Extracts from Iron Man movies / Huds & Guis 

The future has an « aesthetics » that is communicated through mainstream science fiction, comics etc. Amongst the elements that are now widely used to show that something is « futuristic » is the HUD (heads Up Display). In fact, it is become a trop in itself. This sole design feature warns the audience that the action happens somewhere in the future. Just like 30 years ago, big computer with large grey monitor were the norm for “future look”. In an occidental world dominated by the visual stance over other sensory dimensions, this enhancement of embodied skill is certainly not done by chance. Just consider the “future of sports” from Lacoste. Also, with no surprise, it has been a key element of one of the biggest super hero movie ever: Iron Man.

Frankly speaking, looking at the movie for the first time with a critical eye, the display is really “show off” and does not seem to be very User friendly or even useful. It blinks, indicators move, and there are up to 27 different information in Tony Stark’s first flight, farm to much to offer a good experience of data visualization. What is shown is light-years away the greenish and polished aspect of the current HUD used in fighter planes. At first stance, it looks like just a movie trick to enhance dramaturgy and create an atmosphere of technology.

However, the movie still offers some interesting insights when considering motives of creative peoples leading to this excessive design. Over-information provided by the head-up display could help the “user” to connect his mind to a more than normal body. This change in cognition would then require specific information architecture.

1. First of all, when you read interviews of the producers of the CGI effects, they basically explain that since Tony Stark is a geek, they crammed the HUD with info on purpose, because he would be interested in having as much information as possible, and about things as diverse as health, flight patterns or …. the wikipedia page of the big wheel he zooms on during his first flight! It is then interesting to recognize there might be an esthetic of information treatment. The very fact of giving information available may help someone to better connect to the role-play he is performing.

2. Then, keeping this is mind, when looking more closely, a few things are interesting. In the Mark II suit for example, we can clearly see the dock icons allowing him to shift from the flight interface to the targeting, the radar etc. There are also some widgets that appear such as the weather information. They have also this weird « pass through » effect where an information can literally move through the HUD and then disappear, which has, to our knowledge, never been used before that movie. Maybe staying attune to the information process performed by a central computer is more relevant than just interpreting information.

3. In the Mark III suit, the things change a bit. In order to keep this « futuristic aesthetics », the producers needed to adapt the HUD, and they did this by focusing on that big widget/interface which is on the right of his HUD and allows him to monitor his suit (and his health, which seems to be new with the Mark III.

4. Finally, if we look at the iron monger, we clearly see what a « militarized » version of the same HUD would look like.

Something which is much closer to what exists in real life (aside of the red color that is probably here to make it « scifi » like). Is he more or less efficient that the show-off version of the display, it is hard to say. But we can observe that Tony Stark inhabits his suit. So the density of interaction is not just pure fancy. On the contrary, this gives a certain rhythm to tasks and actions. The display certainly acts in a strongly autonomous way, and the information gives Tony Stark the opportunity to react to…. an augmented himself. This shift in paradigm, from augmentation to inform to augmentation to remain connected to an augmented body, opens new perspectives into how people will deal with their transformed, quasi-robotic body. An option for the near future and a great field of study !

So, to put in a nutshell, there has been quite some work done on that HUD, and even if crammed with information, it still offer us at least three different visions of how such a thing could work. And they invite us to go beyond pure information manipulation to see how augmented devices help to, literally, put yourself into someone else’s shoes.