An exercise in interactive thinking

I’ve just run through an exercise with my class of students from the MA in Television and Interactive Content at Birmingham City University. The exercises are intended to get them to think about the web as more than just a repository of content, but a platform that people use in different ways depending on who they are and what they want to do.

I thought I would share them here – for my own record if nothing else.

What’s your topic – who is your userbase?

Most editorial productions begin with a topic, and an angle on that topic. They also have a particular audience in mind, which dictates the tone that is taken in its production: a documentary aimed at 5-year-olds is going to have a very different tone to one aimed at 25-year-olds, even if the topic is the same.

This gives you the People bit of the POST method I’ve written about previously – the starting point for everything that follows.

From there then you can identify

  • The objectives of those people*.
  • How you might help those people meet those objectives (the strategy and technology)
  • Which of those strategies match your own objectives – or those of the person you’re pitching to

*In the original POST method the objectives are yours, but I would suggest starting with users’ objectives because you need a mutually beneficial outcome.

Here’s how it works in practice:

Example 1: a documentary on Matthew Boulton.

The audience here includes engineering enthusiasts, history hobbyists and numismatists. We focused on numismatists (the documentary’s angle focused on coins), and identified the following objectives:

  • To find coins/auctions,
  • To discuss,
  • To research,
  • To display,
  • To swap/sell,
  • To catalogue

From those the following options were quickly brainstormed:

  • Online swapping service
  • Find out about coins
  • Talk about coins – forum
  • Gallery – photo sharing
  • Virtual catalogue
  • Auction listings & map

In terms of technology, the above might be achieved through an eBay shop or purpose-built ecommerce operation; an informational website; a blog, forum or Facebook group; a Flickr pool; an online cataloguing service similar to LibraryThing; a purpose-built listings site or listings on a third party service such as Upcoming.

Which route you decide to explore will depend on your own objectives, assets and capabilities.

Example 2: Tea culture in the UK

The premise of this documentary is the death of tea drinking in the UK as coffee houses become a larger part of life. The audience is 18-35 year olds.

Now typically people engage with or consume media for emotional, economic or social reasons.

In this instance we decided that social reasons might be strongest. We explored how people connected with each other, and identified the following ways:

  • Memories
  • Plans
  • Jokes
  • Banter
  • Argument
  • The need to exchange information

So what do our 18-35 year olds want to do? Well, let’s say they just want to have fun. We could create a ‘What caffeinated beverage are you?’ quiz. This is also social, and viral. We might organise a ‘Tea Day’ – this gives people something to plan towards, and collaborate around. Indeed, that process might also involve the other elements – joking, arguing, exchanging information, and so on.

The devil is in the detail

Both these examples took around 15-20 minutes to work through, but they provide a good starting point for establishing the frame and direction for the real work that follows: researching what already exists, and what has been done before, identifying gaps, and planning a strategy to get you from where you are now to where you – and your users – want to be.

It’s the strategy that dictates which – of all the ideas listed above – are most appropriate. And of course, after the strategy comes the execution.

The point is that if you haven’t identified the people and their objectives first, your strategy and execution will be built on thin air. ‘Build it and they will come’ is a pipe dream.

5 thoughts on “An exercise in interactive thinking

  1. Peter Demain

    I must thank you for this post as it rekindled my idea concerning a story aimed at children. It had occurred but was forgotten, if nothing else it will be fun to write…sort of the ‘i’ newspaper but slightly more juvenile.

    Good post though, the tea part reminded me of one of the pompous prejudices I carried about the author which was that he contemplates coffee in a working sense apart from Twitter musings. Do keep us posted on this as its one of the more interesting posts on this site, to this leaf-diffusing idiot anyhow.

    Pete, editor at Dirty Garnet.

      1. Peter Demain

        I’m referring to simple thoughts that appear to occur occasionally about the quality and price of the beverage in question. That said if you assumed I’d reckoned you’d sat down chin on palm brow furrowed reflecting on beans that’s pretty amusing.

        Will there be a review article here sometime regards the hacks & hackers meetup of the other day?

        To make freeze-dried stuff more palatable I suggest making it strong – whatever ‘strong is for you – with half a teaspoon of sugar. Acts as a fairly useful stimulant with the diminutive sugar mellowing the taste. I wouldn’t overly imbibe caffeine from reading of the ‘crash’ much-discussed on a certain geek orientated website.


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