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Look for The Magic Bullet that connects story and form

Think hard about the ACTIVE verbs of the story, and let those verbs inform the interactive mechanism of the story. My former colleague Dana Dansereau at the NFB calls this ‘finding the magic bullet.’ I think of it as looking for a safety pin that attaches story & content to form. This should not be accidental, or left to chance.

This is a project the NFB Digital Studio did with The Guardian newspaper. It’s about what SIN looks like in the digital age. Everything from greedily amassing followers on Twitter, to slothfully clicking a button to save the rainforest, instead of chaining yourself to a tree. We talked to a bunch of Canadian & British celebrities about their online ‘sins;’ people like Mary Walsh, Billy Bragg, Jon Ronson, and so on. So what is the user experience, over and above video interviews with some well-known people about their online habits? What takes it beyond a video gallery? We needed to really find that elusive element that would connect story to form. In this case we thought heavily about the language of sin, and the moral ‘weighing’ that we all do every day. The team decided to design an experience where the user is put in the position of either ‘absolving or ‘condemning’ an online behavior, in real time. Note that the terms used are consistent with the theme. Users can then see how their moral response to something compares to that of other users, percentage-wise. So the project takes a kind of collective moral pulse, while sharing individual stories. Like a participatory group confession booth.

Another elegant marriage of story & form. The basic story is about the problem of over-population on earth & the principle of exponential growth. Environmentalist David Suzuki illustrates this idea with the analogous example of bacteria multiplying in a jar. In one hour bacteria gradually multiply – then – exponentially in the last minute – their population explodes. They exhaust all their food supply, and die. So the user experience rather sassily begins by asking you – what would YOU do if you had 1 extra minute? Helping you think about the value of time, of life. You enter a word – say “sleep” and then as you watch David Suzuki talk, the screen fills up with tweets that use the word ‘sleep’. They are animated, and gradually increase, like multiplying bacteria. At the end you get to compare your response to that of others, driving home the ‘we’re all in this jar together’ message.

We could have gone further with this. I would love to create an ipad app where every time you even touched the screen you set off a population explosion of animated twitter bacteria – and maybe actually sent something out at the same time into the twitter-verse, to help promote the project. Maybe some day…

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