Why Filmmakers Make Great UX Designers – An Opinion

I remember sitting in the cube of a manager at HP, as I was hired to originally make Flash prototypes of some new printer apps. As soon as I was hired (on contract), they asked me to do interaction design instead. So, weeks later, I find myself at the desk of the manager of the overall team. His question- ‘What is a user experience designer?’

I gave him an answer I thought was close enough. He pondered, then said something like “Yeah…but no on really knows what it is, and wherever you end up working, that company will think it’s something else.”

Okay, so I pondered that for a long time, and for the most part it’s true. UX, IX, Industrial Designers, information architects etc., all have something to do with user experience design. UX designers for the most part go to school to study human computer interaction (HCI), or Psychology, or end up spending $5k to take some classes for a week, take a test, and then end up with a piece of paper saying they’re a UX designer.

Then there are the people who never took classes, or spent $5k for a certificate. They just are almost naturally. And interestingly enough, there’s the off-chance that they have some background in filmmaking. Okay, so I happen to have been and still am at heart, a filmmaker. So I’m going to correlate  how closely UX design and filmmaking are almost the same thing. This is my opinion, which pretty means nothing. And you can argue points in this if you wish, tell me I’m wrong, or agree with me.

I’m not going to go all out on this, and will be somewhat brief, so bear with me and try to have an open mind. I’ll list something in UX terms, and then relate after how filmmaking is pretty much the same. Here we go…

UX Design Practice 1. Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research in the terms of UX design simply put is studying a group of people, who are of some ethnic background, for months. You learn about them, interview them, spend time with them, get to know them well enough that you can make an informed study and thesis on them so when you go back to design something, it fits in with who the target users are. You understand them enough that you can now make a case study on that group and how to make your product work best for that group.

Filmmaking Version: 

As a storyteller or even documentary filmmaker, you spend months or even years interviewing, filming and learning about your subjects. You become part of them and considered to be one of them as you eat with them, share, and learn all you can so when you go back to edit your film, it best represents those people or group.


User Experience Practice 2: Creating Personas

Creating personas is the art of creating a fictitious person or character, including gender, general age, hobbies or interests and so on that would be the type of person who would use your app, or website, or product. Who they are, what they typically like to do, what drives them. It gives the illusion of a real live person that would for one reason or another want to use what you are designing.

Filmmaking Version: Character Development

As a storyteller, you create characters (personas) for your story, who they are, general age, gender, what drives them, and so on. You give an insight to them so they have depth when the story is written and then filmed.

User Experience Practice 3: Creating User Scenarios

Creating user scenarios for what you are designing towards is simply creating a story of a person (from a persona most likely), a problem they have, and how that problem gets solved ultimately by the app or website or product you are going to design. Example: Bob is a dad who’s busy all day at work, but needs to get things together for his family vacation with his wife and two kids. They’ve all decided on going on an Adventure by Disney to Europe, but he doesn’t have enough time at the office to make the reservations, his boss keeps piling on more work, and Bob is swamped with meetings and phone calls. So he grabs his smartphone while at lunch, goes to the Disney mobile travel guide, and within minutes he’s chosen the destination and booked the trip with a few clicks. When he gets home, he finds his trip confirmation on his HP web enabled printer at home.

Filmmaking Version: Writing the story

You write a story with a beginning, middle and end, add your protagonist (Bob), a seemingly insurmountable problem, give Bob a way to solve the problem, add some drama or some humor to the dialog, make it seem like he’ll never be able to accomplish his mission, add in an antagonist (his boss), but in the end he does and you wrap it up with a happy ending…or he gets home to find his printer is out of ink, added with the “…to be continued” tagline.

These are only a few examples of how user experience design is very similar to filmmaking.  If you have some, please share them. I’d go on, but I think I’ve given enough examples for now.


One thought on “Why Filmmakers Make Great UX Designers – An Opinion

  1. Greg, thanks for thinking about the connection between UX deign and filmmaking. I am studying film production in college right now, but I have always been extremely attracted to UX design and never really understood why. I’m going to explore this connection more as I consider beginning a career as a UX designer. Thanks!

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