IN SEARCH OF A PRODUCTION
The general movement towards
on-line media illustrates the complexity of the paradigm
shift in publishing. Given this crisis, and the rapidly
changing delivery environment it is necessary to reassess
the design constraints and practices of the old
technologies, in order to improve the design and production
of products so that they can exploit the full potential of
Towards this end, research is
currently underway at the University of Plymouth in
collaboration with AA Publishing. The aim of the research is
to examine the changing world of publishing as it moves from
book to electronic media forms, and from fixed to live and
Firstly, the research methods will
be described, the next section reviews some examples of good
practice used by a variety of multimedia producers, in
particular one company with a wide range of experience of
media production and who are currently working for the AA on
a series of CD-ROM titles.
The purpose of the work reported
here has been that of a familiarity study in order to map
out the territory of the relevant research methods for
further work. The methods used provide a picture of both the
social and technical activity detected in the design and
production of interactive multimedia products. This is
achieved by combining theoretical models with systems
analysis techniques and ethnographic methods as has been
successfully used by Sommerville et al (1992) and
Jagodzinski et al (1996).
¥ Systems analysis: documenting the
information flow between processes, and between people,
using data flow diagrams - a graphical technique that
depicts information flow and the transformations that are
applied as data moves from input to output (Clifton 1990);
task analysis of the human activities to identify and
understand the tasks required (Pressman 1992); examination
of departmental, project team, and individuals'
documentation, notes, and records.
¥ Ethnographic analysis: utilises a
set of methods for studying human systems under natural
conditions bringing no preconceived notions or structures in
order to understand the social context in which activity
takes place. This includes: observation, interviews about
work and working practices, and generally collecting
whatever data is available (Hammersley & Atkinson 1995).
This provides an overall picture of the functioning of a
department and project teams, and identifies the issues and
obstacles to effective management and creative design and
Exploratory and Prototyping
Exploratory programming is a
recognised method of system production, used when a detailed
system specification is difficult to establish. Typically,
producing systems where adequacy is a more relevant factor
than correctness (Sommerville 1992). Prototyping has many
similarities except the prototype system is built and
evaluated in order to construct a detailed specification for
the full system. Any method used requires considerable
planning in order to adequately anticipate problems which
may arise throughout the project life-cycle (Vaughan 1994,
Canale and Wills 1995, Mok 1996). Using an appropriate and
clearly defined production pathway, denoting optimal
decision points for change, could greatly increase the
effectiveness of product development. Mok 1996 describes his
DADI: Definition, Architecture, Design, Implementation
process as one such method for creating a suitable framework
on which to plan the development of interactive multimedia
products. This framework:
1. Defines a project;
2. Creates an architecture that
explains the process and, if necessary, the technology
3. Defines who does what;
4. Defines the time frame and
5. Establishes efficient
communication among all the players.
A rigorous approach to this kind of
project planning, particularly in the early stages of
development is important. One of the key production phases
for innovative projects, according to Lawson 1980, is
Research and Development. According to idealised models
(Vertelney and Booker 1990, Attica 1995, Namuren 1996,
England and Finney 1996) this should be performed early on
in the project and used to: identify major technical
problems, test key aspects of the functionality, and clarify
the overall look and feel of the product.
An additional advantage to be
gained from using a clearly defined pathway is that everyone
is aware of all the stages involved in production and the
relevant documentation required. It is essential in such
multidisciplinary teams that all staff understand the
content and become familiar with the use of these documents.
A familiarity with the types of documentation required is
also likely to encourage people to revise their own
documentation. This type of unintrusive control helps
maintain the level of evolution allowed in a project,
ensuring all significant changes are formally acknowledged.
Knowledge and Expertise:
Recent research (GISTICS 1995) has
shown that buyers are bored with the majority of CD-ROM
titles currently available. It is not so much the depth of
content which fails to satisfy them, but the lack of
creative treatment and interactive richness, coupled with
ever increasing market expectations.
'The majority of multimedia titles
released so far still tend to suffer from a lack of
imagination and the creativity gap, which separates
technology's capabilities from the ability of the content
providers to create engaging, high value titles. Developers
should consider the qualities and potential of the new
medium if excellent product and high quality brand image is
to be achieved.' (Thorn, 1994).
An imbalance of production and
design skills within a team, creates an imbalance in the
attention to content, and the attention to treatment and
interactivity. More fundamentally, the core of this problem
is the lack of a robust visual vocabulary and language for
interactive multimedia. It is the inheritance of practice
and mindset from traditional media design and production
which needs to be addressed in order to bring these ideals
Summary of Potential
¥ Significant imbalance in the
range of expertise within a team.
¥ Tendency towards isolated working
rather than cohesive project teams.
¥ Lack of close and ongoing
managerial involvement with each individual project.
¥ Poor working communications
between team members, and between teams and management.
¥ Roles and responsibilities not
clearly defined: jobs left unassigned, and job titles not
always reflecting work actually performed.
¥ Projects tend to run an
inefficient 'evolve-constrain' life-cycle and generally lack
¥ A substantial R&D phase to
identify potential problems?
¥ Prototypes require greater
technical and user evaluation.
¥ A specified production
¥ Need to improve understanding and
familiarity with all documentation, and maintain strict
¥ Imbalance between attention to
content and attention to treatment and interactivity.
Approaches for Change:
This section offers some ideas for
potential solutions to the problems identified, and an
example methods indicating key phases of work and the
relevant documentation pertaining to these phases.
In order to redress the imbalance
of skills in a team, recruitment of permanent staff or the
use of freelance workers, from a wide variety of
backgrounds, might enable teams to be closer to the ideal
practice recommended by (Kim 1990, Hoffos et al 1992,
England and Finney 1996, Mok 1996, Namuren 1996). Experience
in interactivity, audio-visual production, and programming,
being especially important.
Studies of interdisciplinary
collaboration (Vertelney, Arent and Lieberman 1990, Kim
1990) and interactive media research and developers (Eubank
1996, Freeth 1996) would also suggest that a strong
commitment to the cross-training and adaptation of
traditional staff would be particularly judicious:
interdisciplinary collaboration is most successful when
there is a sensitivity and understanding of the other
discipline on which to build. This mutual understanding
greatly increases the value of expert advice and allows more
informed judgements to be made on the team consequences of
There are a variety of ways this
could be achieved, including: sending staff on short courses
run commercially, or, holding a series of courses
internally. EMG have found it beneficial to periodically run
courses in-house for their staff; people employed from a
variety of disciplines are able to cross train, achieving a
working understanding of different aspects of media
production, or to update their knowledge and keep abreast of
the newest technological advances. They also encourage staff
to give seminars on any relevant new techniques they are
working on. This not only extends knowledge but it provides
a forum for discussion and improves communication generally.
Whatever the level and range of
expertise available to a department, successful projects are
produced by teams that work and communicate together
effectively (Canale and Wills 1995). Therefore, included
below, is an outline of the stages required for the assembly
of successful project teams, based on the working practices
of EMG (Namuren 1996) and other developers of interactive
media (Hoffos et al 1992, England and Finney 1996).
1. In the early stages of the
project, before any production work begins, the appropriate
roles and skills required should be identified. This
assessment must be made according to the nature and style of
the particular project being undertaken and used to select a
team with the most appropriate blend of skills. For example:
'The content of any one programme
will influence the balance of skills on the production
team...A highly-visual game packed with original graphics
may call for a team of visual designers, plus one good
all-rounder to write both the script and program...' (Hoffos
et al 1992).
2. When the team members have been
identified, each person is assigned a role or roles within
the team. Each role has clearly defined responsibilities
with areas of collaborative decision making indicated. It is
important that this assignment of roles also includes those
specialists which may not be required until much later in
the project. Their inclusion from the beginning will not
only ensure that creative ideas are viable, but will unite
the project team very early on. (Namuren 1996).
3. Once assembled, in order to
maintain good communications within project teams, it is
helpful for team members to be located in close proximity to
one another. However, if this is not possible, then it must
be ensured that other appropriate forms of communication are
made as easy as possible to maintain. The key to successful
collaborative working is a contemplative and
communication-rich environment (England and Finney
Project management for multimedia
is a particularly complex and time consuming job due to the
nature of the products, and the wide range of skills
required for product development. In order to maintain focus
and adequate control of each project, it may be wise to
consider the appointment of a project manager for each
project. This will enable the project manager to keep a
clear overall view of the design and production, and
sufficient time to control the project successfully.
Whichever model of project
management is followed, there is some evidence to suggest
that the devolution from senior management to project
management of a significant level of responsibility is a
contributing factor to the success or failure of a project
(England and Finney 1996). Many examples of this can be
seen: Dorling Kindersley - the editor and designer take the
management and ownership of a project, EMG - very early
stages led by executive producer, when the style of the
product is agreed the project manager/producer takes over
responsibility. A final example is Attica, after many months
of interviews and analysis of the company, a management
consultancy firm identified many of their problems as the
direct result of the director retaining too much control
A well defined production pathway
is an essential component of any project as complex as
multimedia production. If correctly adhered to, the
production pathway will optimise the creation and delivery
of the product, without compromising artistic integrity.
Indeed, it is hoped that it will strengthen it, by
facilitating the realisation of creative ideas. However, it
is important that the pathway used is appropriate for the
type of product being created and for the environment in
which it is being produced. In such a rapidly changing
technological environment as interactive multimedia, it is
also essential that any pathway is flexible enough to meet
unforeseen circumstances and events.
At present, there is no recognised
'best practice' critical pathway for multimedia production.
Producer companies tend to follow their traditional
production models, with incremental changes being made as
and when problems arise. However, these models for design
and production are fundamentally constrained by the
capabilities and limitations of different and often
redundant, technologies and products. This not only affects
the efficiency of production but it can also influence the
style of products created:
'It is noticeable that most
multimedia products bear clearly the fingerprints of the
particular trades which have produced them - of television,
of book publishing, of database design, etc. - failing often
to establish any new aesthetic.' (Boyd Davis 1995).
Whilst we see the convergence of a
variety of technologies, we also see the inheritance of
practice. However, many argue that what is required, is the
ability to respond to these changes and encompass different
styles of working, contributing, and communicating,
appropriate to the new medium (Oren 1990, Blattner and
Dannenberg 1992, Boyd Davis 1995).
Preliminary findings have been used
to construct a prototype production pathway. This is largely
based on the pathway used by EMG. The prototype is shown
highlighting: key stages of design and production, pertinent
decision/approval points, and the relevant documentation
Perhaps one of the most important
aids to successful team working is the strict control and
correct use of relevant documentation (Namuren 1996). The
correct version of a detailed product definition can help
prevent costly and time consuming mistakes being made. In
order for these documents to be useful, there must be
sufficient information within them, without being so
detailed as to be unmanageable. Frequent (but realistic)
updates are also desirable as this maintains accuracy and
relevance (Sommerville 1992). Documentation is not only a
method for disseminating quantities of complex instructions,
guidelines, and information for use on a daily basis, it is
also invaluable as a record for future projects, upgrades,
platform or language versions, or simply a change in project
Knowledge and Expertise:
Innovative products greatly
increase the level of risk inherent in a project, but
creative and innovative work is required for high quality
multimedia production. Controlled and targeted innovation in
projects may be an appropriate way of managing risk whilst
consistently improving quality. This could be assisted by
the creation of a multiskilled research group to bring new
creative ideas to future projects, ideas for innovative and
experimental treatments, new technologies, and to keep
abreast of relevant current research (Zolli 1996).
In order to achieve and maintain
market leader status it is essential to understand the
technologies used and their liability to change (Mok 1996).
'Designs that anticipate
technological changes before they arrive allow for the
seamless integration of new technologies as they emerge.
These solutions are "designed forward". Over time, such
designs are more consistent for users and more cost
effective ...' (Zolli, 1996).
A recent survey of over 7,000
multimedia developers undertook a benchmarking of industry
'best practice'. Using this large survey sample enabled them
to identify a very small group of outstanding 'productivity
pioneers' and 'profit pacesetters': '...individuals and
firms who derive significantly greater benefits from their
technology than industry norms...' (GISTICS 1995). The
results of their survey led them to formulate a set of
management recommendations for investment. Talent, Systems,
and Branding, where consistent investment produced
consistent productivity gains and technical breakthroughs.
Attica (1995). 'Corfield-Wright
Beardon, C., (1995). 'Digital
Creativity: breaking down barriers', in Proceedings of the
1st Conference on Computers in Art & Design Education
CADE 95, University of Brighton, pp.3-8.
Blattner, M., and Dannenberg, R.,
(1992). (eds.), Multimedia Interface Design, ACM
Boyd Davis, S., (1995). 'Developing
courses in multimedia: is an art school the right place?',
in Proceedings of the 1st Conference on Computers in Art
& Design Education CADE 95, University of Brighton,
Campbell, P., and Sherrin, C.,
(1992). 'Making Money from Multimedia: Some Commercial
Realities', in Conference Proceedings ITTE 92, Information
Technology in Training & Education, Brisbane,
Canale, R., and Wills, S., (1995).
'Producing professional interactive multimedia: project
management issues', in British Journal of Educational
Technology, Vol.26, No.2, pp.84-93.
Edmonds, E.A., Candy, L., Jones,
R., and Soufi, B., (1994). 'Support for Collaborative
Design: Agents and Emergence', in Communications of the ACM,
Vol.37, No.7, pp.41-47.
England, E., and Finney, A.,
(1996). 'Managing Multimedia, Cambridge: Addison-Wesley.
Eubank, D., (1996). Executive
Producer, BBC Multimedia Centre. Talk at Conference: Windows
on the digital future, London.
Freeth, M., (1996). Head of BBC
Multimedia Centre. Talk at Conference: Windows on the
digital future, London.
Galegher, J., and Kraut, R.,
(1990). 'Computer-mediated communication for intellectual
teamwork', ACM 1990 Conference on Computer Supported
Cooperative Work, Los Angeles, CA.
GISTICS, (1995). 1996 Survival
guide for the interactive telemedia & multimedia
developer, Carronade Group: LA, USA.
Hobbs, P., (1993). 'Project
Management - Methods and Case Study', presented at
Conference on Learning Technology in Higher Education,
Hoffos, S., Sharpless, G., Smith,
P., and Lewis, N., (1992). CD-I Designers Guide,
McGraw-Hill, Maidenhead, UK.
Jagodzinski, A.P., Burningham, C.,
Culverhouse, P.F., Evans, J., Parsons, R., and Reid, F.,
(1995). 'The management and control of design in electronics
engineering: a review of industry problems and practice'
Submitted for publication in Design Studies.
Kim, S., (1990). 'Interdisciplinary
Collaboration', in Laurel, B., (ed.), The Art of Human
-Computer Interface Design, Addison-Wesley, pp.31-45.
Lawson, B., (1980). How Designers
Think, The Architectural Press Ltd: London.
Mok, C., (1996). Designing
Business. Multiple Media, Multiple Disciplines, Adobe Press:
Namuren, A., (1996). pers. comm.
Multimedia Producer, EMG Ltd., Brighton.
Oren, T., (1990). 'Designing a new
medium', in Laurel, B., (ed.), The Art of Human -Computer
Interface Design, Addison-Wesley, pp.467-480.
Sidner, C. L., (1994). 'Negotiation
in collaborative activity: a discourse analysis' in
Knowledge-Based Systems, Vol.7, No.4, pp.265267.
Sommerville, I., (1992). Software
Engineering, (4th ed.), Addison-Wesley.
Thomsett, R., (1992). Third Wave
Project Management: Managing Information Systems Projects in
the 1990's, Prentice Hall: NY.
Thorn, T., Vaughan, T., (1994).
Multimedia: Making it work,(2nd ed), Osbourne
Vertelney, L., and Booker, S.,
(1990). 'Designing the Whole-Product User Interface', in
Laurel, B., (ed.), The Art of Human -Computer Interface
Design, Addison-Wesley, pp.57-65.
Vertelney, L., Arent, M., and
Lieberman, H., (1990). 'Two Disciplines in Search of an
Interface', in Laurel, B., (ed.), The Art of Human -Computer
Interface Design, Addison-Wesley, pp.45-56.
Zolli, A., (1996). 'Modelling
change in interactive technology', presented at Designing
the Internet Conference, 5 July 1996, Design Agenda, Central
St Martins: London.