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.
- What qualities should I be looking for that aren’t already on my list?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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 email@example.com), and I’ll compile them in a future post. By that time, I may also hope to share some of my own experiences.