth Aylett wrote some academic papars around this concept, for example http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~michaelm/nidocs/Aylett.html

There is also this article Use of Narrative in Interactive Design published in Boxes and Arrows.


24 Feb 2012 - 3:11am
Jonas Löwgren

Joel: Agree completely. And when pre-viz-ing interaction design ideas, you will sometimes be forced to start "sketching in code". To me, sketching is not about the medium but about the mindset: disposable, divergent, explorative. (I personally find Processing plus ActionScript 3 to work well for pre-viz-ing/sketching non-standard interactive behaviors on screen. For tangibles/spatials, Arduino plus Processing seems to be a good choice.)

It is fine to make high-tech stuff in pre-viz as long as you don't confuse the sketches with production-quality code. This sometimes requires extra caution in contacts with clients and other stakeholders, to avoid misguided expectations ("You have something that runs already? Great! Could you just make it blue, add our logo, and install it by Friday, please?") Perhaps it can even be tactical in such situations to use tools that are clearly impossible from a production point of view, such as Flash/AS3 these days when it seems to be completely ruled out for Web-deployment projects.

I spoke about these topics at Interaction 12 in Dublin recently (the talk should be posted shortly). But: Now I guess we have strayed away from Fia's original question. Sorry about that.

24 Feb 2012 - 5:05am
Richard Carson


I'm looking for some resources on Interaction Design that doesn't involve digital or electronics as a final product. Much of the written talk out there seem to discusses interactions on computer or other type of computer devices. Also, if you happen to have any thoughts on non-digital interactions, would love to hear more


Richard C.

24 Feb 2012 - 6:46am
Renyu Zhang

I hope it relavent.


24 Feb 2012 - 12:20pm
Joel Eden


Exactly. That's why I love Buxton's book, because to me his thesis is a sketching mindset, regardless of material.

To try to bring it back to the original question regarding film, I would argue that all the film previz stuff is sketching of story concepts, with metrics such as feel (does the story feel right, do you build connections with the characters, etc), as well as cost (how much will it cost to shoot this), and others; I think this is directly analogous to our concerns in IxD; feel = is it desirable based on all of the forms of aesthetics we care about (of course usability is a given nowadays), cost = what is the cost to realize it in given technologies, etc.

And to Richard's point, this pre-viz stuff is just as useful taking a service design mindset, where the "product" could be any material, even an ephemeral service moment. I again, mean pre-viz not to mean the specific technologies that film people use, but more like the Buxton use of "sketching." So, if you're working on a social service/product, you need to pre-viz/sketch a form of real use in a manner that is proportional to what questions you are trying to answer.

I think we're really all trying to find methods/tools that allow us to do what Donald Schon talked about as reflection in action...research, design, make, critique, iterate, all in as tight of a loop as possible. I'm hoping this whole Lean UX thing can help tighten this loop! Ok, just got off the topic again...

25 Feb 2012 - 6:15pm

I'd hesitate to draw too direct of a comparison between interactive media and filmmaking, as they're both different mediums. But I very strongly believe that both are fundamentally driven by the mechanics of human STORYTELLING. So I think we have a lot to learn from how a screenwriter births an idea, or how a director creates/defines/refines how their vision of that story comes to life.

I've also been thinking a lot lately about how a good story shares a lot with a good interactive experience; the right balance of predictability and surprise, telling a story with a consistant "voice," implying all sorts of extra layers of meaning within the viewer's / user's mind beyond what's visually on the screen, etc.

  • Does the character / subject remain true to themself regardless of what strange scenario they're thrown into?
  • Does the viewer / user always understand where the scene is located?
  • Does experiencing the whole feel greater than the sum of its parts?
  • etc.
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