Futures Series: Peter Elson Visionary Sci-Fi Illustrator

Future User Interfaces (or FUIs) have been all the buzz here lately at the bivouac. This got me thinking about how my interest in FUIs and things like "science faction" were initially sparked. For clarification, "science faction" refers to things that were once represented in science fiction works as fiction actually come into being. I am a firm believer in the power of science fiction. At its best, it provides us with design inspiration and a powerful means of looking ahead at possible futures. One of any number of moments in our future when today's science fiction becomes tomorrow's matter of fact or "science faction". For more on the power of "science faction", feel free to watch a recent TEDx talk I gave on how "science faction" might inspire us collectively as we design for the future of education.

Operation Ares by Peter Elson

As to that original spark of interest, it was Christmas 1979. At the age of 12, I was still reeling from my exposure to "Star Wars" two years earlier. Looking back now, realize just how fortunate I was to have caring parents who encouraged my creative endeavors. That year, I received a particularly precious gift. It was a book entitled "Great Space Battles". A Terran Trade Authority Handbook, the publication chronicled futuristic space exploration and conflicts retrospectively. Written by Stewart Cowley and Charles Herridge with the authority of all the history textbooks I had read to that time, the stories captured my imagination. 

Moreover, I studied the exquisitely detailed illustrations of Peter Elson and others for hours on end. Through attempting to replicate their various masterpieces, I was learning about light sources, shadow play, proportions, shading, perspective, implied materiality, physics in some cases, and last but certainly not least...”greebles”. The later of which I was later to learn, came quite naturally to me. I certainly enjoyed adding details to my creations. So much so that my local hero artist named David Morris made note of it. At the time his praise meant so much to me. 


Future User Interfaces (or FUIs) have been all the buzz here lately at the bivouac. This got me thinking about how my interest in FUIs and things like “science faction” were initially sparked. For clarification, “science faction” refers to things that were once represented in science fiction works as fiction actually come into being.

That early praise drove my creative confidence and It has been continually reinforced through the years as David has proven out his own talents by working at such notable places like Industrial Light and Magic. In fact, in a further twist of the space time continuum, some two decades on from our time together spent working on our visualization skills in a tiny appalachian town, David would come to find himself appearing, even if just for a fleeting moment, in the very same "Star Wars" film we were so in awe of when it was re-released in 1997 as a special edition.

Looking back, I gained so much from all of those hours spent pouring over Elson’s masterpieces. More often that not, those illustrations that moved me most powerfully to a new place bore the initials “PE” bounded by a rounded rectangle somewhere in the composition. Sure enough...there they were...in the corner, or along the panel of some epically scaled starship. I feel fortunate for having been exposed to Elson at just the right time. 

But by far and away what I feel most fortunate to have learned from all that time spent with Elson’s creations was that the power of the imagination can take us to special places. Peter Elson and David Morris, I thank you for bringing me ultimately to such a special place as IDEO. And I thank David Kelley for creating this place called IDEO, where, everyday we have a hand in imagining and building the future together.

Below are a few specific pieces that were my early inspirations from Peter Elson:

To take a closer look at Peter Elson's work visit: www.peterelson.co.uk/gallery/category.php?cat=11