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THE PROCESS OF DESIGNING FOR INTERACTIVE MEDIA

Richard Oliver, Multimedia Consultant

  1. Why do we need to think about the process of designing for interactive multimedia?

  2. Functions of Interactive Digital Media

  3. The Design and Production Team

  4. A Model of the Design Process

  5. Exploring the Design Space 1

  6. Exploring the Design Space 2

  7. Developing Initial Ideas

  8. Developing Detailed Design

  9. Generating the Media Elements

  10. Integrating the Media Elements

  11. Testing, Monitoring and Evaluating

  12. Maintenance

1 Why do we need to think about the process of designing for interactive multimedia?

1.1 Why do we need to think about the process of designing for interactive multimedia?

The need to consciously shape the process of designing and producing interactive multimedia may seem strange, for those of you who come from a traditional media or software background. In those areas you will probably have been taught a process as part of your early training in the field. This way of doing things very rapidly becomes taken for granted - it is the way that you design and produce a magazine or a film or a piece of software - something that does not have to be questioned. At some point in the future this will be the same for interactive multimedia. But, interactive multimedia is still in its infancy and as well as inventing what we can do with it, we also have to invent the way we do it. 

 1.2 A new medium

Interactive multimedia is very young. The World Wide Web only began in 1991. Guide and Hypercard, the first widely available multimedia authoring packages only emerged in the late 1980s. There are very few people who have more than ten years of experience of working in this medium. While there is some experience of what works and what does not, we are still in the process of inventing the medium. It is important to remember that the conventions and practices of all media had to be invented and that this took place over long periods of time. The concept of the page number in book took many centuries following the invention of printing before it was widely adopted, but was crucial to the book being a useful information source. Similarly, in cinema, conventions such as the close-up or moving the camera, that we take for granted, needed to be invented by film makers and their meaning learned by their audiences. With interactive multimedia we may still be in the position of where our equivalent of the page number or close-up is still in process of being invented.

 1.3 No real tradition

Interactive multimedia is too young to have a real tradition of its own. At best it can be said to have some habits. This presents designers in this medium with a problem. Whereas designers working in print or people working in film and television have a large body of work and experience developed over many years - in the case of print over centuries - as examples of what works and what does not, with interactive multimedia this is not the case. But designers in this medium do have some advantages. Some of the lessons learnt in earlier media can be applied. The trick is to recognise which are relevant and which are not. Also, some of the lessons learnt from the longer experience of developing interactive application software can also be applied. Further, there has been earlier work in the seventies and eighties, particularly with hypertext, which can give us insights in to how we could proceed today. But, perhaps the greatest advantage we have, in terms of building experience and a tradition, is the internet, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days weeks, which is one of the fastest means of spreading innovations and ideas that has ever existed.

 1.4 Constant change and flux

Interactive multimedia has a short past. It also lacks a stable present. To take one aspect of the medium, the internet. The internet is the fast growing medium in history - 17 million users worldwide in 1992,195 million users in 1999. Its rapid growth is not just in numbers of users, but in the technological inventiveness that has accompanied that growth and in the ingenuity that has been applied to finding new uses for the medium. And this is just the beginning, if anything the pace of its development is likely to accelerate over the next decade as its practical and creative possibilities unfold. This means, that as designers, we need to be aware of the new software and hardware that is constantly coming on-stream, opening up new possibilities and fresh opportunities. But more profoundly than that we need to recognise when such innovations radically shift the nature of the medium, requiring us to rethink our whole approach. The development of the World Wide Web required such a shift for those of us who had been working with disc based interactive multimedia. The one certainty is that the medium will continue to develop very fast and that its development will not be a smooth linear progression, but something much bumpier and more unpredictable.

 1.5 The Design Process as a stable element

The fact that interactive multimedia is a new medium, with little tradition to draw on and is still in a period of very rapid and turbulent development makes it important to look for areas of stability. The dangers of operating in a context of constant flux and change is that it is too easy to be seduced by the latest fad or exciting new bit of technology. Any interactive multimedia design, whether it takes the form of a CD-ROM, a web site, a kiosk in a museum, or the myriad of other possibilities, should have a clear purpose. That purpose should be to provide the user with an experience that cannot be achieved by any other means. The advantages of using interactive multimedia as opposed to any other medium or method to achieve that purpose should be demonstrable. Following a systematic design process is a way of ensuring that all the issues that need to be addressed to create purposeful interactive multimedia will be tackled at the appropriate stage of the process. More than that, a systematic design process is a means of coping with a context of rapid change. Using such a process provides a stable framework for making design decisions, such as whether or not to use a new piece of software or any other innovation, because the criteria for such decisions always comes back to the purpose of the design and the kind of experience it should provide for the user.

 2 Functions of Interactive Digital Media

2.1 Functions of Interactive Digital Media

The greatest distinction between interactive multimedia and more traditional media, such as books, newspapers, magazines, films, radio and television is the variety of functions and combinations of functions it can perform. As a distribution medium it can carry the content of these older media and make them available by disc or by the network. On the internet they are available from any connected device anywhere in the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a medium in its own right it can be used to mediate almost any human interaction you can think of. This is what makes it so powerful and so exciting a medium to be working in. Because interactive multimedia can carry out a variety of different functions a key, but not always immediately obvious, design decision is what function or combination of functions any particular interactive multimedia project should be trying fulfil.

 2.2 Communication

Unlike traditional mass media many forms of interactive multimedia enable two way communication. Indeed, one of the drivers of the popularity of the internet has been email, followed quite closely by chat rooms, instant messaging and a range of other vehicles for communication between people. While most of these forms of communication have been text based, increase the possibilities of including images, sound and video are becoming available. This potential for dialogue with and between users is something that needs to be seriously considered in any interactive multimedia project.

2.3 Information

There is now an enormous volume and variety of information on CD-ROM and the Web. Much of this is still effectively printed text on a computer screen. But even in these cases their use in an interactive multimedia content can add utility. Directories on CD-ROM can be much more effectively searched. Brochures, academic papers and timetables more easily accessed through search engines on the web. As the medium develops it is likely to move further away from material originated for print to take advantage of its ability to deploy different media types to communicate information more effectively. The choice of the appropriate media types to convey any particular form of information to a specified audience is a key design decision in this new medium.

 2.4 Entertainment

It is often forgotten that computer games are a form of interactive multimedia. From their primitive beginnings in the early 1960s they are now a multi-billion dollar global industry. In that sphere alone interactive multimedia’s potential as an entertainment medium has been proved beyond doubt. The range of entertaining experiences that interactive multimedia can offer is almost certainly much broader than those currently offered by computer games and would include the opportunities for convivial social interaction offered in some chat rooms, MUDs and MOOs. The question of whether an interactive multimedia project should include an element of entertainment is a design decision that needs to be very carefully considered. In some cases it can enhance the experience, in others it may be a distraction from the central purpose of the design.

 2.5 Transactions

The success of transactional web sites such as Amazon.com and Ebay and all the other sites that offer opportunities for buying and selling between businesses and consumers and business to business, are an obvious demonstration of the importance of this function of interactive multimedia. But it is also important to remember that these are not the only transactions this medium can support. There are a whole range of transactions that involve the exchange of information between parties, often involving filling in paper forms, that could more effectively, more speedily and economically be carried out using this medium. Since many of us find such informational transactions difficult, one of the challenges facing designers in this new medium is how to use its multimedia capabilities to offer help and support in carrying such transactions.

 

2.6 Applications

Interactive multimedia is computer software and because of this it can actually enable people to do things as well as showing them things. Take for example a railway timetable. In its traditional form you can look things up, but you have to do your journey planning yourself, often with much difficulty. With interactive multimedia the timetable becomes a tool that can help you plan you journey, displaying a number of choices depending upon the criteria you set. Because so many interactive multimedia projects have focused on displaying information and their interactivity has largely consisted of being able to move around that information, the more active potential of the medium some times gets forgotten. It is a useful discipline when designing any interactive multimedia project to imagine how it could be more of an application that enables people to do things rather than simply looking at them.

 

3 The Design and Production Team

3.1 The Design and Production team

The design and production of interactive multimedia is essentially a team activity. While it is possible for individuals to produce interesting small scale work, anything of any real ambition requires a broader range of skills than any individual can command. Because this is a very young medium job titles and definitions are still very fluid. However, we would argue that the successful design of any interactive multimedia project of any ambition will need:

1. Someone to organise and coordinate the project - a project manager. 2. Someone to structure the content and to determine how a user can interact with that content - an interactive multimedia designer

3. Someone to ensure that the technology underlying the user’s experience is as unobtrusive as possible - a software engineer.

 

3.2 Project Manager

The Project Manager is responsible for organising, coordinating and managing an interactive multimedia project. However, at its best, this is more than simply a managerial role and the Project Manager should be seen as a full member of the creative design team. An important aspect of this role is to represent the interests of the user. This means keeping the whole of the design and production team focussed on the goal of meeting the user’s needs and expectations.

 

3.3 Interactive Multimedia Designer

The Interactive Multimedia Designer is responsible for the overall structuring the content of an interactive multimedia project and the way a user can interact with that content. The way that content is structured and the way the user interacts with it will shape the user’s experience of it. In designing interactive multimedia we are designing experiences. The nature of those experience should reflect the content and what the project is trying achieve. To create the appropriate experience the Interactive Multimedia Designer will usually need the collaboration of other media specialists and crucially will have to work very closely with the Project Manager and the Software Engineer.

3.4 Software Engineer

The Software Engineer has a very important role in delivering the intended experience to the user. It is the Software Engineer’s responsibility to make the technology invisible to the user so that their attention is directed to the media experience rather than the technology that underlies it. This means that response times should be fast, that images download quickly, in fact, it means avoiding all the technical glitches that can draw the user’s attention to the technology. More than that though, the Software Engineer is a key figure in making interactive multimedia a medium in its own right, rather than simply being printed pages or a video shown on a computer screen. The skill and creativity of the Software Engineer is to work closely with the Interactive Multimedia Designer to deliver experiences that are unique to the medium.

3.5 Other Specialists

Creating a successful interactive multimedia project is likely to require input from many different specialists including writers, typographers, graphic designers, interaction designers, illustrators, photographers, recording engineers, composers, animators, video makers, programmers, to mention only some of those who may be involved. In many cases those specialists will be working to a very precise brief and will not have the overall picture of the project that the central design team will have. While the Project Manager has a clear role in briefing and managing the work of specialists, inputs from the Interactive Multimedia Designer and the Software Engineer are likely to be necessary as well.

 

4 A Model of the Design Process

Exploring the design space

Developing initial ideas

Developing a detailed design

Generating the media elements

Integrating the media elements

Testing, Monitoring and Evaluating

Maintenance

 5 Exploring the Design Space 1

5.1 Exploring the design space1

Every interactive multimedia project begins with an idea. This first phase of the design process involves exploring and testing the strength of that idea and defining the constraints and opportunities of the “design space” in which it can be developed. In many ways it may be the most important part of the design process. If this first phase is carried out rigorously, problems that may arise later can be avoided and creative opportunities that might other wise have been overlooked can be identified.

 

It cannot be stressed too heavily how important this first stage is. When interactive multimedia projects fail to deliver what is expected of them, the reasons can usually be found in a neglect of this first phase of the process. The temptation facing both the design team and the client is to gloss over this first stage and to leap right in to the second stage of the process which is much more obviously productive and has a visible output. 

Much of this first phase is concerned with formulating and asking the right questions. Most of these are fairly obvious: what are we trying to say, to whom, in what way and why are we saying it anyway? However, while the questions maybe obvious, answering them can be very difficult. Sometimes the difficulty lies in the fact that the answers are ones we do not want to know, for example, the fact that a particular audience we wish to reach on a web site has no access to the internet and hence that approach to the project is pointless. Sometimes the difficulty is just because rigorously exploring a design space is hard and may force to test and overturn a number of our initial assumptions. And, sometimes we have to return to this first phase of the process when what is learned in later stages of the process mean that we have to revise what we are trying to do in a project. But if this first stage has been properly carried out, such a return means that this movement between stages can be a purposeful, productive part of the creative process, because it is based on a sound foundation.

 

5.2 Who?

Accurately describing the intended audience of an interactive multimedia project is a vital, but often neglected, part of the design process. The more detailed this description is, the more it can inform the design decisions that are taken. Will you audience have access to the kind of technology you propose to use? Will they have the experience to use it?

 

5.3 What?

What kind of experience are you trying to give your target audience? What do you want your users to be able to do? What are you trying to communicate to your audience?

 

5.4 Where?

Where will your audience be having their experience? In the home? In an office? In a public space? The environment in which people use multimedia can play a very important in their experience and the media types that are used to communicate it. Too often designers end their thinking at the screen rather than taking into account the context in which it is being used.

 

5.5 How?

What are the resources of time and budget that can be brought bear to achieve the experience you wish to create? What are the media elements that can be best used to create this experience?

 

5.6 Why?

Why is it it proposed to use interactive multimedia? Is it cheaper? Does it have a greater reach? Can it communicate more effectively? Will it be more engaging than other media? Does it do something you cannot do using other media or methods?

 

6 Exploring the Design Space 2

6.1 Exploring the design space 2

The outputs from this first phase of the process are generally expressed in words. An output such as a design proposal may also form part of a legal contract between the client and the design and production team. But the reasons we are considering them here is an aid to the creative process. These outputs are a kind of map which if used properly can help the design team to keep focused on the goals of the project. In any design project of what ever kind, not simply in interactive multimedia, it is very easy to get diverted or seduced away from what should be the central focus. In interactive multimedia, because of the context it is now operating in and because of its inherent complexity, the need for such maps and reference points is perhaps greater than in many other kinds of design activity.

6.2 Design Concept

A design concept is a very short statement, preferably only a sentence, that expresses the essence of an interactive digital media project. Defining a concept involve thinking very clearly about what is to be achieved and expressing it succinctly. The value of having a clearly defined concept is that it aids communication among members of the design team by providing a simple benchmark against which design decisions and ideas can be tested. It is also invaluable for helping to communicate with the client and others outside the design team.

6.3 Proposal

A design proposal is a detailed description of the scope of an interactive digital media project. It will contained a project plan describing what activities will be taking place, when they will occur, how they will cost and what their outputs will be. It will also stated  the range of skills that will be required to realise the project and who will be doing what. A proposal can be seen as a kind of organisational blueprint for the whole project which will form the basis of all the planning and coordination that needs to take place. It is also often forms a crucial part of the contract between the client and the creative team.

 

6.4 Brief

A design brief is the outcome of a period of negotiation, between the key members of the design team and the client. The objective is to strive for the creative marriage of what the client wants, what is technically possible, and what works best  for the end-user. In working towards this goal, the client’s initial brief (if there is one) is merely the starting point. Essentially, a design brief is a clear, preferably short, statement about what the project is trying achieve, who its users will be and what are the principal constraints, including the time and budget available.

 

6.5 Design criteria

Developing a set of explicit and specific design criteria against which the work of the project can be tested and evaluated can be a useful device to help keep the project focused. These criteria are best expressed in form of questions to which the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, for example ‘Is the "tone of voice" appropriate for target audience?’ or ‘Are the effects of user interactions predictable and consistent?’

 7 Developing Initial Ideas

7.1 Developing initial ideas

This stage of the design process is about defining in very practical ways the design direction and strategy  of a project. The techniques  outlined here are the visible manifestations of that direction and strategy.When the outputs from this stage are combined with those from the first stage the design team will know  what is to be achieved, what needs to be done to achieve it and how it is to be achieved. They can then move on to the next stage of producing the detailed design.

 

7.2 Mood boards

Mood boards can be a very quick way of establishing the overall "look and feel" of a project. They are a collage of images, typography and colours made up of found objects such as pictures from magazines that start to establish a visual and emotional style of a project. They are a very useful way of communicating the approach to both the client and to the members of the design team.

 

7.3 Sketch visuals

Sketch visuals are the first set of ideas developing the visual look of the project. They may be done on screen or as a mix of paper sketches and screen shots. Their function is to begin to establish the visual feel and style of the project.

 

7.4 Structural schematics

Structural schematics are a formal way of mapping out the structure of the "space" the users will be able to move through. They define what events occur and where they are located. In very many cases those events will be defined in terms of information to be presented to the user. In others they will be defined in terms of transactions or actions the user participates in. 

 

7.5 Storyboards

Storyboards are an informal kind of structural schematic which can be very illuminating both in terms of exploring how users may move within an interactive multimedia environment, describing that space and giving some sense of its look and feel. Unlike a traditional, linear storyboard for a film, a interactive multimedia storyboard will look more like a flow chart and can even take up several walls to show all the possible interactions!

 

7.6 Scenarios

A scenario is means of describing how a user may move through one session within an interactive multimedia environment. Scenarios being time based are always linear and may be described in text or images or a mixture of both. Scenarios should always begin and end with events in the real world. A scenario might begin with someone deciding they need to find something out, going to the interactive multimedia environment to find it and then doing something in the real world as result of what they have found. A well chosen scenario can often reveal problems and opportunities that can be concealed while looking at the bigger picture.

 

7.7 Treatment

A treatment is another technique that, like storyboards, originated in the film industry. In the same way as a film treatment expresses in a few pages the essence of the mood, story and style of a movie, a treatment for a interactive multimedia project does the same thing. Though, unlike a film treatment, it will almost certainly use images and diagrams as well as  words to evoke a sense of the experience the finished product will provide.

 

7.8 Demos

All the technique we have described so far have been paper based or use static screens. As such they require considerable imagination and experience to see how they would work as interactive multimedia. This is why from a very early point it is vital to be producing "demos" or prototypes using interactive multimedia tools themselves. These can be very crude screens simply labelled with descriptive text and some means of navigating between them or they may be a simplified expression of some of the major elements of the project shown in a relatively sophisticated way.  They maybe produced by the interactive multimedia designer using an authoring package such as Macromedia Director or in HTML. In more software intensive projects the interactive multimedia designer may collaborate with the software engineer to produce prototypes using a programming environment such as Microsoft's Visual Basic or Borland's Delphi.

 

8 Developing a Detailed Design

8.1 Developing a detailed design

Whatever the nature of an interactive multimedia project the first two stages of the process are likely to be very similar, differing only in the amount of time that can be spent on them. It is when you come to the other stages of the process, beginning with developing a detailed design that significant differences begin to emerge. We would categorise these different approaches as falling in to three main types, the craft model, the product model and the process model. Of course, in the reality of professional practice many design teams will adopt a hybrid approach incorporating elements from each of the different approaches determined by the specific nature of the projects they are working on. Whatever the approach they adopt the key design decisions should have been resolved by this point and this stage should consist of a detailed refinement and implementation of those decisions. However, it should be remembered that sometimes work at this stage will reveal flaws in the initial thinking that can only be discover at this stage. In that case it may be necessary to return to the earlier stages of the process to refine and revise the earlier design decisions.

 

8.2 The craft model

In the craft model, once the design decisions made in the first two stages of the process have been agreed, the process of detailed design and production becomes a seamless process. Effectively the design is built up using a prototype, which becomes more elaborate and refined as the various media elements are added to it. This craftlike process can be very effective as the results are immediately visible and corrections are built in to the process, but is really only suitable for relatively small, self-contained projects. Also the dangers of getting lost in the process and seduced by interesting, but not strictly relevant aspects of the design can be very high. However, if used in a disciplined way with frequent references back to the “map” of design decisions develop in the earlier two stages this can be a very creative and productive way of working.

 

8.3 The product model

In the product model design and production are strictly separated. Here the design team will be drawing up functional specifications, detailed structural schematics and other forms of what are essential instructions for the production team. In some cases these may need to be supported by working “demos’ when the interactions are to complex to describe on paper. This approach can work well and on some very large projects may be the only workable method, but it does have the problem that the production team does have to interpret their instructions. This can lead to misunderstandings and because of this the strict separation between design and production, in practise, can become blurred.

 

8.4 The process model

The process model is the most recent of the three models and arises from forms of interactive multimedia, such as some kinds of web sites, which are designed to evolve and change over time. The key outputs from the design team in this model are the guidelines, style guides, templates, processes and procedures guidelines. These will determine how the content that is generated in the future will fit in to the design and how the structure can be modified and adjusted to accommodate the way users actually use and interact with the design. This form of open ended design is something there are few models for, except, perhaps, landscape design and certain forms of town planning. It is certainly the one that is most challenging and that will require the greatest learning to do well.

 9 Generating the media elements

9.1 Generating the media elements

As we have described in the section about the design team generating the media elements is likely to require input from a range of media specialists. In some cases, many of the media assets may already exist, often in analog form, and here the task of generating the media elements largely lies in converting them into the appropriate digital form. But, increasingly the media elements that make up an interactive multimedia design are being created for a specific project. In both cases it is the role of the interactive multimedia designer to create the structure in which those different media elements will fit. While the interactive multimedia designer will specify what is to be used or created it is the role of the project manager to ensure that all the media elements required are brought together at the right time and in the right form.

 

9.2 Interface

The interface is the means a user has to interact with and navigate through an interactive multimedia design. It involves the hardware the user physically uses to interact with the computer or other display device, keyboard, mouse, etc. and the icons, menus, buttons, dialogue boxes and other symbolic devices that the user can act on. In most cases, the hardware elements of an interface are a given, though the interface design team still needs to think about how they are used. With the symbolic elements the designers have more freedom, though as a general rule using conventions that users have encountered in other interactive multimedia designs is desirable. Successful interface design depends upon three elements 1) an empathy with the user and their perception of the system 2) a deep understanding of the system the user will be using and its capabilities and weaknesses, and 3) a rigorous concern with detail to ensure that every element of the design is consistent and coherent.

 

9.3 Text and Hypertext

Interactive multimedia is still predominately a text based medium. As the medium develops the balance between the different media elements is likely to change with images, sound, animation and video taking on a greater prominence. But for the moment text is still the major vehicle for communicating ideas, information and emotion within the medium. Technically, text currently enjoys a number of advantages over the other media types that can be used in interactive multimedia. It is very compact. It can be easily searched and manipulated. It is also a familiar form of computer mediated communication. So we tend to turn to text when we want to say something. But, now the medium is more capable of supporting and delivering other media types we should be more thoughtful about how, why and when we use text. In particular, it is important to remember that we are not writing for the print page and that the medium offers us unique features such as hypertext and dynamic means of linking text to other media elements such as sound or images that need to be exploited.

 

9.4 Typography and layout

Words are still a very important means of communicating in interactive multimedia, but how a word looks can sometimes communicate as much as what is says. The art of typography has been developed over many centuries in print and more recently in film and television. Many of the lessons about the uses of typefaces and layout in print can be adapted for interactive multimedia. But it is important to remember that a display screen is not paper, so such lessons should not be applied too literally. More than that, in this medium, type can take on a dynamic character, using animation, which in some circumstances can make it more effective.

9.5 Image

Images can used in a multiplicity of ways: to entice, inform, appeal, communicate and enrich. They can excite passions, express feelings, communicate ideas, explain complex relationships, become objects of aesthetic pleasure, meditation and contemplation, and even tell stories.

In interactive multimedia, images can be used in all these ways, and they can also be linked together with text and other images to create new kinds of relationships that can be explored interactively by the user. Just as a painting can tell us a "story" in an iconic, "all-at-once", non-linear way, so images in interactive multimedia can be devices for providing a variety of different ways of looking at a particular subject or theme.

 

9.6 Animation

Animation is a media element that can usefully express the dynamic nature of interactive multimedia. What is important is that it should be used purposefully. Too often animation is used as decoration or to grab attention in a way that serious affects usability and detracts from the user’s experience. However, when it is used thoughtfully it can positively enhance the user’s experience. Some forms of interactive multimedia, such as computer games, are built around animation. In other forms of interactive multimedia its use may be more subtle, quietly providing a dynamic element in what otherwise might be perceived as a series of static events.  There are several ways in which it can be used in interactive multimedia, including:  'animation bites' - short sequences of full or part screen linear animation that illustrate or explain processes and are progressively or automatically played in response to the user's interaction,  as longer sequences in which the user has to make branching choices; as attention-seeking devices, as expressive or decorative effects; as transitional effects, as feedback, and as an 'autoplay' or 'default' condition, that occupies the screen if the user decides not to interact with the programme.

9.7 Sound

Sound can play a very powerful element in interactive multimedia, that up until recently has rarely been fully exploited. In part, this is due to technical reasons. Sound is memory hungry and limitations on the amount of memory available to the interactive multimedia designer meant that often it was used sparingly, if at all. But perhaps equally importantly our sense of hearing is surprisingly complex. Learning how to use sound effectively in this new context presents a number a of challenges to the design team. Sound can play a number of different, but related roles in interactive multimedia. It can generate an inclusive space that creates a greater sense of involvement with all the other media elements for the user. This may be achieved by the use of music, sound effects and voice overs. It can provide confirmatory feedback for the user by providing sounds that signal the effects of an action, for example an aural "click" when clicking a check box with a mouse. It can provide information, help and instruction. In fact, it can be used in a multitude of different ways, many of which have barely begun to be explored.

 9.8 Video

Video can communicate things that would be very hard to do using any of the other media elements available in interactive multimedia. For example, if you want to show how something has been made, a very direct and powerful way of doing this is simply to show the process in a video sequence and then perhaps to elaborate and explain what has been shown using other media elements. However, it is important that users are given full control any video presented and are not put in the position of having to wait until a video sequence has completed before they can move on to do anything else.

9.9 Software engineering

Interactive multimedia is a form of computer software. This obvious statement is one that can too easily be forgotten in our excitement about seeing the other media elements text, images, sound, animation and video deployed within a computing environment. This is why it is important that software engineers are active involved as full creative members of the design team right from the begining of a project. The knowledge and experience they can bring to a project will often suggest possibilities and approaches that some one without that background simply could not imagine. The moments of magic we sometimes experience when using interactive multimedia are invariably due to the fact that the capabilities of the computer as a medium in its own right are being fully exploited. While it is true that applications such as Macromedia Director or Dreamweaver can allow someone with little programming experience to produce interesting work, increasingly, as the medium matures and becomes more ambitious, intelligent and creative software engineering will be a key component in successful projects.  

10 Integrating the media elements

10.1 Integrating the media elements

The way that the media elements are integrated in to the interactive multimedia design will vary according to whether the craft, product or process model is being used.

10.2 The craft model

In the craft model the media elements tend to be built in to the interactive multimedia design as they are produced. It is important to keep records of where the originals are stored, because with this adhoc approach there is a danger that material will get lost or misplaced.

10.3 The product model

In the product model all the media elements will have been produced and catalogued before they are integrated into the interactive multimedia design. They are then passed on to the programming team to integrate them in to the interactive multimedia design.

 10.4 The process model

In the process model the media elements that form the starting point of the interactive multimedia design may have been integrated following either the craft or product model, though in most cases it is more likely to the product model that is followed. In the process model since many media elements are going to be produced in the future it is even more important to have systematic methods for logging, cataloguing and controlling what is used. 

 11 Testing, Monitoring and Evaluating

11.1 Testing, Monitoring and Evaluating

Testing, monitoring and evaluating can be seen as a mechanical process. This would be a mistake. While there are elements such a technical testing which are a question of ensuring that everything is working technically as it should this part of the design process can be more important than that. At its best, all design can be seen as a form of learning and the learning that takes place feeds the creative process. Interactive multimedia has a particular advantage over other forms of design in that in very many cases how a user interacts and behaves can be tracked and recorded. This means that the opportunities for very precise learnings are much greater and hence the possibilities of that learning feeding into the creative process are increased. While have placed this as one of the final stages of the process - the place it has traditionally occupied, the slogan “Don’t assume, test” can be applied right from the very beginning of the design process.

11.2 Technical testing

Technical testing should be an on-going process as the project develops. However, the key point for testing is when the project is complete and before it is released. Technical testing can be done by the design team though on a large or complex project is advisable to get the testing done by a third party.

 11.3 Functional testing

Functional testing is very similar to technical testing though in this case we are looking for errors where the system may be working technically correctly, but there is a functional error. This maybe a link that takes the user the wrong place or a set of interactions which instead of moving the user forward are circular. Again, using a third party for the final testing is desirable.

 11.4 User testing

User testing and the issue of usability deserve a module of their own. This is a very important and complex subject. However, what we must stress here is how crucial it is to involve people as close to your intended audience as possible in testing. An interactive multimedia design may work perfectly both technically and functionally and still be difficult for a particular group of users to understand and use. With some creativity and imagination it is possible to involve users right from the very beginning of a project. In the case of certain kinds of interactive multimedia, such as web sites or interactive point of information systems user testing can continue after a project has been released and what has been learned can be fed back in to the system to improve or modify it.

 11.5 Monitoring

One of the great strengths that the computer base of interactive multimedia design gives us is the ability to track and monitor the way that users actually use what we have created. This gives us an opportunity to learn which is simply not available in other media. Developing a strategy for monitoring how an interactive multimedia design is used is a key design decision that should be considered from the very beginning of the design process.

 11.6 Evaluating

Of course, simply setting up the means to monitor how users are using an interactive multimedia design is not enough on its own. The point is to evaluate what it means and to use this knowledge to improve what has been done. The combination of monitoring and user testing gives us a very powerful means of continuously improving the design to make it more effective in delivering the experiences we want our users to encounter. The design of processes and procedures to link monitoring and user testing with evaluation so that what is learned is turned into design action is in itself a key design activity in this medium. 

12 Maintenance

12.1 Maintenance

Maintenance is doing those things that are required to keep an interactive multimedia design functioning correctly in the future. Until the development of the Word Wide Web maintenance was rarely seen as an issue. But with on-line products such as Web sites and with disc based products such as kiosks or information systems the question of how they are to be maintained and updated has become an important design issue that needs to be considered when the project is first being formulated. Effectively, there a two distinct kinds of maintenance. The first is for what we could call “closed” projects, such as CD-ROMs, where we are produce a complete, finished piece of work. The second and more challenging is for “open’ projects, such as many web sites, which are designed to evolve and change over time.

 12.2 Maintenance for “closed” projects

With a “closed” project there may seem little need for maintenance and in one sense this is perfectly correct. However, since the generation of content for interactive multimedia can involve considerable expense, archiving and documenting such content for possible future use in other projects maybe worthwhile. For this reason it is often sensible to when digitising material such as photographs, illustrations, film and video to do so at a higher resolution than is necessary for the current project. Of course, the decision to do this or not is a design decision that should be taken at the earliest stage of the design process.  

12.3 Maintenance for “open” projects

Maintenance for “open” projects may involve the development of manuals, templates and style guides or it may also involve a more fundamental set of strategic guidelines about the future development of an interactive multimedia project. The process model of designing interactive multimedia projects, that right from their initial conception, have been designed to evolve and change as they are used, is something that we are only just beginning to discover how to do. This model of collaboration with users to evolve a design is perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of interactive multimedia and maybe the one that transforms our notion of maintenance from being a rather dreary design problem tagged on to the end of a project to being one of the most challenging and stimulating issue facing the design team. 

© 2000, MCH 
Atnaujinta 2000.07.01