If you haven’t checked out the New York Times excellent web article “SnowFall,” you owe it to yourself to see the state of the art in non-fiction interactive media.
After being blown away by the gracefully designed gestural interface and exquisitely timed introductions of videos and 3D animations, I put on my UX designer hat and deconstructed it. The idea of triggering events at different locations in a scroll bar is not that new, so this wasn’t so much a technical tour-de-force. It was an artistic design success and the Pulitzer award was very well deserved.
One key feature I think their designers revealed was an engaging dynamic, unfolding tension/balance between three distinct types of media experiences. The linear text story provided the central narrative thread, which was then punctuated at precise moments in the experience with engaging videos and 3D animations. The reader/viewer can also explore interactive nodes when those are relevant within the storyline.
A second key feature, using scrollable vertical columns as useful ‘containers’ of content allows responsive grid-systems to handle multiple platforms (television, desktop, tablet, phone). In addition, these systems can provide universal design and support for people with disabilities as a bonus because it can be built into the grid system.
All of this was pretty fresh in my mind when I started thinking about converting our old Flash-based Red Hill Studios web site. In collaboration with the other designers, artists, and programmers at Red Hill, we decided to leapfrog design ‘waves’ and jump straight into what we think will become a new model for non-fiction interactive experiences: Interactive-Narrative Hybrid Design – or INHY Design.
We often recommend to clients that they start with a blindingly clear focus. Walking our own talk, we concentrated on Red Hill’s mission:
Red Hill Studios makes media that matters – interactive software products that help people become smarter, improve their health, or see the world in a different way.
Our interactive designs focus on the people who operate our products. We treasure the visceral feedback that we can read on people’s faces as they become engaged with our designs. So, rather than featuring screen shots of our products, we chose to showcase pictures of people’s faces as they are actively engaged with computer devices. We know from years of testing that people are amazingly focused when they are engaged and interacting. That’s the spark of attention we seek to produce.
The other core concept we explored was how to interweave short ‘meta-messages’ about the company ethics, morals, and goals within the rest of the informative content of the site. We wanted a separate visual treatment to change the context of the ‘voice,’ and we also wanted to place these messages in the flow of the visitor’s experience so they wouldn’t miss them.
The design solution we developed combined the scrolling vertical column approach with ‘interstitials’ – discrete sections between the informational areas that feature the large images of people engaged with software experiences with the ‘meta-messages’ laid on top.
We plan to put more messages and content into the site in the coming months.
We welcome any and all feedback!