Editing for Interactive Media
April 21, 1998
As with remodeling a kitchen, designing a Web site or CD-ROM entails compromises, observed editor John Boykin during his presentation on editing for interactive media. Ideally, you want to design lots of great experiences for users. But in practice, budgets usually limit how many dazzling—and thus expensive—things you can afford to do. There are always cheaper, easier ways, and budgets tend to push you toward those.
Boykin, a former editor at Stanford Magazine, designed BAEF's Web site and has four years of experience with interactive media for the Web and CD-ROMs. Compared with print, the advantage of publishing on the Web lies in ease of distribution and updating. Electrons are free but paper is not. Disadvantages include design limitations and readers' short attention spans. "The Web is a great way to give away information and a bad way to sell information," John said. He demonstrated a site he designed to market a Santa Cruz bed-and-breakfast.
Because users can set preferences in their browsers, the Web designer has minimal control over what a Web page will look like on users' screens. Web pages are often slow to load, so it helps to use small graphics and let users click on them to see enlargements of ones they're interested in. The larger the graphic (or animation or sound file or video), the slower it will download—and the quicker the audience will lose patience and move on to another Web site.
Editors, he said, are often dependent on "techies whose agenda is whiz-bang technology." Text editing is not prized in this field; visual editing is the key. It's the editor's role to press for clarity and organization of content. The technology need not be in the vanguard: A Web site does need to be engaging, but the Web is a poor form of entertainment. An editor thinks through and organizes material, often from that "old-fashioned outline we all learned in fourth grade." Poor navigation within a Web site is the surest way to lose visitors.
Web surfers stray or get lost easily. Boykin makes sure visitors can reach the content with as few clicks as necessary. He uses tables of contents to organize the overall site and sometimes to organize subsections. He makes sure his home page links are easy to find. Web site designers walk a fine line between placing enough clickable buttons on a site so information is easy to find and placing so many buttons that the user becomes confused. Hyperlinks must be convenient and may be placed at the top and bottom of a page and between sections. External links are helpful to users, but the downside is that, once users clicks on one, they may never come back to your site. Boykin asks for permission and a mutual link before placing an external link.
When adapting video and sound for CD-ROM use, Boykin keeps the users' experience in mind. He emphasized the importance of having the scriptwriter in the studio when voice-overs are recorded, to make sure they are read correctly. He demonstrated a CD-ROM on intermediate macroeconomics in which clever animations—fish, growing stacks of dollar bills, alligators, race horses, chessboards, a Coke bottle, as well as a video clip of proliferating E. coli bacteria used to illustrate hyperinflation—engage his audience and illustrate the author's points.