Friday, February 3, 2012

Storyworld Level Design Tasks - Entry Points

Just as the narrative design needs to ensure users are provided with the information needed to “hook” them on the story, the interaction design must ensure that the first call-to-action a user encounters provides the appropriate amount of information to enable an effective interaction with the transmedia narrative. The entry point call-to-action should quickly communicate the conventions for interacting with the narrative as a whole and then move the user into the narrative. For web-based entry points, the page that the primary URL points to -- typically the home page – is critical to establishing both the user conventions for both the narrative and interaction aspects of the transmedia narrative.

The amount of information needed at the beginning of a journey varies among individuals. Some – improvisational wayfinders – need only a little information while others who will do a lot of up-front planning will need a lot of information (Passini, 2000, pp. 90 - 91). Just adding information is not sufficient, however. That information needs to be appropriate and sufficient to provide informational wayfinders the cues they need while providing other users more information. It also needs to be focused on getting the user into the transmedia narrative and should not direct them away from it.

The entry point for Animism: The Gods’ Lake in the fall of 2011 was through a URL that took the user to a web page with a book-like visual introducing users to both the story and the site (see Figure 1). At a glance, the user is able to understand both the navigational cues and a feel for the narrative content. The entry point for Collapsus uses a Flash graphic to provide both a navigational cue into the narrative and a sense of what the story is about (see Figure 2).

The entry point to Burn Notice, on the other hand, is a much more traditional web page with a variety of cues, many of which point users away from the narrative elements of the television program (see Figure 3) including to other websites accessed via the banner ads on the page. A collapsible bar (not shown on the screen capture) also intrudes into the page and requires a user to collapse it in order to see more of the Burn Notice home page.

Source: APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, 2011)
Figure 1: Screen capture of the Animism: The Gods' Lake home page

Source: Submarine Channel (Submarine Channel, 2011)
Figure 2. Screen capture of the Collapsus home page

From a transmedia narrative interaction perspective, the design of the Animism and Collapsus entry points is appropriate while the Burn Notice is a mess that undermines the ability of users to quickly find the information they need to navigate the narrative. The Collapsus entry point is the most effective of the three in getting users into the narrative. There are only two active links – the “Enter Collapsus” link prominently displayed near the center of the page and a link to the website of the producers of Collapsus in the lower right corner – on the enter page. One click on the primary link takes users immediately into the narrative.

The Animism entry point has significantly more distractions – a total of 18 links – than the Collapsus site. These links are to:
  • Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where presumably more of the narrative content is located
  • Pages within “The Book of Emissaries” displayed on the screen
  • Various funders of the Animism project
While acknowledging one’s funders is probably a good move from a business perspective, it adds nothing to the narrative and providing links that direct users away from the narrative poor interaction design. Likewise, the links to various social media sites are distractions that do little to progress the narrative at this point. The links to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provide no information about what awaits the users if they jump there. At this point, those links are also a temptation that may take users away from the entry point permanently. The navigation links into the narrative itself are also less than optimal. Two completely different styles are used. The “>” used as an arrow indicated to the user where to click in order to open the book while a small set of icons shaped as squares and diamonds underneath the book allowed navigation to various pages of the book. Unfortunately, those icons provided no information about what to expect at the other end of the interaction.

On the Burn Notice page an assortment of menu items, rotating Flash elements, advertising, embedded links, and images that serve as buttons provide a wide variety of navigational devices that leave the user with a huge amount of information to process before making a decision about going into the narrative. Very little information is provided as to what the user can expect at the other end of any links.

Source: USA Network (USA Network, 2011)
Figure 3: Screen capture of the Burn Notice home page

When designing the interactions for a transmedia narrative, particularly for an entry point to the narrative, the designer needs to ensure that only as much information as is absolutely necessary should be provided. That information needs to be located where users are making and executing navigational decisions (Passini, 2000, p. 91). Each decision in the decision plan requires information that is appropriate for both the decision to be made and the setting in which the decision making occurs (Passini, 2000, p. 94).

One of the challenges of transmedia narratives is that a user can enter the story or storyworld for the first time at multiple points. The design of the calls-to-action at each of those entry points should follow the guidelines identified for a single entry point.

A false affordance is a navigational cue that doesn’t work as the average user might expect. A page near the beginning of the Collapsus site features a world map with an interactive crosshair that can be moved over the map (see Figure 4). However, clicking it on a location does nothing. The only interaction possible on the page is to cursor over and click on the small photographs located low on the page. This false affordance distracts the user from the actual links present on the page and makes it appear that the page itself is broken, disrupting the narrative experience.

Source: Submarine Channel (Submarine Channel, 2011)
Figure 4. Example of a false affordance on the Collapsus site

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