Interactive Multimedia Design Guidelines: A Contribution to the Discussion
Adrian Mallon, 23.3.1994 (minor additions August 1996)
Table of contents
The Meaning of Design
In evolving interactive multimedia design guidelines, the various design processes involved in the development and evaluation of multimedia resources should be identified and defined. Let me suggest that the major design processes are as follows: interactive design, screen graphic design, audio-visual and animation design, instructional design, structured program design, sound recording and engineering, and display and packaging design. Other areas of design will also need to be considered, --areas such as the design of support materials and of procedures for product testing, evaluation, and localisation, --but I'd be happier addressing those in a follow-up paper to this one. For the moment I offer the following definitions of the major areas in interactive multimedia design.
- Interactive design: planning the structure --the menus, branching and functional features --of the program, as expressed in storyboards, flowcharts and in a final product specification.
- Screen graphic design: covering the production of menu screens, navigational controls and iconography, screen-text layout, screen transition effects, graphical data for visual feedback effects (such as screen buttons in highlighted and unhighlighted forms), still graphic elements (such as maps and charts), and cel, sprite and colour-cycling animation elements.
- Audio-visual and animation design: covering responsibility for the technical quality of video photography and editing and the production of linear animation sequences, as expressed in storyboards , tape and disc.
- Instructional design: planning the educational objectives of the program and the means by which the program meets its objectives. The expression of such design necessarily overlaps interactive design.
- Sound recording and engineering: covering the sourcing and selection of library sound elements, recording, editing, mixing and dubbing.
- Industrial design: bringing ergonomic, industrial production, informational and aesthetic considerations to bear on problems involving input, output and environmental aspects of interactive systems design and on the problems of distributable media packaging design.
Guidelines should exist to cover each area of design.
Significant Influences on the Design Process
Let's now consider for our guidelines those things that most significantly influence the design process in all or any one of its forms. They are:
- A designer's personal skills and qualities.
- Peer assessment.
- Attitude and ideology.
- Commissioning-client considerations.
- End-user considerations.
- Human-computer interface considerations.
- Hardware and software considerations.
- Cost, resource and time constraints.
- Development-team structure.
- Product specification.
- Development-team communications.
- Initial and further training.
- Access to professional sources of information and discussion forums.
The remainder of this paper is devoted to looking at these categories in turn and reflecting in a personal way on possible guidelines.
Personal Skills and Qualities of the Designer
The qualities possessed by a good designer should be studied. They are of particular interest to employers in drafting job advertisements. Research into this area should survey job advertisements in each design area, published materials, and solicit the opinions of employers and designers either in face-to-face interviews or by means of Internet E-mail/bulletin board/discussion forums.
Consider the attributes and qualities Lorenz identifies as important for the successful designer in industry:
"...imagination; the ability to visualize shapes and the relationship between objects, in three dimensions; creativity; a natural unwillingness to accept obvious solutions; the ability to communicate, through words as well as sketches; and, finally, the designer's stock-in-trade --the ability and versatility to synthesize all sorts of multi-disciplinary factors and influences into a coherent whole." (C. Lorenz, The Design Dimension, Oxford, 1990 edn., p.9)
Consider, also, the qualities that Kendall and Kendall identify as important for the systems analyst. Can they be applied to the interactive designer?
"Above all, the analyst is a problem solver. He or she is a person who views the analysis of problems as a challenge and who enjoys devising workable solutions. When necessary, the analyst must be able to tackle ssystematically the situation at hand through skillful application of tools, techniques and experience. The analyst must also be a communicator capable of relating meaningfully to other people over extended periods of time. Systems analysts need enough computer experience to program, to understand the capabilities of computers, to glean information requirements from users, and also to communicate what is needed to programmers.
"The systems analyst must be self-disciplined and self-motivated as an individual. The analyst must also be able to manage and coordinate innumerable project resources including other people. Systems analysis is demanding, but the compensation is that it is ever-changing and always a challenge." (K. Kendall and J. Kendall, Systems Analysis and Design, New Jersey, 2nd edn., 1992, p.6)
The CD-I Production Handbook describes the CD-I producer (or project manager) as "a jack of all trades—someone whose knowledge has to encompass a variety of areas, from sound-recording to software engineering, and from animation to video techniques, with project management and public-relations skills thrown in for good measure." (Philips IMS, The CD-I production Handbook, Wokingham England, 1992, p.4.)
"Designers working in CD-I need to be aware of the restrictions and the possibilities the medium creates. Previous experience in television graphics will be useful, but its probably more important that designers can get to grips with and respond to the CD-I technology, and interpret material for this new medium." (Philips IMS, The CD-I Production Handbook, Wokingham England, 1992, p.19.)
A CD-I software development manager quoted in the CD-I Production Manual says about programmers, "I find the kind of people we want are very unusual; the key thing is that people should have real-time experience. The perception is that you want people who have graphics experience, but the problems we're facing are real-time problems. So good experience of real-time programming, preferrably on 68000 or even OS-9, is more important than graphics experience, or even knowledge of C for that matter, provided someone has a good knowledge of programming languages." (Philips IMS, The CD-I Production Handbook, Wokingham England, 1992, p.19.)
Another CD-I programming manager looks for programmers who understand issues in graphics and user interface design, with interests in entertainment, film and music, and, preferrably, with experience in computer games programming. (Philips IMS, The CD-I Production Handbook, Wokingham England, 1992, pp.20–21)
As for the team leader, depending on the scale of the organisation and team-member experience, that might be a director, producer, or interactive designer. (Philips IMS, The CD-I Production Handbook, Wokingham England, 1992, p.21)
Preston describes the need for talented and adventurous people with backgrounds in film, TV or corporate video, and book publishing. (J.M. Prteston, ed., Compact Disc-Interactive: A Designer's Overview (Deventer, The Netherlands, 2nd edn., 1991, pp.55–56)
Data from such sources, together with that polled and from published job advertisements, should be sufficient to create some interesting profiles to incorporate in the guidelines and serve, also, as a basis for further research.
Peer assessment. Criteria for the Judging of Interactive Programs by Professional Associations
Another useful source for design guidelines is the study of competitions designed to recognise and promote excellence in the production of interactive media. The British Interactive Multimedia Association (BIMA) apply the following criteria (reproduced from a BIMA competition entry form for 1993) in judging entries for design awards to their yearly competition:
"1. Meets the Objectives
a. What is the target audience (e.g., age, qualifications, knowledge, skills, attitude)?
b. What is the purpose of the programme?
c. What are the specific objectives?
d. How will success in meeting the objectives be assessed?
"2. Interest and Enjoyability
a. Does the media hold attention and interest?
b. Is information presented clearly and attractively?
c. Are the text screens well designed and easy to read?
d. Are the target users likely to enjoy using the programme?
"3. Suitability of media for the subject
a. Given the subject and the purpose of the programme, are the media appropriate?
b. Does the programme make effective use of the special features and benefits of the media?
"4. Imaginative and creative use of the technology
a. Does the programme design include any original features which add to the effectiveness of the media for this type of appilcation?
b. Are there any innovative technical features which contribute to the effectiveness of the programme?
"5. Quality of Interaction
a. Does the programme allow users to work interactively with the media in the way that suits them best?
b. Does the form of interactivity keep the user involved and interested?
c. Do users get the type of help and support throuhg the system which they are likely to need?
"6. Quality of audio, visual images and systems design
a. Does the quality of the audio-visual elements meet the standards required to meet the programme's objectives?
b. Does the quality of the video, audio, text and graphics allow easy observation, listening, reading and focussing of attention by the user?
c. Are the instructions for working through the programme easy for the user to recognise and understand?
"7. Programme structure
a. Does the structure of the programme provide a level of complexity appropriate to the target audience and the programme content?
b. Is the structure of the programme consistent, clear to the user and appropriate for the programmer's objectives?"
The American Cindy Awards Showcase for Corporate Video apply nine critia in judging interactive programmes (reported in S. Hoffos et alia, CD-I Designers Guide, Maidenhead, England, 1992, p.149):
"1. Achievement of overall objectives (considering the type of application, its intended audience and sbject matter)
"2. Creative approach (particularly, fresh and imaginative presentation methods)
"3. Video direction (specifically, a smooth and purposeful flow to the action)
"4. Technical quality of video (specifically, of video features such as photography and editing)
"5. Interactive design (including menu structure and indexes, navigational controls, levels of information available, and help and feedback routines)
"6. Interactive program execution (including speed and accuracy of responses, complexity and transparency of design, use of windows and graphics, and of output devices and system utilities to provide additional features both for end-users and those managing or providing the system).
"7. Writing )including captions, questions and instructions as well as the main body of the content, dramatic or factual).
"8. Graphics (both technical and artistic quality, and relevance to their context).
"9 Subjective evaluation—the key point in any one person's perception of a creative achievement, and a criterion overlooked in many official score cards."
There are, of course, other competition organisors, in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
Attitude and Ideology
- There is no guideline that cannot be contradicted to produce good design.
- Contradiction itself can be used to good effect. Challenging a user's expectations gets attention; it can, however, be overused.
- Excitement and enthusiasm are valuable commodities. They are kept alive by getting excited and enthusiastic about others' works.
- History isn't necessarily progressive. The past contains many avenues which, due to limitations of resources or technical possibilities, have not been fully explored.
- Studying the worth and limitations of other people's work is an obvious source of inspiration. Look for ideas that are fresh, fun and effective. Having found such ideas, study and copy the methods of their realisation and then develop new ones.
- Too much cynicism dulls the critical faculty and reduces the will to experiment.
- It is good for one's work to be appreciated. Praise where it's due costs very little.
- From its mix of personnel, policies and environment, every organisation represents a unique working culture which will affect the design process.
- Good communications with the client are essential.
- It is important to know what the client wants. Not all team members will be in direct contact with the client, but all team members need to have a clear understanding of the client wants.
- It is important for the client to know and agree what the designer will deliver.
- Test-of-concept, storyboard, product specification and prototype models are important sources of validation and reference for client and designer. They ensure a common understanding of what is required. They reduce the risk of specification revision at a late stage and so protect project scheduling and budgets.
- Technical and professional jargon may intimidate a client; equally, clients may wish to become familiar with the jargon.
- Helping the client to understand multimedia and its creative possibilities mproves communications between client and designer/producer. It also helps to build future market opportunities.
- Try to see things from the point of view of the end-user.
- Is there to be only one type of end-user or will there be several?
- How will the system be used: by one user or by several users simultaneously?
- Research user needs, expectations and motivations.
- Will the needs of each user-type change over time, either as a result of interacting with the system or independently of the system?
- Use language appropriate to the target user(s).
- Different people learn best in different ways.
- Aim to make life simpler and easier for the end-user, even though that means extra design work.
- Study the effectiveness of design prototypes and acknowledge weaknesses.
- Allow sufficient time to incorporate additions and changes resulting from end-user testing.
Hardware-software: Delivery Platforms
Human-computer interface considerations: Interactive and Screen Design
- Good design will take common practice as its point of departure. There's a lot to be said for a fresh perspective but even the freshest perspective comes with acquired cultural and personal semiological and behavioural assumptions.
- Screen layouts should strike a structured balance between information, interest and accessibility.
- Don't clutter the screen with too much information. Dense is distracting!
- Don't overdo the number of font styles. As a rule of thumb, limit them to three per screen.
- Don't assume everyone understands your icons,— words, also, have a place in labelling buttons.
- Screen presentation is very influential. Avoid demonstrating work with poor screen graphics. Not everyone has the same ability to envisage how the parts will ultimately relate and appear,—the bare bones may just repel!
- Navigating a program should be intuitive and easy to follow. Consider offering an index or plan of the program that can be conveniently accessed at any time.
- Depending on the delivery platform, a 'quit' option isn't always necessary.
- Make buttons responsive to selection. Depending on the playback system, buttons can take a nervously long time to respond to a click. If you program them to auto-highlight or change the cursor to a busy icon, say, then the user is reassured.
- Offer users a way of backing out of significant or time-consuming pathways such as quitting or printing.
- Consider whether it is better for hot-spots to activate on mousedowns or on mouseups.
- Consider whether to offer keyboard shortcuts to cursor-activated menu or screen commands.
- If the program automatically reconfigures the playback system in any way on startup, then it is only polite that, when the program is quitting, it restores the system to its original configuration.
- When programming, anticipate that users may doubleclick buttons.
Human-computer interface considerations: The Use of Colour
- Colour may be used to increase the inherent attractiveness of an activity. This is especially important with younger users.
- Children respond best to saturated primaries red, yellow, green and blue.
- Colour may also be used for the more effective communication of map-based information and for route-identification and selection.
- To reduce flicker at screen edges (the eye is sensitive in this peripheral region) use muted or mid- to dark-gray colours there.
- Colour blindness results in the confusion of reddish hues with greenish hues and yellowish reds with yellowish greens. Opposing red with cyan and yellow with purple reduces misinterpretation.
- To avoid flicker, avoid bright colours at screen edges.
- If possible, check the effect of the actual ambient conditions on the screen colour appearance.
Human-computer interface considerations: Touchscreens
- When using touchscreens, buttons (active points on the screen which respond to being pressed) should be larger than usual in home-computer programs—a finger is a less exact pointer than the cursor directed by mouse or trackerball.
- Advice should be given on the cleaning of touchscreens. This advice should conform with manufacturers' recommendations.
- Some users tend to slide their finger off screen buttons. Depending on how the software has been programmed, this action may not result in a response from the button.
Human-computer interface considerations: Sound
- Sound can be used to convey information where appropriate.
- Sound quality issues deserve as much attention as the quality of the graphics. Often programs are let down by poor sound quality.
- We need a more developed language for the discussion of sound issues.
- Recorded human voice is generally preferred to computer-synthetic voice, unless the circumstances dictate otherwise.
- It is important to control sound levels judiciously, allowing sound levels to be altered according to ambient conditions.
- Repetitive sound from interactive systems in public places can cause annoyance to staff working nearby. This has resulted in systems being sabotaged.
- If possible, check the effect of the actual ambient conditions on sound from the system.
Cost, resource and time constraints
- Product quality will relate to project budget. Generally, the client gets what they paid for.
- Generally, small design and production teams are more efficient than larger ones.
- Bigger and better hardware and software will not necessarily result in quality productions. There is no substitute for talented and professional design work.
- The right tools in the hands of the right designer; everyone has their own way of working.
- It takes time to get things done right.
- It takes a lot of time to make things simple.
- Given the limitations of cost, resources and time, it is seldom the case that end-products completely fulfill the aspirations of the design team. Usually the end-product represents a compromise or series of compromises.
- Clear roles and responsibilities for team members will result in a good team structure and effective team working.
- Roles may overlap but responsibilities should not.
- A good product specification will result in better product design, clear task goals, and a greater liklihood of working to schedule and within budget.
- Poor product specification can result in team 'drift', with goals being hard to set, and problems emerging late in the production process affecting all stages, causing delays and extra expense.
- The more development team members understand the various languages of design, the more effective and efficient will be the team.
- It is good for one's work to be appreciated. Praise where it's due costs very little.
Initial and further training.
- Some employers tend to be nervous about further training, in case their designers move on.
- Courses in interactive multimedia design have been offered by the following agencies (list to follow).
- Courses in interactive multimedia authoring packages have been offered by the following agencies (list to follow).
Access to professional sources of information and discussion forums.
Some design specialisms are so narrow that designers can feel isolated. Associations and the Internet offer professional support and advice and a sense of community that might otherwise be lacking in smaller organisations or to free-lance designers.
User-groups and Associations:
- British Interactive Multimedia Association
- CD-ROM SPAG
- European CD-I Consortium
- European DVI Developers' Group
- European Laserdisc Association
- European Learning Technology Association
- European Multimedia Centre
- Interactive Designers Association
- Interactive Multimedia Association
- National Council for Interactive Technology
- National Interactive Video Centre
- Society for Applied Learning Technology
The largest electronic discussion forum for design professionals can be found on Compuserve. Monthly membership subscription is approximately $10 (August 1996).
In 1995, the biggest interactive multimedia design conferences and shows scheduled each year in the UK and Ireland were:
(source Multimedia Yearbook 1995)
- Homeshopping Technologies, London
- Publishing on the Networks, London
- Information Superhighway, London
- E;ectronic Books International, London
- Computers in Libraries International, London
- London International Bookfair, London
- Human Resource Development Week, London
- ECTS, London
- Digital Media Exhibition and Symposium, London
- Internet World International, London
- Multimedia 1995, London
- Multimedia in Museums and Libraries, London
- Electronic Imaging and the Visual Arts (EVA), London
- Online, London
In 1991 there were approximately 125 interactive multimedia programme makers in the UK.
Testing (to be developed, along with evaluation and localisation sections in a second paper)
- Devise clear testing procedures.
- If there is a chance, or you intend, that a package will be used on a variety of machines, then perform testing on as many different hardware and operating system configurations as possible. Different machines operate at different speeds and this may upset things.
- In some operating environments programs may clash with preloaded initialisation or control devices. Test as many typical configurations as possible.
- Devise clear bug-reporting procedures.
- Test and pilot packages variously. Let others supervise these tests and pilotings for their unbiased assessments.
- Expect the unexpected. There are no stupid users, just weak designs.