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Maximizing Media to Tell Your Story

8 Feb

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 12.45.35 AM Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 12.47.45 AM Websites have become like business cards, portfolios, and resumes rolled into one. Everything about a site, from its design, to the tone of its content gives visitors, (or potential clients), a specific impression of the work your company/organization is doing, its values, and the kind of people who run it.

It is truly an amazing time for brands to share their stories and engage users. You are only limited by imagination, (and okay, by your knowledge of code/design, and budget to hire developers and designers who inevitably know more than you do).

At a dinner party last week I was chatting with a filmmaker and two designers about how web languages have evolved to support platforms that seamlessly integrate all types of media. We were exchanging examples of the best-constructed stories and web sites we’ve seen recently, (which I’ll share below), and got into an interesting debate about the merits of using certain types of media, (stills vs. video vs. audio) and of layouts that tour guide users vs. layouts that allow users explore.

We agreed that online platforms have changed how stories are told and making user experiences more interactive (you pretty much have to be living under a rock to think otherwise). But some organizations have embraced multimedia storytelling at much higher levels than others. The New York Times’ recent coverage of the avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a phenomenal example of one direction digital story telling is going. Instead of reading a quote, viewers click on an embedded video and listen directly to source telling their story. There are embedded photo slides, a live video of a weather map that shows how the storm advanced over the area, audio testimonials from survivors. It’s a beautiful example of how sleek HTML5 is and how much less clunky compared to flash. For journalists working on longer more complex pieces, the piece is worth checking out for ideas on how to incorporate dynamic elements into stories.

While I waxed poetic about the Times piece, my colleague found the layout cluttered. Their argument? Too much information = the audience loses focus. Lost focus = they move on. With millions of pages of content, the battle now is for attention. So design is worth considering. Pointing to an investigative story about coal, they argued that a less cluttered design that gives users fewer options is premium because they communicate stories more clearly and effectively.

In the end, we weren’t really arguing that one design layout is always king. We were more debating the merits of each and acknowledging that design has become almost as critical as content in determining how stories are received. It was a great reminder that as storytellers, (whether commercial, fine arts, or documentary/editorial), need to carefully consider how they want audiences to consume and interact with their stories when they are choosing what media to use for projects.