Untitled Document

Archive for February, 2010

To be conventional or unconventional…?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

On many levels, Seth M. Gitner, multimedia journalist, has a unique portfolio site for a photographer, one that challenges convention just enough to stand out. However, conventions become conventions by being intuitive, user friendly and reducing user frustration. Some conventions aren’t worth breaking.

As a reader settles into Gitner’s homepage, the first impression is refreshingly more relaxed than its sobering, photojournalistic counterparts. The photographer’s name—white and sans serif—drapes a square, muted image of run down cars, and thick gray bars ground the top and bottom of the interface as a place to stow navigation. While the square interface sets the site apart from a traditional rectangular portfolio site, it leaves little room for displaying large format images, a huge drawback to a photographer. Also, sadly, this is the only time the photographers name is graphically displayed; there’s no branded home-button or logo.

While Gitner separated the work into two, logical sections—multimedia and photography, the latter divided a second time into singles and stories—the gallery navigation could be reincarnated in a more intuitive manner. The current series of linked numbers along the top gray bar go unnoticed at first, and grow awkward through use. This is a likely candidate for conventional “previous” and “next” buttons.

One under-utilized element Gitner employed is using a load bar for each image link to signify that something is happening. This idea is so great that it alerted me to three broken links in the “Singles” gallery (1, 11 and 12). This is an easy fix.

While the singles gallery employs innovation, the multimedia gallery should take a cue. As it stands, each multimedia piece loads an external website in a new window, a risky decision that comes with additional load times and, potentially expired content and dead links. Ideally, multimedia pieces should play natively on the portfolio site with a link bank displayed in explanatory text.

Bottom line: Admirably, Gitner employs several unconventional features; some decisions pay off (load bars), others confuse (unconventional navigation). When designers take risks, conventions are born.

Main_pageSean06 (aka 22 Months: The Long Haul)

Monday, February 15th, 2010
22 Months: The Long Haul is an interactive, multimedia story by the Associated Press. At least, that’s what I think it’s called. The main page has two head/deck combinations. This is the larger, but less descriptive, of the two. The title may also be To Iraq and Back: Stories from the longest deployment on the ground.

The page title—Main_pageSean06—gives no additional hints. Instead, it’s a non-descriptive, non-informative header that leaves no identifying trace in a reader’s browser history. It should likely be changed to reflect the projects title and, perhaps, the organization: AP: To Iraq and Back.

Aesthetically, the page is a bit awkward. The bulk of the Flash interface, an oddly shaped geometric image, floats on a white background in the upper left corner of the browser window, as if the designer didn’t know how to use the < center > tag.  Seven icons sit across the top of the screen, most are meaningful images, but one—the top of a lamp—gives little indication of what’s to come. Clicking on each icon brings the user to a page with a headline, a short description, and some vein of photo story: image thumbnails with complimentary audio, a slideshow of images, or a multimedia piece.

All audio plays automatically, something I’m not completely opposed to. However, instead of the audio setting up the scene, the short description does, making the stories hard to follow.

There is no home button, meaning once you’ve clicked on a story, the only way to navigate is across stories or reload the page.

Rollover changes are slight and hard to catch, and active hit areas are far too large. In fact, at one point I thought I was navigating an interactive timeline in “Doctor’s diary” until I realized I was viewing the other stories.

On several occasions, I broke the navigation by pausing the audio, clicking on another link before the current story had stopped playing, or clicking in the wrong location.

Ultimately, the site seems to be a good idea with poor execution. Taking time to capture and edit quality audio could have taken this piece to the next level. Additionally, usability experts are rarely unnecessary.

Derby Time

Friday, February 12th, 2010
For my final project in EPJ, I’d like to create an interactive story focused on the Missouri Demolition Derby circuit. The motion, the mud and the sound of mangled metal make these a great candidate for multimedia.

The season starts February 19th with an indoor bout in Springfield, Mo., picks up speed into the summer months and continues through October. Due to the length of the season, there are only two derbies currently scheduled before the end of the spring semester—Springfield (February 19th and 20th) and Bloomsdale (April 17th). As a result, a lot of what I do throughout the semester will be preliminary work for a longer piece I will continue to follow after the semester ends. The downfall is that there is very little time to find a story and shoot action.

I’ve made contact with Troy Jones—a mid-Missouri derby fanatic and head-honcho of the Midwest section of wecrash.com, the one-stop-shop for everything related to derby life—to gather information and suss out stories ideas and photo making opportunities. Some thoughts I have about focus include the serious driver, the new driver, and depicting the wide variety of derby classes.