UI Design Lessons learned from Rocky I-VII

The recent release of Creed, the seventh film in the Rocky series, was a reminder of how much the previous installments of this film and the effect it had on me as a child and young adult.

The original Rocky (1976) is a classic underdog story, which is underpinned by the adage that determination and heart can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. To the surprise of many, and much like it’s protagonist, the film went on to much commercial and critical success, winning three Oscars, and defeating such classics as Taxi Driver and Network to The Academy Award for Best Film.

The franchise has many, many excellent, inspirational lines, but my favorite is from the sixth installment, Rocky Balboa.

“It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Rocky Balboa, Rocky Balboa (2006)

Designing interfaces can be challenging, when our players do the opposite to what one expects or are confused by features and gameplay that we, as developers, think are obvious, it’s like being hit. What separates a good designers from the crowd, is that they keep moving forward, and trying new things, and bit by bit the experience improves, players are less confused and hopefully even have fun. That, in the field of Experience Design, is how winning is done.

The storied franchise is full of great life lessons and many of them relate directly to the field of experience design.

Rocky (1976)

Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, is chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, when the champion’s scheduled opponent is injured. Trained by legendary trainer, Mickey Goldmill, Rocky attempts to make the giant leap from exhibition fighter to World Championship contender.

Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up
Rocky Balboa, Rocky (1976)

Rocky Balboa is the neo-classic underdog, where his heart and determination and unbreakable spirit overcome any shortfall he may have in raw talent.

The best experiences and products are not necessarily those that come in a flash of inspiration, but those where the team take on feedback, learn and improve with each iteration and are, above all, determined to make their product the best it can be.

Rocky II (1979)

After narrowly losing his high-profile bout against world champion Apollo Creed, Rocky’s story has caught the national sports media’s attention, and he has the opportunity to capitalize on his sudden fame. Meanwhile, Creed arrogantly attempts to coax his newfound nemesis into getting back into the ring.

“What’s ‘can’t’? There ain’t no ‘can’ts’! There’s no ‘can’ts’!”
Mickey Goldmill, Rocky II (1979)

The finale of the orginal film, showed that life doesn’t always end with a happy ending, but the journey can be as satisfying and valuble experience. As designers it’s important to learn why we have failed, and and take these learning and use them as building blocks for our next learing experience or journey, and maybe, the next time we will see success.

Rocky III (1982)

Having become the world heavyweight champion, former working-class boxer Rocky is rich and famous beyond his wildest dreams, making him lazy and overconfident. Then he loses his trainer and father figure Mickey and then has his title stolen by the arrogant, menacing challenger Clubber Lang Rocky turns to his former adversary, Apollo Creed for help, as struggles to reignite his old fire.

“See that look in their eyes, Rock? You gotta get that look back, Rock. Eye of the tiger, man”
Apollo Creed, Rocky III (1982)

After being part of a successful product, it is easy to become lazy and overconfident, and really on our past successes, but we must remember that there are always those following in our footsteps that are hungry for that success. One of the greatest challenges of being a designer is to continue to challenge ones self, and not rely on easy rote solutions and lazy paradigms.

Rocky IV (1985)

Having won the World Championship Rocky Balboa plans his retirement. However, during an exhibition match, an underprepared and overly confident Apollo Creed is tragically killed during a fight with merciless Russian newcomer Ivan Drago. Rocky vows payback against Drago and flies to Russia to train for war of ideals.

Well, I’ve been with the best, and I’ve BEAT the best! I’ve retired more men than Social Security!
Apollo Creed, Rocky IV

After making this bombastic statement, Apollo is tragically killed. Hubris and arrogance have drowned many once great companies and products. As designers, we must always be humble, listen to our peers and take the advice of those that have come before us.

Rocky V (1990)

The recently retired boxer Rocky falls on hard times after his accountant mismanages his finances. He attempts a comeback of sorts by mentoring fiery young boxer Tommy, while also trying to mend his relationship with his son, Robert.

The only difference between a hero and a coward is the hero’s willing to go for it.
Rocky Balboa, Rocky V (1990)

After the great success in his career, Rocky is brought back down to earth, but again our hero brushes himself off and again steps up to the plate, despite the trepidation of his family.

As designers, it’s important to approach every project with enthusiasm and excitement, despite the challenges we’ve had before, no two projects are the same and as the designer we are capable of leading change and making a difference.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Sixteen years after the events of Rocky V and mourning the death of the love of his life Rocky plans to re-enter the ring for a few low-profile, local matches. All that changes when Rocky accepts a challenge to fight the from the young and arrogant reigning heavyweight champion, Mason “the Line” Dixon.

Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon: It’s already over.
Rocky Balboa: There aint nothin’ over till it’s over.
Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon: Where’s that from, the 80's?
Rocky Balboa: That’s probably the 70's.
Rocky Balboa & Mason Dixon, Rocky Balboa (2oo6)

Dixons disrespectful tone displays the contempt in which he holds the heroes of the past, and his lack of understanding that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Dixon is soon schooled on this as Rocky shows the young upstart the error of his ways in the ring.

When designing new experiences it’s important to remember the standards and paradigms that were designed in the past and build on them, respecting their use while also pushing our craft forward.

Creed: The Rocky Legacy (2015)

A further nine years later, Rocky has lost all he holds dear, his wife and best friend have died, and his soon unable to live with the pressure of the Balboa name has left. Into his life steps the illegitimate son of his former friends and legendary fighter, Apollo Creed. In an act of redemption, Rocky agrees to train the young fighter as he fights his own personal battle.

Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated.
Rocky Balboa, Creed (2015)

Throughout the film Rocky is able to passes his knowledge and approach to the young Creed, whilst find a purpose in his life, and learning about the modern world that he has hidden from.

As a veteran, it’s important to pass on your knowledge, support and mentor those coming into the industry, and at the same time remain opening to learning from those who at first might seem less experienced than yourself, exciting, fresh ideas are what keeps the industry moving forward.

The Rocky franchise remains one of my favourite film series of all times, and while I think there are a great number of more valuble films about design that young aspiring designers should watch, they could do far worse than this esteemed series. While some of the films may have aged badly, or seem cliche, the underlying themes of the series are timeless.

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