Introduction to Interactive Digital Media
eBook - ePub

Introduction to Interactive Digital Media

Concept and Practice

Julia Griffey

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  1. 194 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Introduction to Interactive Digital Media

Concept and Practice

Julia Griffey

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About This Book

This book offers a clearly written and engaging introduction to the basics of interactive digital media.

As our reliance on and daily usage of websites, mobile apps, kiosks, games, VR/AR and devices that respond to our commands has increased, the need for practitioners who understand these technologies is growing. Author Julia Griffey provides a valuable guide to the fundamentals of this field, offering best practices and common pitfalls throughout. The book also notes opportunities within the field of interactive digital media for professionals with different types of skills, and interviews with experienced practitioners offer practical wisdom for readers.

Additional features of this book include:

  • An overview of the history, evolution and impact of interactive media;

  • A spotlight on the development process and contributing team members;

  • Analysis of the components of interactive digital media and their design function (graphics, animation, audio, video, typography, color);

  • An introduction to coding languages for interactive media; and

  • A guide to usability in interactive media.

Introduction to Interactive Digital Media will help both students and professionals understand the varied creative, technical, and collaborative skills needed in this exciting and emerging field.

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1 What is Interactive Digital Media?


When I tell people that I teach “interactive digital media,” it is often followed by the question: “what’s that?” Although I’ve become quite accustomed to explaining my field of study, I’m still surprised how many people don’t know what, exactly, interactive digital media is. The definition I think best describes interactive digital media is a computer-driven experience (most often screen based) that facilitates an interaction between the device and a user. Or, as one of my students put it: “you do something to the device (computer, tablet, screen, etc.) and the device does something back,” which I actually think is a good definition too.
An interactive digital media application could be a website, a traditional stand-alone kiosk, an app running on a mobile device, a video game, or a computer/sensor-driven, physical experience in a museum or public space. All are developed with different programming languages, run on different types of hardware and serve very different purposes. However, the common link is that they all facilitate a two-way conversation between the user and the system.


Two words: user interaction. When a user experiences other forms of media, for example, viewing an image, reading text, watching a video or listening to audio, the media does not respond to the user. These forms of media may trigger some sort of response from the user, but the user does not interact with it.
Interactive digital media is also different from other forms of media because it is a non-linear experience. It is unlike video, audio and text which usually have a distinct beginning, middle and end, and users experience the media in a sequential fashion. While some films have a non-linear narrative structure where the ending is shown at the beginning, viewers still experience the film in the same sequence. A classic example is the 2000 film, Memento, which has two plot lines that simultaneously develop in opposite directions, and then join in the final scene. In that sense, the film has a non-linear narrative, but the way the audience experiences the film is controlled by how the film editor put it together.
Every user might have a different experience when using an interactive application. For example, I may open the AroundMe app and start looking for pharmacies, where someone else might pull up AroundMe and look for grocery stores. Even with a fairly straightforward app like AroundMe, the variations of paths users can take are almost infinite. For each user, the experience is dynamic and unique.
There are, however, some portions of interactive digital media applications that are intended to be experienced linearly. For example, in a training application, information is often presented in a linear way if the user needs to understand certain content before moving on to the next module. Another example of a linear experience within interactive digital media is the checkout portion of an e-commerce website. An online shopper must review the cart before entering an address, reviewing the order, adding credit card information, and finally checking out.
Designing interactive digital media experiences that are less prescribed can be quite challenging, because it’s hard to predict user behavior. Oftentimes, people use applications in ways that the designers and developers never considered. Many interactive applications have failed because designers and developers didn’t understand what the users wanted and how they would use the product.
An important step in the interactive application development process is to try to predict how users will use the application. Designers create scenarios such as the ones pictured below to figure out how their application will meet the needs of different types of users.
User scenarios created by one of my students working on an app design project
Sometimes, even despite careful planning, interactive applications fail because users don’t like using them. For example, in 2009, Google launched a product called Google Wave which was intended to simplify group emails. It got a lot of hype and publicity. People were excited to use it, as group emails can often be hard to follow with all the threads and replies. Unfortunately, the application did not live up the hype. It had an overly complicated user interface resulting in a product that merged features of email, instant messages and wikis, but ultimately failed to do anything significantly better than the existing solutions. The developers did not expect the users to be overwhelmed and not use the app, and eventually it went away (Fitzpatrick, 2010).
Google Wave interface
How do interactive digital media developers avoid these pitfalls? One way interactive digital media developers learn how users are going to interact with an application is to do some usability testing during the development process. What that means is that once you have a prototype or a portion of your project done, you give it to representative users to see how they interact with it. This process is intended to point out the flaws and tell you what needs to be fixed. It’s often very surprising to see how users interact with the application you build. It can be disappointing to watch, because what you might have thought was intuitive, may not be to the user. But understanding usability flaws early on in the development cycle is much better than later.
Fortunately, some usability issues can be solved with quick fixes. For example, inconsistent titling can confuse a user. If you call a page an “Order Form” in one location but “Product List” in another, a user will likely be confused. While you may understand that these are one and the same, a user may not.
I inadvertently created a usability issue when developing an e-commerce application by not being explicit in my labeling. This particular e-commerce site had a login area for designers to upload items to sell. Before we launched, designers were logging in and editing their profiles and adding product data. Once I added a customer login, designers reported no longer being able to login. I couldn’t figure out why the login suddenly no longer worked. Finally, I asked a designer for more information about what she was trying to do, and I discovered that she was trying to login via the customer login. Because I had not labeled the customer and the designer logins differently, the designers who had been using the application simply assumed that I created another place for them to login. Fortunately, in this case, it was a pretty easy fix to solve a major usability issue, and I was reminded of how unpredictable users can be.


Since interactive digital media has been in existence, hardware has evolved, triggering the emergence of new forms, uses and modes of interaction which impact the way we communicate, shop, learn and are entertained.

Traditional Stand-Alone Kiosks

A kiosk is a location-specific, interactive (typically touch) screen-based experience that is designed to provide instruction, improve productivity, facilitate communication, deliver entertainment or enable a transaction that is specific to its location. Interactive kiosks were some of the first forms of interactive media to exist, years before the world wide web was even invented. Self-checkout kiosks in grocery stores and pharmacies and airline check-in kiosks are becoming more commonplace as they have been shown to increase productivity (Sabatová et al., 2016). In a museum setting, kiosks are used to engage and inform visitors, adding another dimension of information or proving an experience that relates to the content being presented. These modern touchscreen kiosks can now even facilitate collaborative interactive experiences.
This unique interactive experience in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas uses a multitouch table to allow visitors to design cowgirl-themed objects and see their work on the walls in the space.
Source: © National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and Ideum


A website is a combination of interlinked web pages, all under the same domain name that are displayed within a web browser and accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. Early websites were primarily “brochure-ware,” comprised of a few static pages with some interlinking text, but they became more sophisticated as technology, bandwidth and protocols evolved. In the late 1990s e-commerce sites boomed. Then shortly thereafter, blogs and social media platforms popped up on the world wide web.
Modern websites have evolved significantly since their early counterparts. Because we now access websites from a variety of devices, most websites are designed to be responsive, meaning that their layout and content adapts based on the device that has requested it. This advanced requirement has presented a new challenge to both the web designer and web developer.
The website of the U.S. White House has evolved significantly over the past few decades reflecting changing web technology

Mobile Applications

Mobile applications (or apps) are a distinct form of interactive digital media that emerged after the birth of the modern smartphone. They differ from desktop applications (programs like Microsoft Word that run on your computer) and web applications (specialized programs that run in a web browser), because they are designed to run on a tablet, smartphone or watch and are typically designed to perform a specific task. Some apps come installed on the device such as a web browser or an email program. Other apps must be purchased and downloaded through the app marketplace associated with the device, e.g. the Apple app store for iPhones and iPads.
Apps have grown in popularity since they first became available because they are typically inexpensive, easy to download, update and remove, and provide fun and useful enhancements to a device. Apps can also be developed and sold by anyone with a clever idea and a bit of programming knowhow which ensures continual innovation and always something new and exciting in the app stores.
Apps are sometimes confused with mobile versions of websites, but websites are always viewed within the app browser. Companies often produce apps which have some of the same functionality of the website, but are designed to make certain tasks easier. Savvy companies know that if you download their app, the company can push you notifications such as coupons and reminders to the benefit of their business.

Video Games

A video game is a game that is run off of a computer, mobile device or specialized console where the user interacts with the system using some type of physical controller, sensor or directly touches the screen. The first video games accessible to the general public were housed in casings the size of phone booths and installed in arcades. Pong, released in 1972, is known as the first video game, where the objective was to bat a virtual ball back and forth on the screen. The graphics were simple—black and white—and the game was easy to understand and fun to play (Newman, 2017). Excitement about Pong and the other early video games released in the late 1970s and early 1980s helped to build the arcade culture: kids hanging out at the arcade dropping quarters into video games.
By the late 1970s, video games were available in the home, playable via specialized consoles, the first successful one being the 1977 Atari 2600 (Newman, 2017). Video game consoles have evolved significantly since this time. Over the past 40 years, we have seen several generations of gaming devices come and go, from handheld consoles to the latest, most sophisticated ones that facilitate collaborative game play across the Internet and ones without any controller at all, simply se...

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