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The Multimedia Process

Karyn Lewis

Final Research Paper


Multimedia Publishing
Winter 2005-06

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Communicating meaning is a core human need. Today multimedia systems are widely employed
to combine text, audio, still and moving images to convey meaning. Computer programs provide
the means to combine a variety of media elements, and many architectures and tools are available
to facilitate the creation and management of multimedia systems and presentations. However, it
still remains the multimedia author’s responsibility to integrate the functionality of these models
and tools to create meaningful content. There is a conceptual need in multimedia design that
requires a practical process for systematic design and production. Successful corporate
communications, digital or otherwise, are rooted in strong content development accentuated with
excellent design. To succeed at multimedia, teams need more than just fancy tools and the latest
technology. They need a well-defined process that can handle the dynamic nature of multimedia
in any corporate environment. The process must be flexible enough to meet client needs, and can
be summed up in a few key phases with a few standard deliverables.

First and foremost is the exploration phase. Every project starts with client exploration—
including research and consultation. This process starts with interviewing key people, reviewing
current corporate information materials, and comparing similar businesses in the industry. The
project team will review client goals and objectives, target audiences, and technology issues to
determine a specific web strategy suited for the client. Who are hey? How detailed does the
technical material need to be? What kind of equipment do they have? (Monitors, CD ROM
drives, etc.) What is their comfort level with technology? It is important to understand not only
the audience’s technical expertise with the topic, but also to understand whether or not
multimedia is the right approach for delivering information to them. The ultimate goal is to
combine the project team’s expertise with the client's knowledge about their business and
industry in a way that draws the best from each.

For example, suppose you were a florist with a new small business in Rochester and needed a
web site to advertise your unique services and floral arrangements. You contact a multimedia
production team to create it. Once a request for proposal (RFP) is accepted, the project team
would first talk with you to clarify your goals and objectives, assess your audience needs,
position your brand for the online environment, and formulate the technical requirements. They
would closely examine your competitor sites and trends in the industry that may affect or enhance
the project. If needed, they would conduct user testing on an existing site to assess current
platforms and systems.

After getting a solid sense of what the client wants and needs, the project team would then start
the project-planning phase. This is the time when many issues raised during client exploration are
examined in more detail. All gathered information is analyzed in order to formulate the best site
design strategy—including site architecture, branding, production, and technical considerations
and recommendations. These assessments and recommendations are put into a proposal

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document. All subsequent design and development decisions are based upon the direction
established in this document. At the end of the project planning stage, the client chooses the
overall concept and objectives as well as the general project outline.

In the pre-production stage of development, the project-team would present you, the client, with a
proposal—a very general document listing the theme, approximate budget for time and costs, and
level of commitment necessary for completion. A scope document may also be included as part of
the contract, specifying costs in x$/hour over the time needed as estimated. Generally, this is
organized by the project manager. You (or if you were working under a company, your project
manager) would meet with this person and make negotiations based on the proposal, and a
contract will be made incrementing a deadline with milestones and the products they will provide
throughout the process.

Once an overall strategy and direction has been agreed upon, the team works to establish the
framework for the site from a functional, creative, and technical perspective. This framework
serves as the roadmap for all design, technical, and production efforts during the development
phase. During this phase, documentation and preliminary designs are produced, specifying all
content, functionality, navigation, and overall look/feel. Designers work hand-in-hand with the
development team and the client as crucial decisions are made regarding the site structure,
navigation, brand consistency and aesthetics. The team meets regularly with clients to review the
concepts as they evolve. Once the content blueprint has been made, the project team begins work
on several processes simultaneously. The content team refines the outline structure and begins
writing the final copy. The design team creates a series of different treatments for the overall look
and feel of the interface and major design elements. The technical team tackles major
programming and delivery issues. By the end of the content design phase, the client signs off on
project structure, final content, design treatment.

To go more in-depth in the design aspect of producing multimedia projects, it is critical in this
phase to understand basic user tendencies. In analyzing user experiences, it is generally true that
whatever is not important to the whole is missed or ignored. If it is a complete misfit; it distracts
the user. Therefore when a design is presented to a client, the user should not see the individual
components, but a whole. The challenge is to make the presentation a cohesive whole, and not a
collage of miscellaneous multimedia components. Furthermore, the homepage of a web site
should define the entire site with an overview of content, list of navigational items, and easily
determined site hierarchy. As Steve Krug emphasizes, the user should not have to think. What
they are looking at should be clear and obvious. When exploring a site, the user should quickly be
able to answer the basic questions: What is this? What do they have? What can I do here? Why
should I be here and not somewhere else, or is there a better alternative? The user may expect a
tagline, a personalized welcome blurb, etc. to understand the main point of the site. It is especially

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common for individuals to scan pages, satisfice, guess, and explore. Most of all, people don’t
figure out how things work—they muddle through and stick to what works. (This is true not just
for web sites.) Therefore, as a designer, it is important to build ‘billboards’ to draw the user’s
attention. Most importantly, however, in order to ensure a smooth and effective process, it is
essential to have a framework for clear communications between the members of the design and
production teams.

Back to the main phases of the multimedia process. Your project team creates a design document,
including storyboards, descriptions, functional specs and navigation, technical specs, and a
formalized theme. The storyboard gives an overlay of spatial composition and navigation links
provide a system-wide overview. It may include Specifications of hardware and communication
Bandwidth. The team may show you, the client, several interface design ideas to choose from and
large, quality prints. A content outline is also created, along with scripts for the final project. The
script provides every detail needed for building the final product, including all content,
functionality, events, etc, with screen numbers and descriptions typically laid out in tables. You,
the client, review and sign off on the project design and digital production begins. You have the
ultimate authority.

Once the framework has been established, the site is built and developed. It is here that all the
pieces come together, and scripts and documents are translated into actual pages. Project
management brings content, design and technical teams together to integrate all the pieces into
the final seamless product. The team analyzes the performance of the project and makes
adjustments as necessary. All functionality is built and tested. All pages are designed and
produced. In order to build web sites that work, product reliability and customer satisfaction is
tested. During this phase, quality assurance confirms whether or not the site complies with the
client's standards. This often results in site with fewer bugs, dead links, typos, and errors than a
site that hasn’t undergone proper testing.

The design and production of multimedia is a process that involves ideas taken from a wide range
of fields, including marketing, digital technology, aesthetics, graphics, media law, and
management. Most projects are team-based, and the development responsibilities are shared
amongst the core members of the team: project managers, writers, and programmers. The author,
or the team, must design a multimedia system that will ensure congruence between the intended
meaning and the user’s interpretation. There must be a clear path laid out for starting a
multimedia project from concept and expanding it systematically to design and production that
portrays an intended meaning. With skill, attention to project details, and a bit of holding the line
against last-minute changes, it’s possible to deliver on time and to the client’s satisfaction. Once
all the pieces have come together, the completed work is submitted for final client approval.

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