Tag Archives: futurists


If the people and cars look like this, how can you go wrong?

In the movie In Time (not-out-of-the-ballpark-great but definitely worth a night in), production designer Alex McDowell renders the future in retro tones–60s and 70s cars, mid-century apartment decor, a generally thin-lapelled fashion language.

I guessed that the look of the film was born at least partially from a small budget. If you’re going to create a world distinct from the present but don’t have the funds and/or time to design a bunch of never-before-seen stuff, going the other direction–back to the past–and then doing a bit of modification (like the solid rims on the film’s chopped Lincoln Continental limousines) and adding a soundtrack that connotes “future” is a pretty good strategy.

It turns out that, yes, the film had a small budget and short production timeline, but also that McDowell has an amazing production design resume: Fight Club, The Crow, and the cited-by-every-client-who-wants-to-innovate-something-that-includes-a-screen Minority Report. McDowell also coined the term “immersive design,” and is an advocate for creative collaboration between the entertainment and scientific communities.

Which brings us to Worldbuilding. Although more traditionally used as a concept for narrative and game design, I am really excited about this area right now as it applies to design work in general. I’ve been working on a lot of projects that combine elements of product, space, and experience design, and conceptualizing these endeavors as the creation of a world makes complete sense.

Something like the iPhone succeeds because it delineates a “world” that has cohesive physical characteristics, patterns of interaction that mostly hew to a logic that can be intuited through ordinary engagement, and a larger ecosystem that supports the norms of this world. In products and services, as with fantasy and science fiction, cohesive worlds satisfy our pattern recognition jones, and create pleasure.

5D, a “global community of multi-disciplinary creators,” describe the Worldbuilding design arc as follows:

  • Inception – imagining and developing the world
  • Prototyping – testing the story space and visualizing the world
  • Manufacturing – building the world, real or virtual, for studio and capture
  • Finishing – honing final resolution and the experience of the world

This is a process that will sound familiar to most designers. Design and the creation of narrative are tightly interwoven, and McDowell’s advice in a 2006 MIT News article still rings true for designers in all disciplines:

It’s time for us to restrain ourselves and use the tools to do sophisticated storytelling as opposed to “just look what we can do if we just press this button.”