Purpose, Content and Structure
Influenced by various drivers, multimedia projects comprise various components, principally:
- Content – text, images, sounds, animation and videos; a.k.a. assets
- Functional control
- Look and feel (aesthetics)
Drivers determine the make up of the project’s components. For instance, target users may include international interests; and the preferred medium, from CD-ROM, the WWW, consoles, to PDA’s and iPhones will determine the delivery venue; are just 2 multimedia component drivers for the project. Purpose of the project, the subject matter, the genre of the product (game, educational, reference, information, etc.), the client needs, budget, timeline, marketing issues, branding and other factors are also project determinants, each playing their role in the design of the system.
Multimedia content is the subject matter, the body of knowledge, information, the story, or even the game of a multimedia production. Aspects to take into consideration here are:
- balancing the needs of users with the specifications and original project scope to meet the objective of the application;
- costs, rights, and storage all factor on the quality / quantity of content available for the project. All assets must be created or acquired;
- creating and maintaining an assets inventory will assist in the formatting, scheduling and determine the overall size of the project;
They are the interactive experiences / capabilities of the product and they directly reflect the creative resources available to the project. Some examples are web linking, virtual tools, e-commerce, smart search and intuitive product intelligence. Features enhance and enrich the product’s content and can greatly affect the user’s experience. It would be strategic, not only to meet the project brief, but to include similar features to those of competitors – and enhance their effectiveness!
It’s the organisation of the product’s content and features. A most important part of the project manager’s job is to keep good structure for the project.
Because all forms of information – including text, numbers, photos, video and sound – can exist in a common digital format, they can be used simultaneously as people browse through an information stream, just as people use their various senses simultaneously to perceive the real world.
Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation
Structural design is best done using flow diagrams (node maps) which can be made via special software. Much the same as flow diagrams for electronic circuit design, computer programming, and engineering, the various shapes and arrows can provide a concise representation of the project’s structure. The core program, as well as any virtual or real devices, all need to be planned with solid structural design.
There are 4 main navigational models to represent structure in multimedia.
- Linear – users navigate sequentially from one node to the next
- Non-linear – users navigate freely through content, unbound by predetermined routes
- Hierarchical – like a tree structure, users navigate along the branches shaped by the content’s natural logic
- Composite – users navigate freely, but are sometimes constrained to linear presentations of movies or critical information, or to data suited logically to a hierarchy
So far they come in 3 flavours: real, such as keyboard, mouse, joystick; virtual, screen representations of buttons, sliders, arrows, etcetera; and hotspots, which are similar to virtual except that they may be concealed in the background and can be activated by either hovering over or clicking on the element. Is a modem a real or virtual device? It is real in that it is a piece of hardware, however we don’t directly interact with it. Modems all need software to control them but the end user can ignore it once it is configured and working.
The Look and Feel Element
For any multimedia project, an overall analysis needs to be conducted to determine readiness of the product for final release. In addition to what has been covered in Multimedia Fundamentals and Basic Design Principles, Look and feel elements also include several more design issues:
- Styles – modern, art deco, industrial, business, space age, etc.
- Colours used – primary, secondary, contrasting, tones etc.
- Texture – metallic, stone, cloud(s), warm, harsh, inviting etc.
- Line and Line usage – placement, type, orientation
- Lighting and shadowing – placement, flood, spot, coloured, shallow and deep shadowing, etc.
- Icons and controls – buttons used, sliders used, dials and levers etc.
- Type font – size, font style, font colour
- Screen layout – cluttered, control buttons, menus, titles etc.
- Sound design – choosing appropriate sound tracks, sound effects, narrators
- Videos and animation – length, file size and format, optimised for the electronic delivery.
A combination of all these elements make up the human interface. In designing a user interface, pay attention to the basic elements of familiarity, intuition, and anticipation. The genre, consistency, and appropriateness for the target users, are also central elements for consideration when designing an interface. The standards documented in Ergonomics of Human System Interaction by ISO are also worthwhile reading.
Using metaphor goes a long way in enhancing user experience. Using images and sounds related to the target users surroundings, with virtual tools modelled directly from real ones, and behaving as users expect, not only reflects the world around intended users but also expedites any learning processes.
Semiotics is simply (the study of) communicating through signs and symbols. Imagine a pair of sink taps, one with a red top and one with blue. The red colour is the signifier, the signified is the idea of hotness, and the referent is the hot water that will come out of this particular tap. The mapping between the representation and the underlying referent can be similar, analogical, or arbitrary.
- An icon is a meaning which is based upon similarity of appearance. For example, similarity in shape and colour such as the picture of a window identifying the electric window buttons, and the computer’s printer is represented by a picture of a printer, or a picture of a file to represent the object file.
- An index is a meaning based upon some cause and effect relationship. For instance, a weathervane carries certain meaning because of the wind, or in image editing software there is a picture of an eraser on the end of a pencil representing a form of error correcting – although the pencil is a real thing, it leads to the idea of erasing, hence it is indexical. A picture of a pair of scissors can be an analogy for “cut”.
- A symbol carries meaning in a purely arbitrary way – this is the way natural language carries meaning. For example, in software a curved arrow to the left represents “undo”, the use of X on a keyboard or keystroke combination to represent “delete”, or in a car 2 wavy lines represent airflow.
The “Recyclable materials” sign on plastic products is not iconic. It is in fact both symbolic as the circular arrows are arbitrary and open to interpretation such as “stir/roll the contents this way before consumption”, and indexical provided the notion of making new plastics from old has been learnt. Designing signs or icons requires addressing the context (including time, and proximity) and the user’s culture. When designing a sign for alcohol on a menu for instance, one must consider culture as it may be misinterpreted, offensive, even intolerable to some religions / cultures.