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Beyond The Screens

Beyond The Screen

At this year's 2009 Siggraph Conference I presented Birds of the Feather, a talk focusing on how to turn everything into interactive media. In order to adapt the presentation into a written format, I have omitted some case studies from the presentation summary below.

Umyot Boonmarlart, Visual Designer II

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Here is a picture of my mom. Christmas two years ago, I went to visit my family in Bangkok, Thailand. I found myself having a hard time explaining what I do for a living. “I'm an interactive designer Mom.” I answered. “So what is it exactly?” Mom still wondered. “Well, you know. At frog Design, we design innovations and everything that tries to improve people's lives in the future,” I tried to explain but at the same time I realized I just made things worse. “Like, computer stuff,” Mom tried to clarify. “Well sometimes,” I answered without realizing that I would be answering my neighbors' computer virus problems since my mother relayed to the community that I work on “computer stuff” in the US. I must be very good at fixing computers.

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Later I realized why it's so hard to explain to people what interactive designers do. It's because we are not only making “things.” We are actually designing “experiences” alongside our innovations. It's doesn't matter what media is used. If you know what you are doing, you can use everything to create an interactive experience. It's abstract yet very powerful.

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Think about for example. The core challenges Amazon's designers aimed to tackle were not only aesthetic, but how to convey what the shopping experience at feels like. Solving this challenge included designing the search mechanism, product categories, recommendations, listing, commenting on the product, how to help the buyers make the decision without seeing the product, how they were going to pay, and how a customer returns a product.'s experience also extends beyond the site. It actually reaches out to your doorstep through the UPS guy who delivers the product to you. Amazon's marketplace even lets you play a role of seller, reaching out to other people to sell your stuff.

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It's not just a website. It's an experience.

When designing interactive experiences, you need to define three key ingredients: story, media, and context. Story is what you try to communicate, the message that you what to get across. It can be anything from branding, a narrative story, information, an educational message or simply the proposition to “buy me.”

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Then, you pick the media you think will deliver the story successfully. Consider everything you pick as your media whether it is paper, web, color, imagery, video, sound, typography, or even an empty space you use. Every element of the media serves your story telling.

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Lastly, one must consider the context of your story. A large billboard that you never pay attention to might get interesting when it starts to talk about the social crisis you saw on the news last night. Small dolls can create a buzz when they fall from the sky to promote a magazine event. (These case studies will be covered later on in the presentation.)

The following case studies are examples of interactive experience design that utilize these three elements of interactive experience successfully.

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BBC world tried to break into the US news market in 2007. The story is the BBC branding itself as an honest source for world news that offered unbiased reporting. This interactive billboard in the heart of New York City, addresses political topics, such as the U.S. relationship with China, and invites people to express their opinion via their cell phones. The users can text “01” to the vote as “Befriend” and “02” as “Beware.” The billboard displays the vote result in real time. This piece synergizes media, cell phone, billboard in the context of social issues to interactively communicate BBC's brand essence as a fast, honest, neutral, world news report.

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A homeless man can be interactive media if you know how to design your campaign well. Fifty Fifty magazine launched a special issue about homeless people. The campaign wisely used a homeless man, a video camera, and an LCD projector to create a live 'invisible man' to convey the message “Don't act like homeless people are invisible.” Watch video


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Shiner Bock, Texas born beer, used Guerilla tactics and beer can sleeves snatching the main sponsor impression from Heineken at Austin City Limit, a music festival in Austin, Texas. While Heineken was the main sponsor of one of the major music events in Austin, allowing only Heineken beer to be sold during the event, Shiner Bock gave away free beer can holders. It turned out that everyone who drank beer during the show was holding Shiner Bock. This campaign successfully utilized the brand character in the right context. Austin is known for its rebellious and bold character and Shiner also shared the same image. Executing this edgy campaign articulated the brand character of Shiner and also successfully let people experience “How we Austenite roll.”

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A famous TV show like Lost also extends the experience beyond the show's time slot. Lost's official website provides a lot of side stories, back-stories, recap and sneak peeks for fans who don't get enough of the Lost experience on TV. Lost has it's own magazine providing clues and theories about the show's endless mysteries. The most extended experience for Lost seems to be the Oceanic Airline, a fictional airline's official website where users can read news about the airline crash, advertisement, promotion or even try to book a flight. This extended experience is a design piece that blurs the border between the show's fictional show and the real world.

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As I mentioned earlier dolls can create interactive experience as well. Cleo magazine, an Australian based female magazine in Asia, promoted its annual Bachelor of the Year party, by tiding Ken dolls with balloons and leting them fly over Sydney's sky. Once the gas in the balloons deflated, all the Ken dolls fell from the sky. On the balloon, there was copy written, “It's raining men. Vote for your bachelor of the year at Cleo magazine.” The campaign was received very well by both readers and through media coverage. That's how the story ends.

Click Here to Watch Video

However, I believe that this campaign had a lot of potential and experience design would push the campaign up a notch. Let's try to enhance this campaign together as a workshop. Imagine each Ken doll has one of fifty unique phone numbers, based on fifty Bachelor of the Year contestants, in addition to the original message. The people who collect the doll can call the number on the doll and listen to the bachelor's voice asking the person to vote for him. For example, if you get Ken #13, you might see a phone number 512.555.0013. When you call the number, you will hear the bachelor's recorded voice say, “Hi, I'm Umy number 13. I am a very good looking designer. Please vote for me at So we can have a chance to a date.”

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After that, the users or the readers can go to the website to take a look at the contestants' profiles and decide to vote for the people they like. The users also can upload they pictures and profiles to enter a competition to win a date with the contestants they like. Once the winning readers get to go out on a date with the contestant, we can feature their dating experience in the magazine. The winning readers also will be asked to blog about the experience going on a date with the bachelors they voted for.

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As a result, everyone who engages in a portion of this experience design campaign is likely to get deeply involved with the campaign. They also would collect the magazines, show the articles to theirs friends, and promote their blogs to their friends. The additional circles of friends would then experience the campaign and the brand as well.

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So what have we learned from today's case studies and workshop? First of all, experience design is about people. Not only you're target audience, but the people around them, the media that might help you project your message through their coverage, and your competitors who are observing your actions as well.

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Second, experience grows and develops. Design experience is not designing for one status, but it's about the life cycle of design. Good design is a process not a product. It will never be finished.

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Third, Prepare for feedback and be flexible enough to adjust to it. Keep in mind that whatever you put out there, other people will respond. In the picture on the left, Audi put out a billboard for a new car. The copy read, “You move, BMW.” A week later BMW bought the other billboard across the street with a copy that read, “Checkmate.”

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Fourth, don't forget to follow through. Keep your experience design focus and plan to enhance the experience overtime.

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Fifth, always have plan B, C, and D. Think about an alternative if your first attempt doesn't work. What if it's more successful than you thought, how will you sustain it?

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Lastly, today we spend our lives both online and offline, and the line between them almost disappears. While you are reading this blog, you might want some of the links above. You might have posted on your Facebook profile or Twitter about it. When your friends read about it, you guys talk about it over a dinner. That said, keep in mind that you are not designing solely for an online experience or offline experience. You have to consider how to bridge the two-worlds of experience seamlessly.

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