Peeling Back the Layers of Interactive Narrative

Interactive-OnionBuilding on the definition my partner and I developed in an early class, I define interactive narrative as: A story that uses digital media to engage the audience in a user-centric experience that motivates them to follow a linear or non-linear path, which ultimately achieves stakeholders’ goals.

What I’ve since discovered is how interactive narrative adds multiple dimension to traditional storytelling. Like most stories, it has place, characters and plot but there are various layers within each.

Place can entail the user’s mindset, physical surroundings or device through which they’re experiencing it. (I was also fascinated to learn about Microsoft’s research into four cross-screen engagement pathways, which slice the place layer yet again.)

The hero or central character is always the user and may be alone or one of many. Stakeholders and partners also play pivotal roles, often as masterminds behind the experience.

And the plot is rendered through: varied levels of interactivity, prompts for open or closed input, metaphors, emotions and communication that imparts knowledge and elicits change. I never thought that each story or experience we encounter creates change and some form of new knowledge. I also have a new respect for latent knowledge and the long-term value it provides. I think it’s interesting how an interactive experience can ‘wake-up’ this latent knowledge and connect it to conscious thought.

Through various in-class exercises and assignments, I also gained a greater “hands-on” understanding of interactive narrative and how it can effectively integrate with technical solutions, websites and apps. Many of them made me to consider technology in different ways.

For example:

  • Assessing interactive experiences in terms of audience numbers and levels of interactivity showed me the range of options. It also made me recognize even minute levels of interactivity, such as Banksy’s provocative streetscape murals.
  • The final assignment with the three somewhat conflicting variables of: responsiveness versus resolution; optimization versus ubiquity; and customization versus design, forced me to look at tradeoffs to consider and mitigate in each project.
  • Moving projects to another place or for another stakeholder gave me a new approach for brainstorming new ideas both online and offline.

Although I still face ‘writer’s block’ when I begin to sketch out an interactive concept or wireframe, in class exercises, such as developing a user flow, storyboard or user’s journey helped jolt me forward. Developing a user flow for my senior project and then opening it to critique from my team proved beneficial. During this exercise, my team members highlighted the opportunity to integrate a search process differently and skip a step, which I might have otherwise missed, possibly because I’m so close to it.  With this third-party insight, I developed a smoother search option, which plays out well in my prototype.

Most importantly, learning about interactive narrative and its many layers has given me new insight into how we are potentially moving toward a rich era of co-creation, where designs are created by diverse people/teams. And if this optimistic predication proves true, I can’t wait to see how the world improves as we advance toward it.

Caregiver Personas: Connecting Dedication with Digital

Persona Example Image

Unless an interactive solution meets a human need or desire, it’s just a surge of energy-sucking pixels. To prevent this, you need to start with personas. According to the UX Lady, personas “identify real users’ profiles’, needs, wants and expectations” and help us answer ‘what’ each would do when faced with decisions, both on and offline.

My senior project is to develop a niche, social media network to help informal or unpaid caregivers (i.e., people who are responsible for overseeing the care of family members or other loved ones), specifically those who care for senior citizens.

Many of these caregivers are 45 to 65 years-old and called the ‘sandwich generation’ because they’re raising their own children, while caring for elderly loved ones. According to studies, these caregivers make up a fifth of Canadian professionals and are often “short of sleep, grumpy….and take it out on customers and colleagues at work,” but they are more than this. They are diverse people, living multidimensional lives.

To find answers, I developed personas, based on composites of more than a dozen caregivers I know personally, plus many I’ve read or learned about through recent research and my communications work with Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres.

They included:

  • Gillian,  theTechnopeasant on  a Mission,’ who is single, 61-years-old and responsible for her 92-year-old mom, who recently pulled a tendon.
  • Bruce, the ‘Hipster Tree-Hugger,’  who is a 52-year-old teacher, married with kids, and cares for Mary, his 83-year-old mom, who still lives in her own home…but that is changing as her scenario unfolds.
  • Nadira, the ‘Techno Diva,’ a 45-year-old, software executive, married with one child and caring for her elderly parents, who speak minimal English, including her 82-year-old father, who’s being tested for sleep apnea.

I built these personas using a hybrid mix of templates from the UX Lady, creative agency Fake Crow and our interactive media course last term. I also reviewed other personality models, such as Microsoft’s archetypes for cross-screen engagement, which I thought particularly relevant to tech savvy caregivers juggling home and work tasks; I thought how each type applied to caregivers I’ve met. From these resources, I identified, merged and created categories that touched on characteristics, such as their goals and frustrations, that can inform ‘how’ I build a social network to support their caregiving needs.

When I presented my personas for the class critique, much of the feedback centred on Gillian. I made her proficient at searching for answers online but lacking any kind of mobile phone.  My classmates thought it impossible that someone who was a senior’s lifeline wouldn’t have embraced the convenience of mobile. However, I based this persona on a real, digital immigrant who didn’t user computers until she was 32 and finds the consistent presence of devices, in boardrooms to diningrooms, offensive. Having heard similar objections from other Baby Boomers, I don’t think Gillian is an anomaly but I tweaked her persona to be more ‘open’ to mobile — someday.

Other suggestions were:

  • Including less affluent, non-professional people
  • Including a younger 20 to 30 something demographic as a secondary audience for cases when they are the only family nearby

I think including less affluent/non-professionals was the most important suggestion and adjusted my personas accordingly. I stayed with the ‘sandwich generation’s’ age range based on my research but will consider younger caregivers as a secondary audience for my overall solution.