Help! How Do I Hire a Transmedia Designer/Developer?

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These days, every other fourth grader is a “web designer.” But just because you can tweak a WordPress template doesn’t mean you can create an immersive online experience similar to, say, Out My Window. I am looking for someone who falls into the latter category, and I don’t think I’ll find who I’m looking for by trolling the local middle school.

Since my last post about my transmedia documentary project, I got lucky and received a grant to build a functional prototype in order to attract more funding toward the site’s completion. (You can the see the kernel of the project, Jerusalem Unfiltered, at battleforjerusalem.com.)

This is very exciting, but it leaves me in the position of having to hire someone who can do things I don’t know how to do on my own, and that I may not even be able to fully describe from a technical standpoint. I’ve found that one of the most challenging and important aspects of working with new technology is knowing what questions to ask.

But first, here are some of the qualities and factors that I’m considering in a collaborator:

Front-end and back-end competence: I will be creating all of the site’s written and filmed content, but the designer or team needs to be able to both create the front-end visuals and program the back-end mechanics.

User-experience design: I want visitors to the site to have an engaging, immersive experience, but I certainly don’t want that experience to be, “How the heck do I find my way around here?” I started my own career as a UI designer, so I have some chops in this area, but I’d still prefer to work with someone who can help me think through how a user might move from one piece of content to another in the smoothest possible way.

Online storytelling: Ideally, the team has used the web to creatively portray nonfiction narratives, rather than just for selling or promoting things.

Visual style: Their style should jive with the style of the project. I envision the site being an interactive collage that conveys the vibrancy of Jerusalem’s streets, so the designer needs to be comfortable with mixed media collage, preferably with a street art sensibility. In a perfect world, they will already be familiar with Jerusalem itself and be able to translate some of their own sense of the place into their work.wa

Collaboration: This is not a situation where I’m handing off some plans to programmers in a foreign land at night and waking up to a finished site in the morning. (That actually does happen!) The designer/developer would be responsible for working closely with me to conceptualize the site, although they would be executing it independently. Ultimately, no matter how much experience or technical chops my designer has, I hope to find someone who feels passionately about the project and about the possibilities of transmedia storytelling.

Coming up with this list has only created more questions, so I am reaching out to you, my fellow documentarians and folks producing across multiple platforms, to answer them and help people in my situation ask the right questions — and ultimately find the right transmedia collaborator.

  1. What qualities should I be looking for that aren’t already on my list?
  2. Where are some reliable places to find such a person or team, if you’re not an insider (or don’t have wads of cash)? Keep in mind that my limited “seed” budget likely prevents me from working with a major agency.
  3. Now that I’m about to build a “functional prototype,” I’m also asking myself about the most important aspects of the project to accomplish in this phase. If the goal is attracting funders to complete the site, do I want to woo them with a flashy interface that has limited functionality, or to have a fully functioning back-end that is graphically lacking?
  4. What are the right questions to ask when hiring a transmedia designer?

Leave your answers in the comments (or if you want your answers to remain anonymous, email me at liz@liznord.com), and I’ll compile them in a future post. By that time, I may also hope to share some of my own experiences.

Liz Nord
Liz Nord
Filmmaker and multi-platform producer Liz Nord (Jericho’s Echo: Punk Rock In The Holy Land) is embracing transmedia with her new documentary project, Jerusalem Unfiltered and as director of Lyka's Adventure Labs. She has produced media projects around the world, including MTV's Emmy Award-winning 2008 presidential election coverage, and has presented on a wide range of creativity and media-related topics, notably as a TED speaker at TEDxDumbo.
  • Aina

    Definitely, per @Zackwilson:disqus you need to check out @storycodeorg:twitter  which is where all the cross-platform folks connect. We hold monthly meetups at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and other events you can find on  www.storycode.org ~ Aina Abiodun,-CoFounder

  • Liz Nord

    Thanks, @Aina! I’ve been following you guys for a while. I need to come by but your events always fill up so fast! If anyone in your crew is looking to sink their teeth into a new project, please send them my way.

    • Aina

      Come tonight! we have space, and you can meet some potential collaborators. We also have a dedicated time at the end of each meetup when you can pitch your project for support/help/partners.

      • Liz

        On a shoot tonight but psyched for next month! Please encourage folks looking for projects to contact me.

  • http://twitter.com/kulturvulturz Carrie CutforthYoung

    It seems to me, from your list, you are actually looking more for a web developer who is nuanced in branding content across platforms, but with a heavy emphasis on the website development as opposed to a Transmedia Experience Designer. Since all these titles are pretty much in flux: transmedia designer/developer has several nuanced meanings.  Perhaps, since you require the web functionality you do: you would want to modify the descriptor as Transmedia Web Developer/Designer. And then really emphasize: what is the transmedia design aspects you are specifically requiring because based on your notes, I don’t see why any simple web designer/developer or digital interactive designer would fit the bill. What exactly are the transmedia components required and therefore, what are the skills necessary for a person to fulfill this commitment. Even though this might be a transmedia property overall, if the developer is only dealing with the online and mobile content, I doubt you need a transmedia developer but rather a web/interactive digital developer if they aren’t touching any of the other platforms. I would hire a transmedia strategist to work with a web developer/designer as it might be a little hard to find one that fits the whole package and is reasonably priced. If you already have the transmedia strategy, and the developer is mostly dealing with the online content than just hire for that. I would actually reverse engineer your requirements by sussing out similar projects and then making a wish list of what you want to accomplish to decide the skills needed. The more you understand what you need in terms of specific coding areas, the easier it is to fit the bill, because I have fallen in the trap a few times in which I hoped the developer would help me understand what I needed only to find out that they did not have the coding  skills in the areas I required even though at the outset they said what I wanted was completely doable by them.

    • Liz Nord

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Carrie. I totally agree–the project overall is transmedia/multi-platform storytelling, but to initiate this specific stage of the project I really need a web developer/designer. Now, as you suggested, I am working on developing a list of which specific skills and coding areas that this project requires that fall under the large umbrella of “designer/developer.”

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