Digital Alone is Not the Message

Home screen for niche social media network
For my senior project, I produced an interactive media prototype of a social media network for unpaid caregivers at: http://rmafpf.axshare.com/#p=home
flower store mobile wireframes.
Wireframes are a key step in developing an interactive solution. Effective ‘how it works’ notations are almost more important than well-drawn screens. Here are mobile screen wireframes I developed for a flower store site.

Despite rising focus on STEM skills, effective communications is still the gatekeeper to success. Even the most brilliant discovery or algorithm falls short if its message is missed or skewed.

To start, ‘speak’ like your audience and tell them what they care about — or why they should. Better still, embed a story to draw them in, sustain attention and boost retention.

Some say digital counters this approach. That it distracts and muffles the message. I disagree.

You can effectively integrate digital in traditional PR/MarCom strategies but only IF it brings you closer to meeting your audience and their needs. Online media rooms can help reporters meet tight deadlines with 24/7 access to photos/facts. Links to videos, articles or other sites, give readers the option to learn more, without losing time to search. With mobile, we can reach time-strapped audiences and tap into their up-to-the-moment needs.

But a ‘locked’ media room, mandatory ‘fluff’ video or cut-off text on a smart phone will kill the message before you can say: “The medium is …”

Digital can also enrich stories with its non-linear format, making multiple subplots or endings possible. And interactive media helps reach auditory and kinesthetic, as well as visual learners.

Back to School

Recognizing digital’s rising value, I disappeared for a year to immerse full-time in a post-grad interactive media management program at Centennial College and sharpen my skills.

My goal was to master technology. But the more I learned, the more I realized effective communications and empathy for the audience or end-user, are the life blood of a successful user experience (UX). Website audits and user test analysis drove this home, with rampant examples of dead ends, static buttons and broken links — sometimes on global brand sites.

Most telling was my prototype project for a niche social media network for caregivers. Technically, it works.  But I need to build in steps to reinforce users’ learning and encourage return visits.  I also need clear communications and clutter-free screens. Without these considerations, it’s just empty code.

Sure, I boosted my analytics skills, learned how to create wireframes and prototypes in OmniGraffle/Axure, mark-up HTML5 pages with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and edit video in Premiere Pro.

More important: I learned the value of user testing, how to optimize the UX, efficiently produce software and the necessary trade-offs.

Optimizing the UX

For example, tools like Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics cover broad interactive design principles, such as applying real world images and conventions to interfaces. You can use them as a checklist to objectively assess any UX design and counter subjective arguments about a website or other screen. This way, they help you advocate for the end user’s best interests and set them on a path to purchase, subscribe or ‘convert’ in another desirable way.

Drawing of Agile / scrum process
Most interactive projects are developed via an Agile methodology with an iterative ‘scrum’ process focused on developing an MVP — a radical shift from PR’s typical ‘waterfall’ project management path.

Agile Efficiency

I also learned and practised ‘agile’ project management to efficiently produce software. This methodology is collaborative, fast and means striving for a minimal viable project (MVP) — a tough mandate for perfectionists.

Tough Trade-offs

Achieving an MVP also includes making trade-off decisions between:

  • Responsiveness and Resolution or how many message prompts do you need before the user reaches their goal?
  • Optimization and Ubiquity, such as deciding which screen, tablet or smart phone will offer the best experience and which will be adequate.
  • Customization and Design or drawing the line between the features you’ll let users decide and those you’ll ‘hard code’ in the design.

Turns out, the ‘Medium is the Massage’  typo-hindered phrase may be partly right. That is, the medium must be massaged  into an MVP, injected with content and tested to ensure the audience ‘gets it.’

I’ve graduated, have a part-time contract digging into app analytics and global market research for LongStory — a digital role-play game. Long-term, I’m looking for a content or digital strategy role. In the interim, I’m busy merging the best of digital with my communication skill-sets.

This blog will still focus on my discoveries and how to do the right thing well but with more of a digital twist or ‘interactive for good’ feel.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 11.44.56 PM
My favourite project was a narrative between personas (audience/users) to show how a niche social media network (Senior Care Share) would make caregiving easier for them. Click through to run it.
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