Not all multimedia is effective. Just like any other product,
multimedia can suffer from poor design. Well-designed products
should have a cleanly designed interface with intuitive navigation
aids. A product is not going to be useful unless the user has
a short learning curve to learn the interface. Let us look at
a few examples:
Above is a screen shot of an opening interface screen from
a CD called Macromedia Multimedia Showcase. This is a multimedia
product designed to acquaint the user with Macromedia's products.
Notice the background is a collage of art, video and sound equipment.
This imagery attempts to alert the user that the product revolves
around creating multimedia. The title at the top clearly identifies
the product and the means of navigation is a menu straight down
the center of the page which is rather hard to miss.
This menu allows you to jump to the parts of the presentation
that interest you.
Note the icons in the lower left corner. These are for navigating
through the various parts of the presentation after selecting
a main topic from the menu. The icon functions (reverse, pause,
and forward) should be readily understandable to most users
since the designers used a common metaphor to
represent them the controls of a tape player. A metaphor
is a representation of a real world item or idea that conveys
a message to the user. Using the recycle bin in Windows as the
icon for disposing of files makes it easy for many people to
understand the icon's use since they know what a recycle bin
is used for in real life. Try to use real world metaphors as
opposed to abstract ones since they should be understood by
the widest selection of potential users.i
Also, notice the speaker icon at the lower left, which will
allow you to control the volume of the sound on the presentation.
Inclusion of a sound control is vital since users may need to
reduce or eliminate sound volume in certain settings (classroom,
office cubicle environment, etc.) to avoid disturbing others.
There is also a clear way back to the main menu and a clear
method of exiting the program. A good rule of thumb is never
have the user be more than two "clicks" or two screens from
exiting the presentation.
This multimedia product features good clean design and easy
to understand controls on its user interface. Users should not
have to spend a lot of time learning how to use program and
can instead concentrate on the message of the presentation.
Let us look at an animated example of multimedia. An engaging
(and free) multimedia presentation on Adobe GoLive can be found
When clicking on this link you should open the presentation
in another browser window (hold down your shift key while clicking
this causes most browsers to open the link in
another window). When you have arrived at the Adobe site, click
on the first lesson link (Internet Basics and the GoLive environment).
Take a few minutes and review the first dozen screens of the
presentation. Notice the following features that constitute
good multimedia design:
- Optional training on the interface controls on the first
screen You are not forced to go into the tutorial
on the interface controls, but if you cannot figure them out
there is training available. Making this optional saves time
for experienced users.
- Option to turn narration on and off This is
located in the option section. Some people benefit from the
narration as it reinforces learning for them. Other folks
who do not need the narration or find it annoying can turn
it off easily.
- Easy to quit The quit button is on every screen,
making it easy for the user to exit if they need to do so.
- Well illustrated The presentation uses an
actual interface screen shot of the product, which is extremely
helpful when learning a software tool.
- User interaction You are not just sitting
there. The designers get you involved by clicking on the screen
to simulate using the actual product. This should reinforce
the concepts provided by the narrative and the text.
In my opinion, this tutorial is very easy to use and makes
it relatively simple for most people to learn to use the GoLive
product. A lot of design work was put in up front to make this
multimedia product effective.
Multimedia Development Life Cycle
Similar to the software development life cycle, professional
multimedia products are constructed in well-planned phases.
The typical phases are Analysis, Design, Scripting and Production.ii
A brief summation of the activities in each phase follows:
During this phase, extensive meetings with the client are conducted
and the goals of the project are defined. The typical decisions
that need to be made at this stage are definition of the content
of the presentation, identification of the target audience and
the delivery medium for the presentation. Identification of
the target audience is key since learning strategies that are
effective for one type of audience may be ineffective for another
type. Commons types of delivery mediums are the web and CD-ROM.
Decisions on delivery medium involve assessing the types of
hardware, software and operating systems available to the end-users.
Many times, to avoid conflicts, producers of multimedia will
specify minimum hardware requirements for playback of the media.iii
The product of the design phase is a set of blueprints and
a schedule for the developers to follow in completing the product.
Typical tasks in this phase include:
- Design of the instructional framework
- Determine delivery platform
- Inventory available (pre-produced) content and media
- Design the interface
- Assemble a team
- Build a prototype
- Create storyboards
Multimedia projects are usually planned on storyboards before
beginning to produce the project. Storyboards are visual representations
of the various screens in the program that show positioning
of media, content and navigational aids. They can be hand drawn
or computer generated (PowerPoint is a decent tool for creating
storyboards). The storyboards do not contain actual media and
content (unless it is pre-existing), but rather have placeholders
for media and content. They are the blueprints from which the
media producers, programmers and graphic artists will work when
developing the product. Below is an example of a storyboard
for the opening screen of an online faculty orientation program.
The green boxes indicate actions that will need to be taken
by team members.
Once the project is designed and the project team assembled,
the next phase can proceed.
Complete specifications are developed for all components of
the multimedia production at this stage. Narrative is written
for all screens. Scripts are written for audio and video talent.
Often a catalog of media resources (both existing and required)
is assembled for each screen of the project. Nothing is left
to chance at this stage. Every detail is set down on paper so
there will be no misunderstandings among team members. The scripts
serve as the blueprints that will be followed to create the
project in the last phase.
In this phase all media is produced or purchased according
to the scripts. Media elements are integrated into the final
product with the authoring tool chosen. The system is thoroughly
tested, bugs are fixed, a beta test is conducted with the client,
final revisions are made, media is replicated and the product
is distributed to the end users.
Multimedia Software Tools
When arranging for multimedia design training, design theory,
artistic composition and human computer interaction (HCI) courses
should be included in the curriculum you follow. In addition,
you will need training on popular software packages used to
create and edit multimedia elements. Macromedia (www.macromedia.com)
and Adobe (www.adobe.com)
are the two largest software companies that produce multimedia
development software. Reviewing their web sites periodically
for new product information, upgrade information and downloads
of demonstration versions of software products is a worthwhile
In addition to software packages that manipulate multimedia
elements, you should also be proficient in the use of authoring
software. Authoring software is a type of software that makes
it easy for you to manage all types of multimedia elements and
weave them into a full-fledged multimedia presentation.
Below are lists of popular multimedia software packages organized
by software type.
Text Manipulation Tools Obviously, a word processing
package such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect is a necessity.
If you have large amounts of printed text that is not in electronic
format, you should probably also consider investing in optical
character recognition software (OCR). OCR software, in conjunction
with a flatbed scanner and a computer will turn printed characters
into ASCII format text that can be manipulated by your word
processor. You will not get any of the formatting from the printed
page, but you will save an awful lot of typing.
Painting and Drawing Tools Painting software,
such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, PicturePublisher and Fractal
Design Painter, are used to create bitmap images. Painting programs
blend 2-D bit-mapped graphics with an interface that mimics
brush canvas techniques used by live painters.iv
Drawing software, such as CorelDraw, FreeHand, Illustrator,
Designer and Canvas, is dedicated to producing vector-based
line art.v Artistic skill and creativity are required
to create your own images with these packages.
Image Editing Software Popular packages are Adobe
Photoshop, Macromedia Fireworks, Paint Shop Pro, Microsoft Photo,
Photoshop LE and Photoshop Elements. Using these software packages
allows you to open images in a variety of formats, resize them,
modify the colors and elements, combine them with other images,
add text and graphics, compress them, and save them in a variety
Animation Software Everyone seems to love motion
these days, especially on the web. Many software packages can
do animation to varying degrees. Fireworks, Flash, QuickTime
Pro, Cinema 4D, and Photoshop are widely used.vii
Live Motion is a product recently introduced by Adobe that is
gaining market share and popularity, especially because of its
tight integration with Photoshop.
Sound Software Recording and editing sound effects
and narratives can be accomplished (to varying degrees) with
the following packages: SoundRecorder, SimpleSound, SoundEdit,
Sony Sound Forge, Adobe Audition, Audacity, CoolEdit Pro,
QuickTime Pro Player and Flash.viii
SoundRecorder is included as part of the Windows environment.
SimpleSound comes standard in the Macintosh operating system.
Although SoundRecorder and SimpleSound do not have as many features
as some of the other packages, they are provided free with your
operating system. Audacity is an Open Source audio editor, that can
be downloaded for free from the web. Audacity has the advantage of
being cross-platform, and is available for the Windows, Macintosh,
and Linux operating systems. The Audacity web site is
Web Page Development Software Macromedia Dreamweaver,
Adobe GoLive and Pagemill, Microsoft FrontPage and Visual Interdev
are popular web page development packages. Since so much multimedia
is deployed on the web today, you should be familiar with at
least one of these packages.
Video Software Edit DV and Adobe Premiere and
After Effects are typical consumer-level products. You will
most likely find training for these products at community colleges
and art schools. Higher end (translation: expensive) editing
solutions are Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro and Media 100.ix
Authoring Software Leading packages are Click
2 Learn's ToolBook and Macromedia Director and Authorware.