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From Page to Stage to Screen: Designing an Omni-Channel Experience

Dramatic Impact

Theater and the creative process of design

A column by Traci Lepore
March 23, 2015

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.

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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.

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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
Channel Considerations Consequences Advantages

Desktop

Large screens

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

High-resolution imagery

Mouse and keyboard interactions

Good sound

Integration with and connection to other systems for content and data

Tablet

Touch screen

Computer replacement for browsing and reading tasks

Connectivity through Wi-Fi or a mobile network

Portability

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

Easy-to-read typography

Support for responsive frameworks such as Bootstrap

Optimized imagery

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)

Smartphone

Touch screen

Small screen

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 ┬átablet, 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

Kiosk

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

Email

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

High-resolution imagery

Solid content strategy

Social networks

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

Principal User Experience Designer at Oracle

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Traci LeporeWith 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

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