At the heart of a successful transmedia story is a powerful user experience created by integrating a compelling story with techniques that engage the user emotionally and intellectually and allow easy user interaction with all of media elements of the story.
The trick is to start with the audience and really design an experience for them. The call for creating interactive storytelling experiences is loud and clear: start with the audience…give your audience a compelling experience, one that makes them want to go deeper. (Miriam Simun, “The Current State of Interactive Documentary”)
Transmedia producer Robert Pratten says one of the first considerations for the author of a transmedia project is how the story will play out as an experience.
While there is broad agreement that the user experience is important, the process for creating that experience is less well defined. The term “user experience” itself is vague and can be used to describe a number of different aspects of a transmedia project.
Another problem with the concept of “user experience” is the belief among some transmedia practitioners that it is what defines transmedia storytelling. However, saying that the user experience is a defining feature of transmedia storytelling isn’t particularly useful from a design perspective. Films, novels, and live performances all seek to create memorable user experiences. So do games, amusement park rides, and thousands of consumer products and services. Each of these creates the user experience in its own way.
The critical question is not whether a transmedia story will deliver a user experience, but rather, how a specific user experience can be created. The decisions a transmedia author makes in three key areas will determine the kind of experience the user will have:
- Story design, which focuses on the design of the storyworld and story elements such as characters, settings, events, and plot.
- Audience engagement design, which focuses on the design of those aspects of the transmedia story involving the audience’s intellectual and emotional participation in the story.
- User interaction design, which focuses on how users mentally and physically interact with the story’s interface when navigating through the narrative.
In a well-designed transmedia story, these three areas are tightly linked. A design decision made in one often has implications for the design of the others. All three areas involve applying different sets of design and development skills and may involve different members of a large production team. However, all three areas need to be well integrated if the transmedia story is to work effectively.
This means the author needs to be closely involved in making story, audience engagement, and user interaction design decisions throughout the creative process.