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Of Mice & Multimedia

May 4th, 2008 by Ted Bailey

Bertrand Russell once wrote “The mind is a strange machine which can combine the materials offered to it in the most astonishing ways.” When mice and man (not to be confused with Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”) combine, many buzzwords get bounced around like so many ping-pong balls. Of these, one of the more popular buzzwords today is “multimedia”. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of confusion about precisely what “multimedia” is and why “it” is so exciting and important.

Many of us have had the opportunity, at one time or another, to work with someone who can’t quite seem to explain specifically what they want… but “will know it when they see it!”. Multimedia is similar in that it is difficult to specifically define… but we all seem to “know it when we see it!”.

Contrary to what the buzzword might imply, Multimedia isn’t a single ‘thing’ that may be purchased from the local computer mart shelves. Multimedia is more a computer- supported cooperative environment of business, industry, education, art, entertainment, technology and more. Multimedia offers unparalleled and unprecedented power to enable people to share information and ideas irrespective of their geographical location.

Welcome to the “Age of the Information Theatre” or as futurist / author Naisbitt coined, the “Tele-Humanic” age. If information is to be the “fuel of the future” of this age, then the role of the multimedia designer will be to converge the best of ALL the communication arts into an “experience” for the participant.

So Why is Multimedia so important?

Compared to reading, we receive only 7% of our information from the meaning of the actual words during day-to-day face-to-face conversation “experiences.” Another 38% is derived from the vocal inflections and nearly 55% comes from various visual cues. Multimedia takes its lead from this natural communication “experience” and merges the interactivity of a computer with the audiovisual power of television, creating a dynamic new communications vehicle. So dynamic, in fact, that it is being referred to as a paradigm shift in communications. Multimedia creates a media-rich environment that transforms the knowledge-seeker, be it student or corporate employee, from a passive recipient of information to an active participant enbarking on a self-directed journey of discovery.

A Department of Defense study found that interactive video instruction improved learning an average of 38% over conventional methods. Our own local research with learning disabled students, which indicate nearly a 28% improvement, support the DOD’s findings. Additionally, the DOD study suggests that the length of time required to achieve competency was reduced an average of 31% – and in nearly all cases, interactive was less costly than conventional to develop, maintain and deliver.

Multimedia used in direct marketing programs can generate two (2) to five (5) times the response of print. According to the Direct Marketing Association, successful print campaigns typically generate a 1-2 percent response rate. Interactive multimedia brochures have been found to elicit a response rate from a relative low of 12% to a high of 50% and greater. Knight Ridder found that users of its electronic marketing videotext catalogs purchased not only more frequently but at higher sales volumes during each transaction as well.

That pretty much states the case for multimedia’s excitement and importance, but just what is “it.” Multimedia development/production can be reduced to three topical areas:

  • Image and Sound Acquisition (Collection)
  • Image and Sound Processing (Production)
  • Image and Sound Output (Distribution)

Aquisition covers such areas as; electronic photography, digital and analog video, various scanning equipment and graphic design. The processing component includes; electronic publishing, computer graphics, desktop video, and animation. Output concerns itself more with video displays and storage related topics such as CD-ROM (as well as CD-I, CD-TV, and P-CD), laser disk and other hybrids when available as well as web publishing. And of course, its the designers’ job to weave all of these together into something that is effective, functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Multimedia demands an expanded sense of awareness to a great many more issues and requires us to cultivate AND use more of our basic senses… and maybe, more importantly, our imagination. Kris Kringle (in the movie Miracle on 34th Street) said, “…you’ve heard of the French and Russian Nations? Well, the ImagiNation is a wonderful place to be!” Einstein once said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He did not say, however, that it was a replacement. Multimedia brings into concert the diverse contributions of many knowledgeable and creative people such as researchers, writers, graphic designers, animation artists, programmers, performance artists, engineers, musicians and even behavioural and human-ergonomic scientists.

The boundaries between art, science and technology are becoming increasingly blurred. Just as we were led out of the agricultural society by the hands of the industrial designer, so too will today’s information designer shape the future of the next decade… in ways that will astonish us!


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