What X-Files Aliens Can Teach Us About User Experience

I recently started re-watching The X-Files, particularly the “mytharc” episodes. You know, the conspiracy-crazed ones with the aliens hell-bent on colonizing Earth. And it was right at the end of a particularly long binge session – a few minutes into the first season finale – that I realized showrunner Chris Carter and his creative team all would have made excellent user experience designers.

It’s in that episode (“The Erlenleyer Flask”) that we’re introduced to one of the first alien/human hybrids. And not to be gruesome, but the important thing for this discussion is that this hybrid gets shot while fleeing the police. He bleeds, and he bleeds green:

Up until this happens, we don’t know anything about the person trying to get away from the cops. But when the camera pans down to his spilled green blood, we know exactly what he is.

He’s an alien.

The X-Files was a creative tour-de-force, inventing and re-inventing ways to tell stories about the stuff of our wildest science fiction dreams. But some stories are best left unchanged. Some things don’t need to be reinvented. And alien blood needs to be green.

What’s This Got to Do With User Experience?

Companies are tripping over each other trying to bring the latest and greatest smart thermostat or lock or smoke detector to market (and into your home), and to a great extent their success or failure will depend on the user experience their engineers and designers have brought to the product. Because smart devices require their users to learn new (and sometimes fairly complex) things, the best experiences will be the ones that don’t force users to learn too much or to unlearn the helpful, leading truths they already know.

So why do the LED status lights on the front of one smart hub we have in the CRT Labs glow green when everything is OK, and the other glow blue?

Why does one hub blink blue when there’s a connection problem, and why does the other hub blink purple?

And what could magenta, pink, and white possibly mean?

Smart hubs have an important job: they need to clearly communicate the state of a complex smart home network. But indicating the status of a complex system need not be complex itself, and from what I’ve seen, we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Designers and engineers need to honor what the user brings to the experience, keep the cognitive load low, and pump their smart devices full of some alien blood.

We’ll know what it means.

Chris’ Day 1 CES-capades

VW and the Coldwell Banker panel.
What do you think of this VW? I kinda like it.

Hey, are you up and looking at cool cars the day after your flight gets in at 3am? Nah. But Chris is, and he’s wasting no time with that camera. You can check out the photos as he takes them here.

faraday future
Here comes the future. It’s growling at you.

That’s it for now. We’ll keep it coming. Is there stuff you want to see? Write us at @CRTLabs with the hashtag #realtorces.

Follow the hashtag #realtorces to keep up with us. If you have things you’d like them to see or find out more about, tweet us @CRTLabs and use the hashtag. Wish Chris and Dave good luck! You can follow them on their personal twitter handles as well. Chris is @entropealab and Dave is @conroydave. Good luck! Oh yes. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Coldwell Banker for the exhibitor passes they provided us as a sponsor of the show. Thank you to David Siroty and Athena Snow for making this happen. Follow their CEScapades here.

Dave’s Day 1 CES-capades

Dave's CES badge
Delayed flights? They can’t keep us from CES. Nuh uh.

Dave is already up to it with a photo stream. You can check out the photos as he takes them here.

Look at all the things.
I want all the things.

I’ll have more from Chris in a bit too. 🙂 Cool stuff coming!!

Follow the hashtag #realtorces to keep up with us. If you have things you’d like them to see or find out more about, tweet us @CRTLabs and use the hashtag. Wish Chris and Dave good luck! You can follow them on their personal twitter handles as well. Chris is @entropealab and Dave is @conroydave. Good luck! Oh yes. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Coldwell Banker for the exhibitor passes they provided us as a sponsor of the show. Thank you to David Siroty and Athena Snow for making this happen. Follow their CEScapades here.

CRTLabs’ CES-capades

ces smart home floor
Every red dot is a smart home vendor on one floor of CES. Phew!

Hey. Happy New Year!

Anything happening in the world of smart home tech? No? Didn’t think so. 😛

So, until something does, we’re sending our Lead Lab Engineer, Chris Coté and Lab Engineer, Dave Conroy, to a small get together in Las Vegas called CES, which, if memory serves me, stands for Consumer Electronics Show. 😉

They’ll mingle with 180,000 plus of their closest friends and figure out what’s coming. Me? I’ll be in Chicago, posting what they find and running command. In order to prep for this, I’ve been reading ‘The Rough Riders’ by Theodore Roosevelt, as I believe I will need all my fortitude, courage and strength for the next three days in order to keep up.

teddy roosevelt rough rider
An approximation of how I’m dressed in Chicago CRTLabs.

Follow the hashtag #realtorces to keep up with us. If you have things you’d like them to see or find out more about, tweet us @CRTLabs and use the hashtag. Wish Chris and Dave good luck! You can follow them on their personal twitter handles as well. Chris is @entropealab and Dave is @conroydave. Good luck! Oh yes. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Coldwell Banker for the exhibitor passes they provided us as a sponsor of the show. Thank you to David Siroty and Athena Snow for making this happen. Follow their CEScapades here.