History of Film and HCI

A quick note that the mappings between HCI and film in this post are not intended to be accurate, but are meant to ask some hopefully thought provoking questions.

The early days of film saw a split into the realist and formalist camps. You can loosely associate realism with the early focus of HCI on functionality and efficiency. Realism in film seems to loosely correlate to the “modern” HCI interest in experience.

Perhaps some bad graphical representations will help.

——- Film ——

Realism < —- > Formalism

—– HCI  —–





What I’m trying to represent is film split and focused on both realism (functionality, efficiency) simultaneously with formalism (experience) while HCI has taken a much more orderly, singular focus beginning with functionality and efficiency (realism) and moving to experience (formalism).

Why is that? Why did film split and HCI remain whole? What effect has that had on the development of film media vs. interactive media?


  1. thismarty

    I’m not sure if we won’t have simultaneous functional and formal camps working, perhaps even overlapping, in software design a few years out. Surely, not everybody is looking for an overthought “experience” when they use a piece of application software.

    Take, for example, the recent popularity of hold-the-interface word processors, such as Writeroom. It’s an extreme, but it illustrates an important point: sometimes functionality really is what’s most important.

    I wouldn’t write functionalism in HCI off just yet.

  2. Tyler Pace

    I’m not writing off functionalism in HCI (or formalism), I just think there’s something valuable in comparing the history of HCI and film Film split almost immediately into real vs. formal but HCI has spent 30+ years focusing on the function and is just recently starting to see value in form.

    I also thought earlier today that games be the form camp in HCI terms. HCI proper (real) continued to work with efficiency and function while games sort of split away and focused on form (experience). Now the two are converging again.


Leave a Reply to thismarty Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s