The Future is HER

Production Designer K.K. Barrett received a well deserved Oscar nomination this morning for the ‘slight future’ romance HER. For a movie so centered on technology, the film startles by depicting a world in which technology is mostly invisible.


In Wired Kyle Vanhemert makes the case that HER will dominate User Interface design more significantly that MINORITY REPORT. “It’s not just that Her, the movie, is focused on people” he writes. “It also shows us a future where technology …  has receded, or one where we’ve let it recede.” Designer Barrett explains: “‘We decided that the movie wasn’t about technology, or if it was, that the technology should be invisible,’ he says. ‘And not invisible like a piece of glass.’ Technology hasn’t disappeared, in other words. It’s dissolved into everyday life.” Barrett sums up the aesthetic: “The future is much simpler than you think.’”

Simpler for the humans, that is. A smart home that requires no control pads or light switches. No software or hardware keyboards for computers or phones.  “We wanted it to be natural,” Barrett says. The dominant channel for human/computer interface is auditory. Vanhemert points out that “the voice-based UI was … a perfect fit for a film trying to explore what a less intrusive, less demanding variety of technology might look like…Conversational interfaces make everything easier to use. When every different type of device runs an OS that can understand natural language, it means that every menu, every tool, every function is accessible simply by requesting it.” Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix, “with his voice-based valet as intermediary, is burdened with even less under-the-hood stuff than we are today… In other words, Theo lives in a future where everything, not just his iPad, ‘just works.'”

The most important design choice in HER is the adaptable personality of the artificially intelligent OS, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. “You don’t want a machine that’s always telling you the answer,” Barrett says. “You want one that approaches you like, ‘let’s solve this together.’…I think it’s very important for OSes in the future to have a good bedside manner…. you can’t talk at someone all the time. You have to act like you’re listening.”

One thing is certain: Designers are listening to HER.

HER, Warner Bros. Written/Directed by Spike Jonze. Produced by Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze, Vincent Landay.