When we produced our first multimedia campaign together, we quickly realized that our old way of building content would no longer fly. Trying to fit yesterday’s process into today’s sophisticated content model is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Content is increasingly multidimensional – built around videos, interactive data visualizations, parallax features, first person interviews, and a journalistic approach to storytelling. More complex content unfolds in more complex ways.
I (John) realized that my team of developers needed to understand what actually happens in a story building process. I (Jessica) realized that storytellers often need to see content come to life before deciding how effective the story actually is.
We are just two people – a technologist and a content editor – on a rather sophisticated content team of specialists. Our worlds, coding and narratives, are very different. But our work is becoming more interdependent, and our teaming structures cannot afford to lag behind.
Here’s how content is changing and how teams can adapt for emerging media.
Imagine a Model T assembly line. That line is what the traditional process for creating content looks like. In a linear development process, workflow passes from discipline to discipline. Designers draw the wireframes, producers draft the content, and everything gets passed to the developers. Each person builds upon the last. And once a decision is made, changing it can be costly. As Content Science found in their study What Makes Content Teams Thrive, operating in silos no longer works.
However, today’s multi-dimensional, sophisticated content (think T Brand Studio) is tightly connected. For example, what if you plan a wireframe around a show-stopping interview, but the on-camera discussion with a subject matter expert falls flat? What if you build a data visualization around data that suddenly becomes obsolete?
Teams need to prepare and have the ability to shift their plans if the story heads in a different direction.
A filmmaking process is more appropriate for today’s emerging content. In filmmaking, there are phases of pre-production, production, editing, and publishing. Team members are involved at every phase, asking questions like “What are the shots? Who are the cast of characters? What does production design look like? What does the set look like? How does it all live together? If we remove one scene, will it make others obsolete? Where are we getting the best engagement? What is the best sequence for user experience?”
Working together in phases helps teams manage expectations and build an understanding of the workload required to make changes along the way.
Agile is traditionally a developer’s word, but content teams would do well to adopt it, too. The agile process is meant to deal with erratic, unpredictable development, so it works well for emerging content in all of its complexity.
In a traditional development process, a content creator tasks a development team to produce one or two interactive components that go unseen until the final round of review. But in a collaborative and agile fashion, developers and technologists work with their teams to produce conceptual interactions using tools such as CodePen that illustrate the possibilities.
The traditional waterfall process that dictates sequential steps is too slow to react to an editorial calendar that may change as its subject matter shifts. Instead, developers must work in parallel and collaboratively with their larger content teams to make it possible to produce rich, interactive content around erratic and aggressive editorial calendars.
Usability testing will be honest in relaying how a user experiences a story (where content is confusing and where it’s working really well). Storytellers must be willing to move the plot lines in order to make the interactive experience work – the story goals have to match user-centered design thinking.
Content teams are built around specialists, but those experts must be able to speak each others’ languages. Multi-disciplinary study is more important than ever. Whether through a series of employee-led internal workshops at your company (like Coding 101 or How to Conduct an Interview) or formal training opportunities through conference workshops, content teams should become dedicated learners of one another’s disciplines. In the same way movie directors work with their teams to build out animatics (digital or hand-animated storyboards), content creators must be comfortable brainstorming interactive content with developers.
Without a new team approach, your content production process is likely to be slow, poor in quality, or expensive. Content is changing. And it’s time for teams to adapt.
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