Principles of Interaction Design for Interactive Documentary Makers

Book: Inventing the Medium (Janet Murray)Content production methodologies are converging with the strategies and tactics of interaction design. The latest mobile phones and tablets provide a wonderful platform for delivering intimate interactive documentary experiences. Where can media makers turn for a quick course on interaction design that they will need to design for this new genre? Gone are the one-size-fit all formats of linear video fit into neat packages like hour long television documentaries, short YouTube videos, thirty second commercials, etc. Crafting media experiences increasingly involves a set of design decisions that involve deep empathy for { viewers | participants | readers | visitors } who, rather than passively watching, are interested in participation and desire increased agency. Anybody who owns an iPhone and/or iPad has high expectations for any interface that’s part of a media experience. How can media makers harness technical innovation in computing, display, communication, and interaction in order to design new media story experiences?

With Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice (MIT Press, 2011), Janet Murray, with her background in humanistic computing, interactive storytelling, and profound understanding of design as a cultural, aesthetic and ethical practice, provides media makers with a readable and practical introduction to interaction design covering essential vocabulary, concepts, and methodology. Media convergence means that familiar forms of radio, television, cinema, photography, books, music, performance, etc. are all converging into new media which is essentially the medium of computation that processes the universal material of data.

Murray builds on her landmark work Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (MIT Press, 1998) and re-examines the four affordances of digital media: procedural (composed of executable rules, I prefer to call this affordance computational), participatory (inviting human action and manipulation of the represented world), spatial (navigable as information repository and/or virtual place), and encyclopedic (containing very high capacity of information in multiple media formats). These affordances comprise the palette for representation in any genre of digital media. Inventing the Medium offers a methodology and principles of design for the collective effort of maximizing the expressive power of each of these affordances. Each chapter presents design explorations that can be use by students as exercises or as thought experiments for professionals. The theory presented in the book is clearly tied to practice and helps reveal to those new to the field the hidden assumptions that the best professionals incorporate intuitively in their work.

I’ve been looking for an interaction design book I could recommend to documentary filmmakers interested into expanding their practice beyond linear video and towards mobile devices and the web, and this is it. This is one book you’ll want in your library and after reading it you’ll keep going back to for inspiration and clarification.