November 1, 2011
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Microsoft has a new concept video for future computing. It’s adventurous, in a fairly conservative way. Sun’s Starfire video was stronger (and more fully realized) back in 1992. (Tognazzini’s CHI paper about this video is a classic; read it.)

Josh Farmer offers an insightful critique into the Microsoft video which echoes a core concern of Starfire: if you’re imagining a video of your future products, you really need to think through all the details because

  1. the audience distrusts dishonesty, and they know you don’t really know what the future will look like, and
  2. if you don’t fully inhabit your personae, the audience (which is smarter than you are) will do so – with jarring effect.

I think Josh Farmer coined a new term of art for the second issue: “Mommy doesn’t wear her wedding ring on business trips.” You can see how this could happen; everyone is worrying about the device mockups, and continuity forgot about the ring. Or, perhaps someone thought that in the future, we won’t wear wedding rings. Or, maybe she’s not married, and the nice guy at home with her daughter is the baby sitter. But none of this helps articulate the vision; it’s just noise.

What really makes StarFire work is that it repeatedly frustrates the protagonist – things go wrong all the time. That resonates with experience. And StarFire shows that new problems will arise: if you have virtual meetings on your wall, what happens when visitors walk in at a bad moment?