Design research. Social good.

Posts tagged ‘meaning’

(1) Multiple rabbit holes – Total Recall (2012)

Walking in the Upper West Side, I spied a billboard: “Tell us your fantasy. We’ll make it real.” Intrigued, I took out my phone and entered the website listed at the bottom of the poster. There I received the following message: “We’re sorry – This content requires Adobe Flash Player.” 

This was a frustrating-no-flabbergasting user experience. And one that just should not be happening in a 2012 transmedia campaign for a summer blockbuster. When I finally got around to looking up the site at home, I found a compelling (but limited) Surrogate-esque storyworld. The next day I saw another billboard in Greenwich Village – “Beware of Rekall: Don’t Let Them Blow Your Mind” directing me to a different website.

This one actually worked on my phone, and with an aesthetic reminiscent of the recent Internet Blacklisting Bill campaigns – featuring a dot org url and a censorship theme. Here, audiences are targeted in a smart way with regard to the billboard placement  – certain neighborhoods in New York definitely evoke a certain ethos. This is about knowing the audience and creating multiple rabbit holes – or entry points for them to follow. Transmedia campaigns need to employ multiple mediums to deliver a message – each adding a unique contribution to the development of the story. It s about engaging the audience, drawing them in, and rewarding the curious and loyal.

(2) “This is not a game” philosophy – Prometheus (2012)

Like the “No Rekall” mock Public Service Announcement, a large part of transmedia storytelling is creating a believable fiction – a credible alternate reality. In some of the best cases, the storyworld blends with Real Life so seamlessly that we don’t even know when we’ve entered the rabbit hole (or are playing a game). Take Peter Weyland’s 2023 TED Talk. First glance, this appears to be bonafide TED Talk  – it is posted on TED.com, after all. This was the first time TED used its platform for promotional purposes – fans didn’t see it coming.

This move brilliantly demonstrates the “This is not a game philosophy” by transcending the “rules”  – what we expect from a “game” –  guidelines, pieces/equipment, a playing field, and defined outcome. By blurring the boundaries between game and reality- we enter the immersive world of the alternate reality game.

(3) Here we are now, entertain us – A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Alternate Reality Gaming was born on the Internet, combining interactivity and storytelling to create a truly immersive storyworld. The classic example is the well documented Jeanine Salla, Sentient Machine Therapist, from A.I. 

Starting with this name and intriguing title listed on the film poster curious fans were drawn into a highly complex interactive game so large it is simply referred to as The Beast. Leaving trails of breadcrumbs, clues, for curious fans to discover and advance, this alternate reality game pushed the limits of interactivity. The boundaries of the game were unknown. The platforms, playing field, and outcomes were all out there waiting to be discovered and developed.

The fact is, going to a site and pushing a few buttons isn’t going to entertain us anymore (if it ever did). We want to be immersed. We want to use our brains. Our imaginations. We want to work together. We want to contribute. Here’s the key: for effective transmedia storytelling, meaning has to be designed by the audience as much as by the creators.

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Madeline Sorapure. “Between Modes: Assessing New Media Compositions,” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 10.2 (2005)
Sorapure’s webtext contributes significantly to discussions of new media assessment. As students are frequently assigned an array of new media projects including websites, blogs, images, videos, audio projects, flash projects, etc. Sorapure argues that we need a broad rhetorical approach to assessment, one that can speak to the multimodal aspects of composition.She emphasizes the need for “new lenses” so that we don’t “lose the chance to see new values emerging in the new medium.” In efforts not to limit new media works, Sorapure draws from the tropes of metaphor and metonymy to understand how meaning “emerges from” multimodal works. Drawing on Roman Jakobson’s (1956) essay “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” Sorapure claims that metaphor and metonmy name “two different forces at work in the production of meaning.”
Metaphor designates a relation based on substitution; in a multimodal work, one mode can metaphorically represent or stand in for another, as when an animation of a word dynamically represents its meaning. It is a relation based on similarity between elements in different modes.

Metonymy designates a relation based on combination; modes can be metonymically related when they are linked by an association, as when lines from a poem are combined with a melody from a song. It is a relation based on contiguity between elements in different modes. 

Sorapure shares various student examples to illustrate how she uses the tropes in assessing multimodal compositions. She carefully demonstrates how metaphor and metonymy activate strong or weak relations between visual and verbal modes. (For example, if the composition lacks metaphor…it falls flat.)

While “text, sound, and image  each add their own part to the meaning….” it is also crucial to look at the relations between modes -”because metaphor and metonymy designate relations between two or more entities, they can be used to describe the relations between modes.

“Metaphor and metonymy provide a language with which to talk to our students about how the different modes in their projects come together to make meaning.”
I, too, think that the relation between modes is key to meaning making. I wonder, though. Do text, sound, image, each “add their part to the meaning.” Does meaning “emerge” from text, image, sound as Sorapure posits? Or is it made by the audience’s confrontation with it? This may seem like a small semantics thing, but it’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.
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Design Thinking:  Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience and Brand Value. Edited by Thomas Lockwood. (2009)

Design thinking is about applying a designer’s sensibility and methods to problem solving. It’s more of a methodology – a theory of doing research – than a particular tool or technique. Design thinking may involve various methods such as field observation or ethnography in addition to market research.  The tools, however, are not as important as the overall approach. This book is useful in that it provides numerous case studies on design thinking featuring Eames, Steelcase, Bon Appétit, Linux, Dyson, etc. Most useful, I believe, is what the book says about creating a meaningful people-centered experience. Here a few takeaways:

Create experiences that people care about

People demand experiences that matter. Social capital is just as important as economic capital. Social capital helps people create meaning from their experiences. A designer’s role should help people create meaning through various touchpoints. Designers can do this through research that identifies “moments of truth.” A good research design might examine users’ patterns, stories, and insights. The designer can then engineer more meaningful moments like those.

Develop empathy

Designers need to conduct research that helps them to:

  • Understand what is meaningful to users
  • Discover user’s unarticulated needs and desires
  • Imagine the world from the user perspective
  • Connect with users around what is meaningful and valuable to them

This makes people care more

A strange thing happens when a person sees that you care.  They often reciprocate the gesture and care about you right back. The emotional connection is powerful; people have a natural tendency to care, a gut-level intuition. People who are emotionally influenced will seek the product, service (etc.) because they desire a tangible, physical manifestation of the relationship. This is where social media comes into play. Nurturing and sustaining relationships via designed social media strategies facilitates more meaning, more connection, more lifestyle integration.

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