When I heard that a movie version of Into the Woods was coming out, I was so excited! I loved the musical and figured the story was strong enough that it couldn’t be a bad movie. And, honestly, it didn’t matter, because I am enough of a fan that I was going to see it—no matter what. Plus, with Meryl Streep as the witch, how could they go wrong?
Of course, I saw the movie on its opening day—and I was pleasantly surprised. More than that, actually—I thought it was a fantastic translation from stage to big screen. What made the movie so enjoyable had to do with more than just the great story, the sensational acting, or even the humor and witty dialogue. The production took full advantage of the benefits that the medium of film offers—in combination with the core, strong story lines—to realize the greatest potential of Into the Woods.
The director certainly knew that the key to successful transitions across media or channels is to consider how to use each individual medium or channel to best communicate the story.
Understanding Each Medium or Channel
For film in particular, the ability to focus in on facial expressions and physicality was an advantage that the film director had over the traditional stage production. A typical theatrical production of this musical would rely on sets, lighting, and sound to help convey the story’s emotion and tone. The audience could not see closeups of the actors’ faces on stage. But in the film, while the backgrounds are beautiful and help convey the story, they were absolutely not a distraction and really played a minimal role. Instead, the camera focused on closeups of the people’s faces and the singing and dialogue.
What this did for the story was amazing. Every little, physical movement, facial expression, innuendo, or joke was so obvious and enjoyable for the audience. The character development was strong and happened so quickly because of the audience’s constant engagement with the actors. This also helped the audience to feel they were part of the action, because the close-up shots made the movie more of an immersive experience.
However, not every translation to a new medium or channel works this well. So how can we, as UX professionals, design user experiences for different media or channels and achieve such success? We can achieve this by understanding the unique considerations for each channel and deciding what aspects of each channel we should take advantage of to enable us to create an optimal experience for each individual channel.
Table 1—Understanding UX channels
Add-on technology friendly
External input devices—mouse and keyboard
Connectivity through Ethernet or Wi-Fi
Long periods of use
A fairly static location during use
Designing rich interactions
Fully leveraging conventions and functionality
Creating more intensive workflows
Mouse and keyboard interactions
Integration with and connection to other systems for content and data
Computer replacement for browsing and reading tasks
Connectivity through Wi-Fi or a mobile network
Primary focus of attention may be elsewhere
Usage in conjunction with other media such as TV
Shorter to long periods of use
Designing for most people’s device of choice for common tasks
Minimizing typing and complex interactions
Engaging users through unconnected media
Using bandwidth for streaming
Touch-friendly interactions such as infinite scrolling
Support for responsive frameworks such as Bootstrap
Speech-to-text features that reduce keyboard use
Quick, easy ways to drive users from other media to tablet—for example, codes that users can enter quickly or Shazaam sound for more content)
Extension of the person using the device
Connectivity through Wi-Fi or a mobile network
Very frequent, but short stints of use
Choosing to create a Web application for mobile browsers or a native app
Taking the availability or lack of an Internet connection into account
Keeping users engaged with constant updates
The same as for tablet, plus…
GPS capabilities for location awareness
Phone’s texting capability lets you notify users of important information
The quickest paths through tasks
Saved information prevents the user from having to re-enter it—for example, banking information for quick bill payments
Phone’s notifications capabilities allow quick engagement, but don’t overdo it!
Awareness of data usage when using native apps
Device is not the user’s
Typically provide service
Short periods of use
Quickly and easily identifying users
Providing security, so when a user has finished an interaction, all user data gets cleared
Ensuring that self-service means that no assistance is necessary
Pin numbers or credit cards to identify people, while reducing typing
Quick workflows through tasks
Wizards to guide users so they can’t get lost
Messages are read quickly
Messages may be considered spam if irrelevant or too frequent
Making content relevant and sufficiently engaging to catch users’ attention
Need to balance frequency of communication—enough, but not too much
Personalization to increase relevance
Solid content strategy
Personal, one-on-one interactions
Being where other people are
User-generated content and buzz
Opportunity to spread content virally
Monitoring user-generated content
Using caution and discretion in personal interactions, because people’s emotions play an important role in them
Adherence to customer-service best practices
Privacy and security policies and procedures
Terms of agreement for user-generated content and distribution
Note that the further we get from the desktop, the more surrounding circumstances and technology factor into the user experience. For example, while you may not need to give much consideration to the connection type that people use when using a notebook computer, if you create a native app for a smartphone that is a data hog, you risk turning off users. Be sure that you have considered the user’s ecosystem adequately.
Making Your Story Work Across Channels
Once you understand the channels, you still need to make sure that users can transition between them seamlessly. If you make each individual user experience great, but inadvertently limit the user to just one medium because a transition between media is too difficult, you limit your chances of keeping users happy. Here are some important factors to consider when transitioning between channels:
maintaining the storyline—Make sure that you know the key points of your story and that you adequately represent them across every channel. Plan for this. Remember to take advantage of each channel’s possibilities.
creating a continuous, seamless flow—Ensure that actions users take using one channel affect all other channels. For example, if a user adds something to a shopping cart or completes a transaction using one channel, every channel needs to reflect that. Or, if users fill out a detailed profile on a desktop computer, they should accrue the benefits of that effort on all other channels, including their access to information and the content you push to them.
streamlining functionality—First and foremost, optimize for a channel’s technology. Remember, the same set of functions need not be available on every channel. Make sure that you know what key functions must be available across all channels, and make conscious decisions about what additional functions are necessary on each channel.
The moral of this story is that, when designing for an omni-channel world, one user experience will not fit all media or channels. As an example, you can’t just film a musical in a theater and expect watching it on a screen to be an exhilarating experience. Similarly, you can’t provide exactly the same user experience on every channel and expect it work well for users. If you truly want to create a well-rounded user experience, remember that the story is the key. But each channel lets you to tell it in a slightly different manner—one that meets the needs of users in different contexts—and yet evokes the hoped-for emotional response. All you need to do is play to each channel’s strengths. This is how we can keep users from feeling Agony—an inside joke you will get once you’ve seen Into the Woods!
With over fifteen years of experience as an interaction designer and user researcher, focusing on user-centered design methods, Traci has experienced a broad range of work practices. After ten years of consulting, Traci transitioned to working on staff with product teams at companies such as Avid and Oracle. Through her UXmatters column, Dramatic Impact, Traci shares how she infuses aspects of theatrical theory and practice into her design practice to bring a more empathetic, user-centered focus to her work. Traci holds an M.A. in Theater Education from Emerson and a B.S. in Communications Media from Fitchburg State College. She is a member of the Boston chapters of UXPA and IxDA and has spoken at conferences such as the IA Summit and Big Design. She is also a nominee for the 2016 New Hampshire Theatre Awards in the best supporting actress category. Read More