Monday, December 12, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Overview & Purpose

In the next few posts, we'll look at the top level set of design tasks involved in a transmedia project. A number of key decisions need to be made very early in the design process for a transmedia project. These decisions will shape the direction in which the project will develop, so the transmedia designer needs to consider them carefully.

The Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks table outlines a series of tasks the transmedia narrative designer should do at the start of the project.There is no strict sequence in which the design tasks at the transmedia project level need to be completed once the project has been initiated. Much of the transmedia design process involves multiple iterations as the purpose of the project defined, audience research data is gathered, and general structure of the project is developed. However, all of the transmedia project level design tasks should be largely complete before work begins on the details of the storyworld and stories.

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks

  • Initiate transmedia project
  • Create transmedia project tagline
  • Identify the purpose of the project
  • Identify audience demographics
  • Develop audience psychographic profile
  • Identify content consumer type
  • Identify user gratifications
  • Identify audience media usage
  • Identify user segments
  • Identify media/platforms that will be used
  • Determine project type
  • Determine if the project is intercompositional or intracompositional

Definition of Transmedia Projects

If the planned project tells one or more stories based in the same storyworld and uses two or more media, it is a transmedia project based on the criteria set out in this thesis. This definition is less stringent than the American Producers Guild (APG), which requires at least three stories told across multiple media. A strict interpretation of the APG definition favors intercompositional transmedia narratives while eliminating intracompositional transmedia narratives from consideration as transmedia projects. The less stringent definition is used here so that both intracompositional narratives (a single story told across multiple media) and intercompositional narratives (multiple stories told across multiple media) can be included as transmedia narratives.

Transmedia Project Tagline

The transmedia project tagline is a single-sentence hook that “teases” potential users about what the project “will achieve or what questions it raises from an experiential point of view” (Hayes G. P., 2011, p. 4). The best taglines include the user with the term “you” (e.g. “Your journey into the dark heart of Wall Street”, “How do you save a man condemned to death?”, etc.).

Purpose of Transmedia Project

The purpose of a transmedia project will influence the intended message, how the content should be presented, and how users will navigate through the project. Designing a transmedia narrative for entertainment but targeting users who are looking for specific, factual information is likely to frustrate those users.

If the transmedia project is intended for educational or informational use, the users are known as “knowledge seekers”. These “knowledge seekers” are characterized by their interest in finding information related to a very specific topic (Lawless & Schrader, 2008, p. 271). When navigating the web, these users typically go to screens that contain information that increased their comprehension of the topic of interest. They are strategic in the selection of links and tend to move toward the content as quickly and directly as possible.

A transmedia narrative intended for entertainment, on the other hand, is likely to have a large number of users who are “feature explorers”. “Feature explorers” are characterized by their tendency to spend a disproportional amount of time interacting with the most noticeable features of the transmedia narrative (i.e. videos, animations, sound effects, etc.) (Lawless & Schrader, 2008, p. 271). This type of user typically spends more time learning the features of the transmedia environment than understanding the content.

Players of alternate reality games might be considered an extreme example of the “feature explorer” type. For ARG players much of the pleasure comes from exploring the features of the created environment to discover clues that will allow them to move forward in the game.
The purpose of the transmedia project will shape the message the user is intended to receive. A marketing and branding transmedia project will have a message that ultimately promotes a specific product, service, or brand. A transmedia narrative focused on activism may have a message that argues one side of a social or political issue. That message may be very pointed, like the perspective Collapsus presents on the perils of industrial society’s dependence on petroleum products, or it may have a more subtle but still clear point of view on modern industrial society as in Animism: The Gods’ Lake.

It is not necessary to take an either/or approach to determining the purpose of the transmedia narrative but one purpose should be dominant. For example, an educational/informational transmedia can be entertaining, but the entertainment value should be secondary and designed to support the primary purpose without distracting from it. Hayes identified a number of points that can serve as examples of what to look at when identifying the purpose of a transmedia project (Hayes G. P., 2011, p. 16):
  • Purpose from a user perspective
    • Stimulate community-based storytelling
    • Get the audience to be highly active during a live broadcast
    • Create deeper engagement between scheduled events
    • Get the audience to become active outside the home
    • Stimulate massive community created content contribution
    • Make the service highly personalized
    • Develop a powerful “tease” service to a must-view linear property
  • Purpose from the author perspective
    • Reach a younger or older demographic
    • Experiment with never before tried multi-platform concepts
    • Improve the skills of the creative team
    • Raise awareness of issues, social good, or other media property
    • Build a strong female or male viewership
    • Build a loyal local and/or international community for a creative property
    • Increase the overall audience

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