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Death Star control room deemed too gloomy

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Packed into a small room at the back of the museum of Swedish postal history, in the heart of Stockholm, is a group of enthusiasts busily analyzing the user interfaces that flash past during the course of the original Star Wars movie.

Among other things the group concludes that the Death Star control room is unnecessarily gloomy and that the work there is poorly organized; that the laser canons on the Millennium Falcon occlude the gunners’ field of view; and that inheriting your dad’s lightsaber won’t necessarily mean that it will be a good fit for your hand.

This is the premiere of Christopher Noessel’s workshop "Redesigning Star Wars". Chris, who is a design veteran at the design and strategy firm Cooper, is visiting inUse in Stockholm to field test his new workshop and to lecture at the newly inaugurated inUse UX Awards (site in Swedish). In addition to his work at Cooper, Chris also curates the wildly entertaining and insightful Sci-Fi Interfaces, where he analyses interfaces from science fiction movies and draws out lessons on design and more. He is also the coauthor of the book “Make it So” which explores the same topic.

During the workshop, our initial analysis is followed by intense discussions and a furious sketching of alternative design solutions to fix the flaws we’ve uncovered. I say “flaws,” but of course the role of the interfaces depicted in the movie serve another purpose; contributing to world-building and sometimes serving as plot devices. The participants at the workshop all know this and cheerfully play along. Spirits are high during the afternoon and the final design presentations are invariably funny and insightful.

I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. As we shuffle out of the old museum into the rainy Swedish autumn, I start to think about what we might have learned from this exercise. Some of things that occur to me are things that I already knew, but needed to be reminded of: there is a power to working in pairs, and to working quickly and iteratively. Drawing copiously and unselfconsciously (not for a pretty end-result) is great for exploring and communicating ideas.

I am sure that there are many other points to be made – about how science fiction reflects and sometimes shapes our world – but my personal take away is a feeling of freedom and joy that lingers long after the workshop is over. I realize the liberating power of designing for a toy domain, and how efficiently this manages to silence my inner critic, leaving me free to play and explore, and to discover new avenues of approaching a design problem.