How Star Wars can inspire your next design

  • Chris van der Ven
  • 16-09-2021
  • 3 min.

Design starts with imagination. But sooner or later, your design must be realised in the real world. So as designers, we deal with constraints all the time. Whether they are technical limitations, legal requirements or simply a lack of time, we have to find ways to cope with them.

To do that, we (Chris and Patrick) often turn to our passion for inspiration: Star Wars. We are known among our colleagues to be big fans and love to talk about it. We see a lot of similarities between filmmaking and design. Movies are also ‘experiences’, and the creation of the original Star Wars trilogy was a highly creative and technical process. So here are just a few examples of how director George Lucas solved problems and how we apply those same principles when designing online user experiences.

Keep the flow going

In UX design, timing and flow are key. Just like movie makers, we are always striving for a fluent experience for our end users. When technology is a limiting factor, we want to make sure the user hardly notices it.

Here’s an example from Star Wars we love. In the 70s, computer graphics were not yet an option to create the scene in which X-wings fly around the Death Star. But that didn’t stop Lucas’ crew from creating impressive and fluent shots. One shot is particularly cleverly done. By combining a very realistic 2D painting, a 3D miniature model, smart editing and light effects. The audience is completely fooled into thinking the camera is flying into a trench on the Death Star. What you think is one shot, are multiple shots, with flashes in between.

a short clip, showing a trench of the Death Star
This looks like one continuous shot. But you are actually looking at a painting, combined with a miniature model, cleverly edited together using laser flashes.

Here’s how we apply this principle at Rabobank. Some of our online processes demand a human validation to comply with bank regulations. A good example is opening a bank account. When human validation is needed, the interface tells the user that the process is finished, so they can continue, while the bank does the final check in the background. In the rare case that something is not validated, we give the appropriate feedback later. But most users will never know and have a fluent experience. 

Reuse things and focus on the bigger picture 

While it is tempting to create new designs from scratch, that’s often not possible. George Lucas had the same problem. Spaceships, big sets, suits, props… if he had wanted to design and build everything from scratch, Star Wars would have been too expensive to produce. So, his crew often relied on reusing existing things. Did you know that Luke Skywalker’s first lightsaber was actually a piece of an old fashioned camera-flash? Or that they used potatoes as miniature asteroids? It gets even better: for a scene where the Millennium Falcon is flying in the middle of an asteroid field, George thought that a shot from inside the cockpit needed some more movement outside. So not only did they insert potatoes in the background, but they re-used a shot of a flying Millennium Falcon and blurred it a bit, to make it look more like an asteroid. With the result that the Falcon is flying by… itself. I bet you never noticed! (See it for yourself in the video below)

Similarly, we reuse existing (digital) things all the time because we use a design system to create our interfaces. A design system is a library full of patterns and components our designers can reuse. This is a lot faster than drawing buttons by hand every single time. It also ensures consistency and coherence throughout all our digital interfaces. Like Star Wars’ propmakers, we didn’t make those elements ourselves, but we adapt proven patterns and remix them to make new things. This way, our designers don’t need to spend unnecessary time on interactions we often use. Instead, we can shift our focus toward the flow of our specific journey or design problem.

Lucas’ potato asteroids are also great reminder that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. As designers, we can lose our focus by only looking at details, but it helps to keep our eye on the bigger picture. Some details are just too small to get noticed!

Embrace your constraints, together

We won’t lie, constraints can be a pain in the ass. If only the backend was more advanced. If only the frontend was the newest, fastest framework. If only… But are constraints really our enemy? Sometimes, a constraint can be a blessing in disguise. To illustrate that, here is a final example from the production of Star Wars.

C3PO, the golden robot that appeared in all Star Wars movies, is portrayed by actor Anthony Daniels wearing a suit. But this suit was so uncomfortable and restricted his movement so much, that it was very difficult to move around in it. He couldn’t even walk up or down stairs. These physical constraints turned out to be an advantage for Daniels. The stiff suit helped him with his robotic performance and determined how C-3PO would move and interact with the world. It made C-3PO one of the most beloved characters and defined Daniels’ career.

So here is our final message. Instead of grieving about impediments, we try to bend them into something positive, just like George Lucas – and his crew – did. Because most of the time, you can’t do it alone. While Lucas had a clear vision of the final experience, he needed many experts to make it come to life. The same is true for design. We do our best work when we work with other experts and trust on their creativity as well.

The next time you run into a limitation, find the solution together with developers, architects and legal experts. They often know how to stretch the technical limitations, compliance restrictions and jobs to be done. And if not: challenge your team and ask the question: what would George Lucas do? Collectively, your creativity will always be greater than any constraint.

May the force be with you!

This blogpost was co-written with fellow Star Wars fan Patrick Sanwikarja, Chapter Lead Design Expertise

About the author

Chris van der Ven
Senior Designer

Chris is an experienced team lead and strategist, who is pushing the boundaries of what is possible now and what should be possible tomorrow.

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