What Do Designers Think of the User Interfaces on the Tablets in Westworld?

What do designers think of the user interfaces on the tablets in Westworld? originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by David Cole, Director of Design, on Quora:

Given the technological progress represented by the hosts, the computing presented in the show seems far too archaic. Of course, the show has provided very little information about the world beyond the park, so there may be some reconciliation available. But my suspicion is that they chose to keep the computing relatively familiar so that viewers can parse scenes without too much confusion.

The first thing to note is the device most people are using: a smartphone that unfolds into a tablet. The folded state looks unwieldy to me, particularly when put up to the ear for a phone call. I'm confident it does not fit in that engineer's pants pockets.

When unfolded, the device doesn't lock into a flat position, which I would bet causes errors when trying to interact with it -- imagine completing a gesture that spans multiple panes. The visible hinge points are definitely not ideal, and you can see cases where a single button in the interface is split across two panes, which would probably violate whatever interface guidelines would be created for such a device.

There are multiple occasions where people use physical keyboards, most visibly in the recessed sections of the security headquarters. This indicates to me that these tablets have not solved the input problems that make hardware keyboards superior for professional work as of today. That strikes me as pretty depressing.

You'll also notice that this device has a screen that runs all the way to the edge. This would be fine if the interfaces were designed accordingly, but notice here how Maeve is holding this device -- she would almost certainly be unintentionally tapping on that UI beneath her thumb. This would be a constant source of frustration.

Beyond that, the software features the banal, boxy, black-and-blue tropes shared by most sci-fi interfaces, complete with arbitrary charts and numbers all over. Real interfaces generally need more variation and focus to be usable. That said, all of this software appears to be produced by Delos themselves, so I'd allow for the explanation that we're looking at terrible in-house enterprise software that nobody actually likes.

Given that the park has apparently been open for over thirty years, we can at least consider that amount of time to progress from present day technology. My view is that augmented reality should've replaced nearly all of the devices they show. Current AR technology like HoloLens and Magic Leap are almost certainly less than thirty years away from the market.

They do actually make several gestures towards AR: the tablets have holographic projections that support gestural interaction, there's a desk-based hologram device that Cullen uses, and Elsie employs a Google Glass-esque wearable. The latter two are pretty lackluster -- floating transparent UI has always seemed ridiculously unusable me. But manipulable projections seem very powerful, and it's surprising they don't utilize that in more contexts.

The more likely manifestation of AR would be glasses that allow for holographic projection anywhere in the space around the user. However, given how much the show already plays with what's real vs. fake at so many other levels, I can see how the premise of filling the space with holographic content could hurt the show more than help.

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