We recently relaunched the GMD Studios site and, from time to time, I’m going to find myself writing there about something that could also inspire conversation here. "Strangers in a Strange Room" is one of those, which looks at a workshop tool we use to help organize experience design thinking with collaborators and clients.
In those situations, we’re using that process to discover details and uncover nuance. It is also a useful way to organize my own thinking about whatever the buzzwords of the day happen to be, without feeling that I have to enforce that thinking upon others.
As an experience designer, I think of products & media forms - books, ads, movies, webpages, balls, widgets - as the classic objects of experience design. I believe concepts like story, game and brand emerge from people’s experiences of those objects, which makes them examples of the nouns of phenomena. I might argue that a ball (object) plus rules (context) plus players (people) come together to create the phenomena of game. Words like “social” are really a description of context for me, even when I hear someone else describe it as a trait to a media object.
My approach is heavily influenced by phenomenology, but I accept that not everyone’s is. I might believe story is a phenomenon, while others of a more auteur theory bent might argue story is something poured into the media object by a storyteller. Neither viewpoint is right or wrong, but these kinds of viewpoints color with personal nuance how people use terms that aren’t always obvious.
When someone tells me about an “interactive story,” my natural question is what (object) is interactive about it — for me interactive is a word about objects, but objects are part of the moment of phenomena, so the story can inherit the interactive quality from one of the objects that delivered it. Technologists might try to convince me that a 3D-HD TV is “immersive,” but I’m more likely to believe that immersion requires an audience and, thus, is also a phenomenon. After all, people can immerse in blocks and books.
For me, this is all about creating an environment where we can talk to each other about our work in meaningful ways, not so we can talk about the “correct” definition of terms. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own meaning for those words rattling around my head, just like you do.
As another example, people use a term like “transmedia” in a vast variety of ways. Some people use it as an adjective for objects, like “transmedia book,” in a way similar to how one might use “multimedia”. Others use it similarly to phrases like “cross-platform” or “second screen” and are talking about the additional context provided by the richer simultaneous experience. Yet others use it as an adjective for phenomena like “transmedia story,” where the concept conveys the audience’s richer experience with a storyworld involving any number of objects.
From the viewpoint of experience design, I fall into that last group. Where “multimedia” conveys packing more types of media into an object, “transmedia” conveys something we’ve broken apart into multiple media objects that an audience meaningfully puts back together. It’s an emergent property of the combination of objects, people and context. It requires a higher level engagement from the audience. At least, for me.
Having to translate in your head this way reminds you of another truth: it is up to each of us to make it easier for others to translate what we’re saying in their heads, too. This framework is useful for that, too. Take a dozen of the words you use frequently to talk about your work, and try mapping them against those four buckets of terminology. Then use that as a way to challenge your own assumptions and make them more explicit when talking to others. You’re likely to reveal something about the overall framework you use and where you might be able to push yourself further.