Besides being sympathetic for Ken Watanabe getting his house blown up in every Christopher Nolan movie, the film Inception inspired me to think about the mind, as it relates to design for the web. I’ve always used the Internet as an analogy of this alternate reality or world where possibilities or limitless. This idea really resonated during the scene where Ariadne (Ellen Page) is solutioning the dream. I immediately thought about UI Design—what it took to architect something that would work for Internet users and the strategy of bringing that to them.
Planting the idea
The initial concept, of course, is planting the idea in the mind. I don’t think it as much as “mind control” but more as “mind inspiration/influence” or user cultivation. I used to think that good UI design was dependent on what the viewer wants. But, is it possible to walk your viewer through your website to convince them that it’s what they want? Yes, but you have to make it believable and so seamless that the user doesn’t have to think about it. Keep in mind that the dream has to work for the target (how technically savvy is the user?).
Tip: Conduct functionality requirements gathering and user analysis.
Be ready for unexpected variables
The picture above might explain it all. There are certainly things that will go wrong: variables that weren’t considered, bugs or changes in the need(s) of the user. It is my opinion that this is inevitable. What you can do is prepare to adapt and come up with new solutions to your ever-changing environment.
Tip: Be ready to adapt to unconsidered variables and make a list of ongoing bugs/issues.
Never build based on things you know
Another mistake people often make. Ever see designs/websites made by the same person that looks exactly like their previous work; as if it was just taken off the cookie cutter? The chances are it was, whether it was intentional or not. I found this trend in my work a few years ago and have tried really hard to adjust that.
In Inception, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Ariadne to never build dreams based on things you know—creating a separation of dream and reality.
The danger of building based on things you know is that you are creating based on your experiences, not your user experiences. Take time to jump into the mind of your personas and really think about how they would navigate through your architecture. When they built the dream in Inception, it was for their target, not them. This should not be any different in UI design.
Tip: Never have your previous work opened. Go back for reference, but like in the movie, create every instance organically.
Test the solution, as the target
The most common mistake designers make is to create something based on how they would use it. A health care company’s in-house Intranet site has many different needs/approaches than a social site. Keep in mind of who your target is.
Tip: Use friends/colleagues you know in the same industry as your personas.
Inception was a brilliant movie and I really enjoyed it. It inspired me and reminded me of “mind architecture,” which is something us designers really need to think of more. Thank you, Inception, for reminding me that we have more control over the mind than we sometimes remember.