Three Things to Know About Yourself Before Hiring a Transmedia Designer

by |

When I put out a call last month for advice on how to hire a transmedia designer for my project Jerusalem Unfiltered, responses came in from far and wide, online and off. It quickly became apparent that the best way to meet collaborators for the virtual space might actually be in the real world. Some of the most immediate responses came from people involved with living, breathing, meet-in-person communities for the transmedia-curious. I heard from both Mike Knowlton and Aina Abiodun of New York’s StoryCode and Carrie Cutforth of Toronto’s Transmedia 101. Similar meetups are springing up around the world and are worth checking out if you’re on the hunt for collaborators.

Aside from getting out and meeting folks, the tips I received basically broke down into three straightforward considerations that relate directly to you and your project: your needs, your skills, and your vision.

1. Know what you need.

Carrie Cutforth suggests asking yourself from the get-go, “What exactly are the transmedia components required and therefore, what are the skills necessary for a person to fulfill this commitment?” She points out that the person or team’s skill sets are more important than their titles, since the specific meaning of terms like “transmedia designer” is still being defined.

So how do you figure this out? Carrie’s recommendation is to “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.” She adds, “The more you understand what you need in terms of specific coding areas, the easier it is to fit the bill.”

You can then ask online forums or techie friends to help you determine the specific skills necessary to meet your needs. I turned to my colleague Louis Juska, Director of Technology at PopTech. My project includes several cross-platform elements, but right now I am working on the immersive online experience. Louis therefore helped me identify current needs: a front-end web designer to create what users will see, a front-end programmer to build the site using HTML5 and CSS, and a back-end developer to create the database from which content will be pulled.

2. Know what you can do on your own.

You might be surprised how much of your project’s groundwork can be laid using basic software and tools that you’re already familiar with. Ross Siegel, one of my project’s advisors, suggests that you may not need to hire a fancy interaction designer, for example, to create the basic user flow for your website or mobile app. Ross knows what he’s talking about, having worked with graphic and user interface designers at major companies like Yahoo! and Apple as well as his own startup projects like Bachelor10.com.

After defining your overall objectives for an interactive project, Ross says the next step is to create wireframes that lay out your screens using basic shapes as placeholders for the onscreen elements. You can then use a standard presentation tool like Keynote or Powerpoint to link screens together and simulate the experience that a user might have getting from one screen to the next. There are also more sophisticated tools like OmniGraffle or Balsamiq Mockups that are made specifically for this purpose.

Finally, you can have people play around with the structure as you’ve created it, thus testing out potential pathways through the project and finding what works best for users, before ever spending a dime on an “expert.”

An added benefit of this approach is that you will have clear documentation to hand to your programmer or developer that illustrates what you want them to build. When you speak with potential developers, Ross suggests that you ask them a series of very clear questions about their strategy for producing your project: How long will this take? Can it be done more quickly, easily, or cheaply another way? Most importantly, do they know how to do it and if not, how many hours will they log before they give up trying?

3. Know what inspires you.

Mike Knowlton of StoryCode is also a principal at the social films production company Murmur. In response to my query about what questions I *should* be asking of potential collaborators, Mike raises an important point that can easily get lost in the technology shuffle.

“I think it’s mainly about vision,” he says, “Why are they interested in transmedia? What are their favorite immersive media projects? You can learn a lot from people by what inspires them.”

It obviously helps to know your own vision and sources of inspiration before you can decide whether those of your potential collaborators match up. I took Mike’s advice to heart. In fact, it is precisely the fact that he brought this up and shared some of his own transmedia muses that attracted me to Murmur, who have now become my design and development partners on the project.

Ultimately, in seeking transmedia collaborators, I found that you need to learn as much about yourself and your projects as you do about the people you are interviewing.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

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.