Bart Marable is an interactive designer that works independently with a variety of teams. He is currently the owner of his own company, Terra Incognita. For years he has been working with interactives since his years as a student. Intending to teach, he actually ended up becoming an interactive designer and pursued his creative outlet. With his background in research and mini projects in history, he has been able to work with interactive storytelling and online exhibits. His specialties include, interactive design, user experience design, information architecture, interpretive design, and museum media.
Making Mobile vs. Traditional Online Exhibits
The entire process itself is fairly similar to the core processes used on any project. What he’s found is that the projects that he works with have a core process that can be adapted to the individual idiosyncrasies of a particular projects. None are the same, but are similar. Bart mentions that these processes are divided into two phases.
- Design phase – clarify strategies and requirements. Explore different approaches. From functional to visual graphic design. Outline any tech or design specs.
- Production phase- building phase where you implement the design and bring it to life
This core phase can migrate from project to project even though the platform could be different. Website vs. touchscreens and mobile can all be different. He mentioned these experiences are related but not twins, but more like cousins where you have a lot of shared content and experiences. Overall, they can be different depending on platform. They require different approaches to the user experience. The core process usually remains the same.
Is There a Bigger Social Aspect to Mobile?
Bart said it really depends on app. It’s smaller as far as content. What you are looking for in a mobile app, is that its more focused and directed, so it’s very surgical in its approach. The web however, can allow for deeper exploration. There are definitely opportunities for social interaction with mobile around the device. For example, in his National Park app, there is an invitation to be social with a photo taking interactive which can be shared online.
Request for Proposals (RFP’s)
Responding to a RFP is how he undertakes new work. They take a lot of forms from e-mails to extensive designs. He will sometimes be approached by a vendor saying that they have already created a design and feel like they are comfortable with it and are looking for someone to develop it. Or they’ll approach him in a way that’s like – “Here, this is what we want” and Bart will have to develop the concept design. The hardest ones to respond to from a developer and designers perspective is something that is vague or a not clear scope of work. He describes that as being pretty challenging. When ultimately choosing a project to take on, he likes to invest a lot of thought and time in doing it because it involves a lot of resources and time in the end.
Challenges With Certain RFP’s
He mentioned it’s always a risky undertaking preliminary concept work. He has found that you either hit it out of the park where you understand the concept or you miss the mark. It’s just as likely that it may undermine what designers can bring to the table. It’s about designing something that meets objectives and is a clear and compelling engaging experience. Sometimes it’s clear that the museum knows what they want, other times they say they know they want to do an online exhibition and ask his team to design it. It’s varied. The most successful projects he’s taken are ones that the client has put a lot of thought into the groundwork of what they want, what resources, etc.
Meeting Audience Needs
You want to create experiences that are enjoyable by multiple audience types. Either people come in knowing very little about a subject or are “experts”. He found that the types of experiences that they are looking for are different. Either they want to be told a story, or you deal with an advanced, more knowledgeable user looking for specifics. So the idea is to create an experience that can work on multiple levels and allow for deeper exploration. When talking about search needs, he said that there is this sort of movement towards a less deep solid, monolithic experience. It’s more toward the creation of smaller modular experiences and creating an experience so people can have micro-stories. What you want is to turn a visitor from someone who is to a lean back visitor to a lean forward visitor where they are hooked to the story you are telling. You want to encourage them to search more.
Juggling Needs of Physical and Online Users
In exhibition based websites that have attached physical exhibits, you find there is some pre and post visit emphasis. Exploring beforehand or following up is something that is important to the institutions, but take different philosophies on it. Some put everything from the exhibition online plus extra info and have more content than the physical site would. Some would do the opposite which are more selective of what they would put online. Bart thinks it’s beneficial for visitors to do the former because it’s hard to absorb everything while at a physical museum. Having extra things online can help that. Also, the online-exhibitions can outlast the physical. He made aware of the fact that the mystery of the artifact is something that you can’t replace online. Online exhibits have certain limitations such as this, but so does the physical site and its something that can be hard to overcome.
Evaluation/Testing: Using Internal or External Sources?
Depends on the project. Budget limitations lead to internal staff or visitors to test something. It’s pretty reliable from what he’s found as far as limitations. Beta versions are good to test user interaction and how clear everything is. The testing process can involve going to the field to work on accessibility and to overcome other challenges. They found this guerilla testing more effective rather than something such as focus groups or evaluations. This will depend on the experience but for story based projects he’s found this testing most effective. It can take weeks to get results. The key is that you don’t want to do it to late. So test early. Things can come up that you do not anticipate. This goes for user and internal testing as well. Do this during the later part of your design phase.
Visit his site at http://www.terraincognita.com
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