Transmedia Design Thesis
"After centuries of linear storytelling, we are witnessing the emergence of a new form of narrative – one that’s native to the Internet in the same way the novel is native to print." - Turo Drakvik at Activeark

The future of storytelling is an interactive relationship between story, audience, games, and technology. This relationship is known as transmedia storytelling. Transmedia storytelling is a new form of art, where unique pieces of narrative content are designed to simultaneously unfold in non-linear arcs across multiple platforms using digital technologies. It mixes traditional media arts with performance-based arts, and game systems that provide structure and rules for play.

/ (1 of 1)


Think of your typical favorite television show. 22 minutes, when you account for advertisements. It may play at 9 pm on Tuesday, but you can of course use cable to record and replay it whenever you want. However, when creators design elements of serial narratives that might unlock over the span of your week, the potential of non-linear narratives is amplified, and the story that unfolds in public is a new trigger for social interaction. I am testing how pieces of a serial narrative could be unlocked on a bus trip during a morning commute, and during mid-afternoon coffee breaks. So tailoring the content to debut in non-linear fashions and in ways that allow audiences to come together to share content and piece the story together.

Due to the fact that the social storytelling experiment that I've designed is currently on-going throughout Pittsburgh, I can't (yet) divulge details or findings. However, a great deal of my iterative work has occurred at the intersection of real and reality in interactive storytelling public spaces. I engaged in how to design the experiences, how to transition audiences from being spectators to satisfied participants in an created story world, and how to encourage the curation of meaningful narratives around social objects and topics.

For my final thesis work, I created an immersive narrative experience that included video content on multiple platforms, blog postings, character content in print, and a narrative performance that involved 30 citizens in Pittsburgh, PA.

Why is this a Design Opportunity?

Writers created for the paper page. Directors and producers created for the big screen in a cinema. Television producers created for the small screen in a living room. All of that is changing. As creators move from producing for a known media format in a specific space, to producing for digital distribution and multiple screens in real and virtual spaces, the introduction of a participatory audience has blurred the roles and responsibilities between creators and audiences. Designing and mediating these complex digital interactions in such a way that provides a desired narrative experience is the job of an interaction designer.

As the formgivers for meaning and experience in the digital world, interaction designers will play two key roles as this art form moves forward. We will (1) design the experiential qualities of new media platforms for production and distribution of new narrative worlds, and (2) we will shape the future for display technologies and interface design for emerging narrative properties.

Consider that fiction writers are now creating stories for interactive screens, not pages. These screens require new interaction methods and metaphors to build coherent experiences. Films and television are becoming increasingly participatory in nature, providing opportunities for audiences to dive deeper into the particulars of a world and actually influence the experience and perception of other audience members. These hybrid display environments will require new forms of capture and interaction for non-linear story arcs, and new display technologies that aren’t limited to one large screen in a dark theater. Future serial narratives (like television shows) might play out across city spaces, and may be delivered in smaller chunks, so that the narrative “lives” with you and unfolds as you move throughout your day. Cinematic stories of the future may debut in small theaters or even our living rooms via socially constructed screening parties, and may resolve via global serious alternate reality games. As the technology to create, distribute, and circulate continues to grow, the need for interaction designers using proven human centered design practices will only increase.

With mass media, audiences were simply consumers. Today via personal media, audiences are now participants and creators, which means designers must design the experiences for participants with a focus on the feedback loop that occurs in new media. (Bill Moggridge)

Transmedia storytelling requires new, contextually adaptable interfaces and media platforms that allow a storyteller and the audience to co-create plot, characters, artifacts, and arcs. This places the designer in a hybrid creator and director position, a role where they are expected to finesse the sensual, experiential qualities of the particular medium through which the experience will unfold. Bill Moggridge sees design here as “synthesis of all the requirements that connect people to the experience that they have with something.” Transmedia closely mirrors the way we consume and experience other content in our lives. It provides us with a direct connection to the world, rather than one that is mediated via controlling networks or government communication machines.

Process | Make, observe, evaluate, redesign...

I took a decidedly agile approach to my thesis process. I opted for a process that allowed me to makes things, then evaluate how effective they were, and then redesign the artifacts or elements of the artifact based on the results. As I've been designing physical and digital elements of transmedia storytelling, I've pulled apart important design implications that address how to design for a comedy vs. a thriller, or a serial narrative vs. a mythological narrative. The elements I created were probes that were released into communities, where I could collect responses, reflect on their impact, and reshape my frameworks and design approach for future versions.

Research

My exploratory research showed that transmedia is a form of service design, and requires a triad of engagement between a writer, a designer, and a producer. Early participatory design sessions helped me to shape audience engagement frameworks that mapped to existing media platforms, and allowed me to do later generative research in designing new display and distribution technologies.

The first image below shows an early 3-step progression that outlines roles and artifacts for the writer (1--the mythology created via story beats), the interaction designer (2--the exploration of sensory media elements and how their interaction creates narratives within audience communities), and the producer (3--setting production and distribution schedules that match design opportunities.)

Additional images grew out of generative research sessions with potential audience members, including the structuring and mapping of the mythology of a world, the story slices that designers will be responsible for shaping, and then the interaction of media elements that create experiences and narratives through audience engagement.

/ (1 of 1)


Prototyping

The future of storytelling is yet to be born, but strengthening signals are outlining its shape. Through participatory design sessions, I crafted 30 transmedia short story treatments, and whittled those 30 down to 5. In some cases, I separated out Macguffins/social objects from the stories themselves, which enabled me to build a "beat box" for transmedia story design.

Research with current fiction writers and storytellers in Pittsburgh illustrated the need to design for both new platofrms for creation, but also new display technologies for distribution and curation. Work that I have been doing on the City Channel has shown that audiences were really interested in the idea of creating contextual bits of the story that get unlocked in public spaces.

Think of your typical favorite television show. 22 minutes, when you account for advertisements. It may play at 9 pm on Tuesday, but you can of course use cable to record and replay it whenever you want. However, when creators design elements of serial narratives that might unlock over the span of your week, the potential of non-linear narratives is amplified, and the story that unfolds in public is a new trigger for social interaction. I am testing how pieces of a serial narrative could be unlocked on a bus trip during a morning commute, and during mid-afternoon coffee breaks. So tailoring the content to debut in non-linear fashions and in ways that allow audiences to come together to share content and piece the story together.

Due to the fact that the social storytelling experiment that I've designed is currently on-going throughout Pittsburgh, I can't (yet) divulge details or findings. However, a great deal of my iterative work has occurred at the intersection of real and reality in interactive storytelling public spaces. I engaged in how to design the experiences, how to transition audiences from being spectators to satisfied participants in an created story world, and how to encourage the curation of meaningful narratives around social objects and topics.

Check out some pictures of me presenting and discussing my research at the graduate poster session!

/ (1 of 1)


Follow my thesis blog at Designing Transmedia.