The semester is just about over, and while I should be regrouping, catching up on sleep and spending time with the ones I love, I’ve decided instead to take on a short term engagement doing design research, information architecture reviews, and wireframes for the corporate site at Carnegie Mellon.  They are interested in doing something that brings a sense of agency to the experience of interacting with the site, and I’m interested how we can use narratives to connect corporations to faculty members who are doing some pretty interesting research.  I did similar work for the office of sponsored research earlier this year and enjoyed the opportunity to put my design research methods to work.

Tis the season for job searching as well.  I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not going to have an easy path.  I’m not a pure interaction designer, and when I describe the work I do as an experience designer, the interviewer usually wants to veer down a heavy marketing/PR path.  So I’ve got a lot of poking and prodding, looking for something that combines storytelling, interaction design, experiences, and the role of audience as creating emergent narratives.

It’s out there.  I can feel it.  But until it feels me back, I’m going to tinker with the interwebs.



Poster session this week

5 days until I present my thesis research on “designing transmedia experiences.”  Looking forward to it.

At the end of last semester, I turned in a thesis proposal titled “Reframing the Interaction Designer as Writer & Director of Story Experiences.”  It sounded good. Even marketable, if you ask me.  I hadn’t even really dipped my toe in the transmedia pond–but I recognized that the book as a delivery format was not the future for storytelling. Everywhere I turned, I was finding more and more about companies looking to tell the stories of their products, showing real examples of use through experience.

At some point in the last two weeks, I’ve come round to the idea of interaction designer as writer AND director of transmedia experiences. I dig Brian Clark’s definition of a director, and have repurposed it to explain the role of a transmedia designer as he weaves together the media arts and the performance arts.  He has been one of the biggest inspirations to me thus far, as has my advisors Nick Durrant, Gill Wildman, and Haakon Faste.

The poster is 80%.  As soon as it is 100% I’ll upload it, and report back on how the presentation went.  Between now and then, I’m tweaking, tinkering, and rehearsing. I’ve fleshed out several examples of experience design that utilize unique transmedia story aesthetics as part of a larger story world.  I feel like I’m hanging a tin ceiling–I’ve got the framework, and now it’s time to slowly anchor it, one tile at a time.

Designing experiences | conclusion of primary research

I’m back from the Storyworld 2011 conference in San Francisco.  11 days out from getting married and 38 days from research presentation. Not that I’m counting.

So in the last 4 months, I have mapped the transmedia space, breaking it down by types (franchising, marketing, native storytelling), listing projects, practitioners, methods, and goals.

I need to go back and add revenue models for each, because from what I learned at the conference, there really is no viable business model for native transmedia storytelling.  Another interesting takeaway from the conference was the need for interaction designers to design the interfaces of the future related to transmedia experiences.

My thesis is titled “Designing Transmedia Experiences | the future of storytelling.”  I am focusing less on the story, and more on the designed experiences between the tellers and the audiences.

I’m wrapping up my research, prepping for the poster session in December, and getting ready to sketch a story world and design a series of interactions between teller and audience to explore how participants will move from platform to platform using affordances and beats embedded within the story.  And I’ll be doing it until 2 am or so for the next month, in case anybody feels like calling late night.

the intersection of design and narrative

So why the silence for 22 days?  Well, because I’ve been reading and synthesizing 8 years worth of material.  Books, articles, Facebook emails, Tweets, memes, and everything in between. It’s starting to feel like transmedia storytelling is all about the in between, the cracks and the factions.

So in my research work with Haakon, it’s become clear that I’ve been talking about this and talking around it since May.  The intersection of narrative/story and design.  What that means is that there are two very different, and yet totally related avenues to explore here–narrative driven design, and design driven narrative.

In short, narrative driven design identifies with the work of Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby with their value fictions, or the work of Julian Bleecker in his epic(ly awesome) essay “Design Fiction.”  What do we do in design?  We research something, then we build prototypes and put them in front of people and ask, “here, can you do X?  Can you do Y?  If I asked you to download a photo, what would you do?”  And then if they can do the tasks, we consider it a success! Launch parties are organized and companies make bread. But there’s another side to “prototyping,” and that is to prototype through a narrative experience. I may not ask you how the interface works for you, or if you could use an artifact in your car, but if I respect the lines between science fiction, science fact, and immersive narrative, how might design prototype and build artifacts that live in future worlds that are soon to be the real world?

And then on the other hand, we have the design driven narrative, which is the full out transmedia, multi-platform storytelling imaginarium that, in my humble mind, represents the future for storytelling and world building at all levels of human engagement.

So it also just dawned on my that the amount of time I’ve spent on this in the last 24 hours outweighs the number of hours that I’ve slept in the previous 72 hours.  This means it’s time to go to sleep. I’m preparing for the Storyworld Conference in San Francisco in a week and a half.  Looking forward to meeting some of the brilliant storytellers, producers, and artists that have given shape and fanfare to this beautiful form of media co-creation.

staying in touch

What they don’t tell you about thesis is how much reading it could be.  I’m serious.  I’ve gone from digital storytelling to interactive fiction to sceneography, to spectatorship vs. participant theory, to comics and now to storytelling in theater. I’ve read the Hollywood perspective on storytelling, the design perspective (via U practices), the game designer perspective, the NGO perspective…and there are tons more.

I think the key right now is simply immersion.  Just as I want to design interactive, immersive story worlds, I need to immerse myself in all aspects of storytelling in order to design my was into and out of the problem of the future of storytelling.

Okay, enough chatting. Back to reading.  And tinkering. Wait’ll I tell you about my interactive street of the future and the value fictions that are behind my crazy design driven narrative vs. narrative driven design independent study. You’ll flip. Seriously.


4 cups of aged tea, 1 turkey sandwich, & 10 hours of reading and mapping

It’s the third week of my last year here at Carnegie Mellon, and I’ve been so caught up in projects and tinkering that I haven’t had much time to read. So I brewed up some tea, took the growing stacks of books from my workdesk, and got comfortable in my big old chair.

10 hours later, I’m finding some interesting connections between the changes in film that were brought on by the increasing use of digital visual effects, and the implications for future digital storytelling. Shilo McClean has an excellent book on the subject, called “Digital Storytelling.”  It really gets at the tension between DVFx that enhance a story vs. those that simply attempt to smooth over the obvious cracks in a crap entertainment property to make a last ditch attempt at audience engagement.

A related article that comes to mind is Roger Warren Beebe’s “After Arnold: Narratives of the Posthuman Cinema.” Beebe’s article focuses on the liquidity concepts of effects and the implications that type of effect has on our viewing experience.

As McClean points out though, at the end of the day what matters most is the story–the DVFx can enhance the viewing experience, improve the ability of the story to “live” with us long after we’ve left the theater, but if all we remember is a series of explosions and improbable car chases strung together upon which somebody tried to hang a narrative…well…it’s not likely to stick with us. So there’s a tension between the effects that we can believe in and the ones that pull us out of the storyworld that we’ve come to believe in.

The question I’m looking at tonight is what role DVFx will have in future storytelling.  I’ve been flirting with this transmedia word, and while I know that it’s a word with many different definitions, I’m starting to feel like the opportunity for this interaction designer is to look at the interactions and engagements that will delight story consumers for the next 15 years.  Call it transmedia storytelling. Call it transmedia design.  For now, I’ll call it research.

Here’s two pictures of my research to date–the first one shows the full map I’m working on of the space. Who’s doing what, what’s the history of transmedia, and the second shows how I’m beginning to pull apart the different definitions that I’ve been finding in order to figure out what interaction design has to contribute to this whole process.

Why do a thesis on the future for storytelling?

Because I love bookshelves, that’s why.

Not the Ikea, $29 tubes and mesh type, but real, wood bookshelves. My bookshelves support and display tangible artifacts of the world’s second oldest profession–storytelling–in the form of books and artwork. I love picking them up, thumbing through to favorite bits of narrative and sharing them with other people.  I loan books out often without remembering who I loaned them too.

A good story requires and offers interaction. Interaction with people (face-to-face), technology, or a space, or any combination of the three.  A good story takes us through the four orders of design in a whirlwind and revealing way. The shift to a participatory culture certainly increases both the opportunities to interact and the value that we can take from these interactions, but somehow, story just seems to be getting lost. Book stores are closing. Movies rely on a bevy of special effects to tell a “story.” Books on eReaders allow for no evidence of interaction or meaning.  But yet story still holds so much power, and as we rely more and more on technology, I believe we’re going to have to reinvent how stories are told. Vague, I know.  Am I talking about reinventing Hollywood? No. But I believe there are ways in which we could use native technology to tell compelling stories that have audiences larger than our pool of family and friends. And that, my friends is where I’m starting.

So I’m looking out the windows and checking for obstacles right now.  Checking out the landscape, looking behind me, checking my rear and side mirrors, and putting this thesis in gear.

Transmedia as a word pisses a lot of people off, and as a writer who cares about craft, I can sure understand why.  Forget the word for a second and focus on the concept that the word should impart–it’s the process of telling a story using a variety of media formats, and letting the strength of the medium dictate the component of the story that is told through that channel. Basing the future of storytelling on the fads of today is a recipe for disaster. It takes a good storyteller, with a great story to tell, to engage people deeply enough such that fumbling from one site to a social media outlet is desired.  No, the future of storytelling rests with the storyteller, and not the technologists. The technology we will be using in 5 or 10 years isn’t the technology of today, so why design something for the future based on technology today that is already on the decline?

So I’m moving forward as a novice. A novice designer, an experienced storyteller, and a virgin transmedia designer.

If the world I wish to inhabit for the rest of my life is one in which I tell stories in a new digital manner, and one in which I can consult others to tell their stories using current and emergent technology, then it stands to reason I should immerse myself in that world now, as a beginner, looking for mentors and leaders.

And if all this works, maybe I’ll be designing the bookshelves of the future as well.


It’s not just the story, but the manner in which the story is told and tells itself.


The Future of Storytelling.

Transmedia storytelling.

Narrative driven design vs. design driven narrative.

Place. Plot. Genre.

Let’s get started.

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