The First Twelve Seconds

A few nights ago I saw Don’t Breathe, which was a scary, home-invasion movie that I enjoyed quite a bit.

But this post is not about the movie that I paid for. This post is about one of the trailers that played before that movie, for the new Resident Evil movie.

If you haven’t seen any of the five previous Resident Evil movies, let me assure you, you are not missing out on high art. They do provide a certain level of unabashed fun that seems to get better as the series progresses. They’re the kind of pulpy movies that I like to call let’s-make-a-movie movies where you can imagine two people sitting at a diner, trying to find an outlet for their absurd ideas. Think John Carpenter and Kurt Russel’s movies, or Vin Diesel’s Pitch Black series. In this case it’s actress Milla Jovovich and director Paul W. S. Anderson.

Within twelve seconds of the trailer starting, I knew I was going to be jazzed about what was coming up. Twelve seconds. In fact, I was only half-paying attention to the screen in front of me (my date was at my side) and I had no idea that it was a Resident Evil movie until later in the trailer, but I knew I was in for a ride. What happened in those twelve seconds? Watch along with me, and I’ll narrate, below.

What We See

The official trailer for the sixth Resident Evil movie.
  • Fade from black.
  • Guns N’ Roses’s “Paradise City” plays.
  • We see a motorcycle of the crotch-rocket variety.
  • A woman in a black coat walks up to the motorcycle and starts the ignition.
  • A computer interface indicates “ENGINE ENGAGED”.
  • She removes her thumb and we can see it uses Touch-ID–style fingerprint recognition.

The computer interface has a subtle cue I didn’t catch (an Umbrella Corporation logo), but otherwise at this point, I have absolutely no idea that this is a Resident Evil movie. Furthermore, I hate Guns N’ Roses, I especially hate “Paradise City”, I think crotch rockets are kinda douchey, and I didn’t even realize the figure mounting the motorcycle was a woman. (Like I said, I was only half-paying attention.)

The opening shot from the new “Resident Evil” mobie
The opening shot from the sixth Resident Evil movie

Yet for some reason I was jazzed about this movie. After only twelve seconds! I even said to my girlfriend: “I don’t know why, but I think this is going to be a fun movie.” It was enough to keep me glued to the screen for the following twelve seconds, which are far less revealing, until I saw the hanging corpses and the sign that explicitly drops familiar names like “Racoon City” and “Umbrella Corporation”. I was sold after that, but those initial twelve seconds stayed with me all through Don’t Breathe until I finally had a chance to talk it out with my date.

What It Signifies

Looking back at it with perhaps a little too much analysis, here’s what I think.

  • “Paradise City” is an obnoxious song, but to pull it off these days, you have to embrace a certain ironic, plebeian corniness. In other words, it’s dumb, but it’s fun if you don’t think about it too much. Dumb fun almost always equals action movie.
  • The fashion, though shrouded and nearly cropped out of the frame altogether, revealed just enough attention to detail that I picked up on its intent to be fashionable: half her coat is shredded, but it’s a flattering cut and you can sense that it’s made from good materials. Plus, fingerless gloves. When fashion has a place in an action movie, you know you’re going to see people kicking ass and looking good while doing it. You’re not going to take it too seriously.
  • The ridiculous computer interface with the fingerprint ignition sealed the deal, giving off a Marvelly, science fictiony, Iron Man-y vibe.

I’m so impressed by what those twelve seconds managed to communicate. It took you, dear reader, way longer than that to read my analysis, but it all flashed through my head at the speed of intuition. As a designer, I spend a lot of time sweating the tiny details of my work. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, as the cynics cry, most people will never truly understand what I put into it. Is it really worth the hour of development time to shave off 300 milliseconds of load time?

The UI on Resident Evil’s Touch ID-enabled motorcycle
The UI of The Umbrella Corporation’s Touch ID-enabled motorcycle.

This trailer reinforced to me that, yes, paying heed to the corners and textures and typefaces does matter. Though they can be subtle, your considerations signal your intention to the viewer or to the user. They may not notice it or, if they did, even be able to deconstruct it as I did tonight, but the care and the craft will come through.

There was just one thing that I found disappointing about the whole trailer. It was the subheading reveal at the end. It has nothing to do with typography or the visual effects, just that it calls the movie “The Final Chapter”. Bummer.

Design in Time

It’s been years since I choreographed or composed, I tell myself as I look at the 10ft+ cross-channel journey map I spent that last week creating. I look again and I step back for a minute. The multi-day journey starts to resemble a musical score, a symphony in visual and digital means. I take a minute, or a few, I’m not quite sure how long, but it feels like forever. In one afternoon, I’ve completely re-defined how I define UX and what it means to me.

We are composers and choreographers, we create things and experiences that move in time no different than a symphony or ballet. Our journey maps document those compositions like sheet music documents an arrangement.

In taking a look at this journey map I’m assembling, it’s clearly visible that at some points in time the various channels are in-sync with one another displaying the same information or message. At other points in the journey one channel is more dominant, more akin to an instrument playing a solo or a dancer having the stage to themselves.

As designers, we should be working to carefully orchestrate where we want customers attention to be going, what will be available to them, and how we communicate it all, cautiously deciding where the primary action lives for the users and how they are going to act on that action at any given time.

Imagine a digital product that has a number of sites and experiences that users interact with. It can be a physical kiosk, a website, a mobile app, a physical store or space, a TV, a car. Give each channel its own swim lane on the y-axis. These are the instruments in your ensemble.

Time is along the x-axis, same as a musical score.

Begin to visually capture screens and actions available to a user at any given point in time among the different channels. In one swim lane, an  email sent immediately after account creation points the user to complete setting up their account. In another lane at the same time, the website offers entry points into your company’s product but no mention of the completion of account setup. During the customer’s first six hours, which one gets the solo? Are all channels playing the same tune, with no solo?

As designers, we have the ability to influence the composition of these moments in time and decide where we want our users’ attention to be. We compose a digital symphony with the website as a piano, the mobile app as the violin, and email communications as a trumpet. In creating of experiences, we should strive to connect the dots for the user to keep the guesswork at a minimum. We should ensure that messaging is consistent between all channels and that we’re not asking the user to take 3 actions just because we can’t determine which one is more important.

If we don’t know what actions we want the user to take, the user will definitely not know what actions they have to take. We can use the journey map to better understand what we’re asking our users to do when.

Once we know the world in which the user is experiencing our product, we’ll be better equipped to guide the user as needed through the complexity of the products experience.

Rhythms and risings

Let me tell what I wish I’d known
When I was young and dreamed of glory
You have no control
Who lives who dies who tells your story

I was not-quite-twenty-four when I walked in the doors of The Vanguard Group in March 0f 2000. A year out of college with a degree in English, I’d spent 9 months working in the warehouse basement for a department store chain, providing Unix support to their servers, being miserable. Vanguard’s offer of a telephone technical support position included stability, no travel, a significant raise, and windows.

Windows. Sunshine. The ability to see the world as it is – don’t underestimate it.

I joined Vanguard in March. My husband and I married in July. We came home from our honeymoon to find a message on the answering machine telling my husband his employer was shutting down. (Note to managers: don’t do that.) It would be close to a year before he had regular employment again. In November of 2000, we watched what we thought would be the craziest election of our lifetimes. In September of the following year, two planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center.

That was a lot for a 24-year-old to take in, frankly.

There’s a structure at my current employer, a rhythm to the culture.  We’ve applied our principles to investing success to the running of the company in general.  The stock market will go down; the market will go up. We set solid goals for where we want to be five years out, or ten, or twenty, and we aim toward them even when the waters get choppy.

They were hard lessons to learn when your personal world had done its best to collapse in less than two years. I resisted, often loudly. But the management team was firm. You come in, you do your best to make things better than what they were yesterday, you go home. You do it professionally. You do it ethically. You do it again tomorrow. You keep doing it, in big ways and little ways, because that’s what we expect. That’s who we are. That’s why we’re different.

On September 11, 2001 my office watched the news on an antenna tv between phone calls from people too rattled to remember their passwords. They weren’t really calling to check their accounts. They were calling because they were scared. In times of volatility, phone volumes go up. People want to hear someone friendly on the other side of the phone say “I understand.” To a person, we didn’t want to be there answering those phones, but that was our job. Support each other. Support our clients. Pick reasonable goals. Diversify. Stay the course.

The market went down; the market went up.

In 2008 I became an Information Architect, and my perspective shifted from helping this client on this phone right now to guiding all of our clients toward success through whatever channel they chose to contact us. How do we make complex goals clear and effective? How do we encourage incremental improvements?

At the end of the year Lehman Brothers and the housing bubble collapse rocked everything — again . In the short term, those of us with the skills volunteered to serve shifts on the phones; the rest opened mail and processed paperwork. In the long term, we designed the site for 5 years out, not today’s trends, and tried to make doing the right things easier for our clients.

The market went down; the market went up. We stayed the course.

The last eight years have made “stay the course” much easier than the previous eight, both personally and professionally. It’s easy to believe in a system when things are going well, and easier even to abandon it. We didn’t. I’m glad I was there for the bad times early, so that I could appreciate and enjoy the better ones.

Yesterday, two notable events occurred. First, America elected a man who, in my personal opinion, is antithetical to the idea of long-term incremental improvements of the country and the world as a whole. He’s certainly not backing any changes that will help me locally. The twenty four year old I was would have voted for him in a heartbeat. The woman I am now? Not even a little.

And the market went down. At Vanguard, we’re braced for high call volumes and high web volumes and we’ll be saying “I understand” a lot today — both to our clients, and to each other. The stock market will go back up. The political market will as well.

The other event is a little less than national news: I gave two weeks’ notice at Vanguard. The reasons are my own. They do not change either my opinion of the company or the long-term do-it-right perspective that is now a core part of who I am.

In a few weeks I’ll be a Senior UX Designer at Boomi learning a new culture and a new rhythm. I’m anxious. I’m frightened that I won’t measure up. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, both short-term and long-term. And I’m doing it anyway. One step at a time, incremental change for the better. I hope I measure up.

As for the rest, we’re going to mourn if we need to, get angry if we need to, then do what’s expected of great people in dangerous times: wake up, do our best, do it professionally, do it ethically, do it with love for ourselves as much as everyone else, and get some sleep. Then do it again.

I know that we can win
I know that greatness lies in you
But remember from here on in
History has its eyes on you