Audience, Content, and some personal
observations on the Development Process
by Elaine Winters
Where does structure come from?
Sometimes I think it is the product of engineers, and graphic artists. The writer, especially in the technological realm, is frequently an afterthought.
While the work of engineers and artists is important and necessary in every sense of the word, these people cannot be responsible for structure.
It is from the content and the unique profile of the audience that thestructure must come; this profile is the creation of the Writer/Content Developer.
Each information delivery system is designed, specifically, to convey a given content. Everything else is subservient to this--within the limits of the technology. (And, technology is, less and less, the limiting issue. In fact, it's becoming a liberating factor.)
The concept/role of writer/content specialist seems, currently, to be an individual who combines the craft and skills of a superb writer, instructional designer/developer, and research mavin. I'd like to suggest that perhaps what this person really does is provide architectural services.
Yes, there is this argument -- 'the content exists and 'simply' has to be converted into a multimedia format' --. I think this is what's currently labeled 'shovelware' - and in my experience, it's not very successful.
One interactive multimedia title or web site, correctly executed, has the ability to saturate a particular, and identifiable, market.
Yes. This IS all, still, about market.
So, let's talk for a moment about specific users and communicating specific ideas/content to that audience. It's all specifics. The Devil always hides in the detail.
Who is THIS audience? What are the goals/objectives in this environment?
Traditionally, an architect provides vision for an identifiable structure and is responsible for the specifications.
In order for the building to be successful, the architect must know the intended use of the building; who will actually occupy it, and what the building will eventually contain. Then the rooms/spaces, and how they are connected. What is each room used for? What will be the contents of each space? And, the architect must always pay attention to:
When a building is memorable, it is integrated; all the components work well together.
The architect creates the vision. A content 'architect' designs the vision. Visions are rarely the result of meetings with committees.
Yes, there is a lot of interaction among and between team members and, always,with the client. All make strong, important, worthwhile contributions. The architect establishes the focus.
Now, in these early stages of Multimedia product web site development, we have tended to look at the system of delivering the content as more important than the information itself. This is the current, pathetic, state of this new industry. It tells me that the engineers, and programmers have provided the vision NOT the architects.
These engineering and programming visions, are rich and wonderful technological adventures; are they really the most effective in terms of communicating information?. These are truly splendid visions of technological wonders, not especially artistically crafted, with little or no communicative content, generally speaking.
This will change as multimedia, and the web mature into means of conveying ideas.
I'd like to suggest a methodology for working towards that goal of maturity.
The architect communicates the vision. The vision is developed in deliverables that we all recognize (outlines, module descriptions, online help, and the like). Also, everything goes into a writer's bible.
Good, memorable, information rich, communicative multimedia programs, and web sites have artistic appeal. An identifying aestheic structure, which is the unifying vision of the project, is mandatory.
So, now, the time of the Art Director. The writer's bible describes the objects (actors,things, places) within the piece, and defines the affective (emotional) and cognitive (information) weight of each object; now, screen sketches come into being. The linking strategy is defined. The architect ensures the vision.
The module treatments and the writer's bible can provide all (either directly or by reference) of the materials needed by the artists, production, script-writing, and programming teams. The bible includes descriptions of interactions and kinds of media. These instructions have the detail of a blueprint.
Exactly as one sits with the architect and a set of plans before proceeding and breaking ground, this should be the case in multimedia or web site development. This step allows major revisions to be made before significant time, funds, and effort have been expended.
Test screens may be prototyped for evaluation and usability. During this time the client, together with marketing and legal teams, examine detailed plans.
Production and programming teams can evaluate the reality of the plans. The architect maintains the integrity of the vision. The budget is revisited in light of the plan. Revisions are proposed, reviewed, agreed to, and incorporated.
And, only now-production. Tight, realistic, cost effective, project management, with clear milestones, is the result of this kind of planning. A well defined set of plans really controls the budget and schedule. This is also where most of the budget is consumed.
This is the time of the progammer. The need now is for realistic and serious focus on solving a kaleidoscope of technical problems.
Every single detail about everything from accessing databases, developing intelligent agents for users, media incorporation, compatibilty with platform(s), and so on, needs attention. These are complex problems which can mean the success of a project and their solution requires the unique expertise of a programmer.
Programmers are frequently very clever, sometimes, brilliant. They tend to use themselves as models of the audience; they are not, usually, typical of the audience. The architect protects the vision.
Here's a mantra: Communicate the vision Communicate the creation completely. Monitor the production process; insure the vision is maintained. Dig your heels in. Prevail. Respect the committee input, and prevail.
Art does not function in a democractic environment.
The artist creates the vision.
(c) 1996 Elaine Winters All rights reserved; permission to duplicate by any means is granted only in writing. To contact Ms. Winters, visit her Web site at http://www.bena.com/ewinters or send her an email.
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