Work inspiration with Christopher Noessel

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Christopher Noessel

Interaction designer, author, and speaker

My name is Christopher Noessel. By day I'm an interaction designer working with Cooper in San Francisco, teaching courses around the world in Cooper U, writing for the Journal, and helping clients like Kurbo and Thomson Reuters with understanding their users and designing their products/services. I also help organizations become user-centered and goal-directed.

By night I'm an author (Make It So and About Face), public speaker, workshop runner, sketchnoter, dad, and perhaps most notably to the outside world, master of a a blog called scifiinterfaces, where I review the speculative interfaces that appear in science fiction movies and television shows for fun and erudition, run related movie nights and workshops around the world, and post online videos that use sci-fi examples to illustrate key interaction design principles (called Sci-Fi University—full disclosure: there’s only one so far). Finally, I'm starting up an awards program to recognize excellence in the field and plan on releasing second-screen commentary videos to accompany analyses later this year.

That’s a lot of nerdery all in one place, so I’ll keep the responses to just the scifiinterfaces blog as opposed to the books or presentations.

Reviewing the interfaces involves a fairly extensive process of watching once straight through, then watching again on my computer, screen grabbing key frames or clipping key sequences. Then I gather those clips together to analyze them, sometimes making comps of alternative designs, sometimes editing images to focus on certain things or create telling animated gifs. Then I schedule them to the blog and get the word out through social media.

What hardware do you use?

I watch the first pass of movies in a cinema, most often, but if at home on my home entertainment system, which consists of an Optoma TW610ST short-throw projector and an Onkyo HT-S5300 7.1-Channel Home Theater. My partner affixed a sonic transducer to the underside of one piece of furniture which we affectionately refer to as the “rumble couch.” Then I write, screen cap, and do video editing on a 15 inch MacBook Pro with a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, and 8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM. If I want to do super loose sketches of an interface idea I'll do it on my iPad mini with Retina display writing with a Bamboo stylus. If I need to do more detailed sketches I have to move to my ancient TabletPC. Anything more detailed will have me working on the MacBook again. When I need to add quick-and-dirty video I'm OK with the MacBook camera, outfitted with an Eye 2 Eye teleprompter. For big video I’ll grab my Canon EOS REBEL T4i.

And what software?

To watch sci-fi on the laptop and do screen caps I use the amazing VLC. If I need to rip video I’ll crank open HandBrake. I’m a sucker for (and very long time user of) the whole Adobe Creative Suite: Photoshop for any image manipulation, After Effects and Photoshop to make animated gifs, Illustrator and Photoshop for most comps of new interfaces. Occasionally I'll build 3D stuff in Sketchup. Sci-fi University and the second screen videos are made with After Effects and the Adobe Creative Suite. Loosest sketches happen in GoodNotes. Tighter sketches happen in OneNote (though I still very much want to consult on rethinking that software for use as a design sketching tool). I usually write first drafts in Google Docs for easy access anywhere, and then move into WordPress for final formatting and publishing. I love crowdbooster’s scheduling ability for Twitter so use that to queue up tweets.

What would be your dream setup?

Well this gives me lots of license to define a home theater system, doesn't it? :) First I'd get a dedicated room with cinema seats to have friends over. If I was to stick with projection I'd love a JVC DLA-X700R projector, with a Klipsch THX Ultra2 Home Theater System sound system and sonic transducers strapped to the bottom of seats. (Rumblecinema!) If it was a flat screen TV I'd snag an 85" Sony XBR-85X950B 4K Ultra High Definition TV. Next door I'd have a production studio with a green screen, camera, sound studio, and editing suite for shooting pro-quality video at home. For the computer work, I'm on planes and on the road so often that my ideal still has to be a laptop. I'd get Apple to bring back the 17" and make it retina. But I'd go higher-end on a faster processor so After Effects rendering would zip along.

Where does your work inspiration come from?

On one hand, the scifiinterfaces blog features a never ending stream of inspiration in the form of new sci-fi movies and TV shows. On the other hand, the real magic comes not from just being a documentarian or fanboy about those things but in providing engaging critique and analysis that considers design, usability, and entertainment; deriving lessons from the interfaces, and connecting what we see there to awesomeness in the world around us: interaction- and interface design of course, but also across technology, psychology, and culture. I adopt the stance of a lifelong learner, keeping up with everything that I can and learning as much as I can about new topics and things that catch my curiosity. An old teacher of mine used to say that you needed to lay traps around yourself for any miracles that happen to be stumbling by, and I've taken that deeply to heart.