Relentless, Justin Smith’s film about our student formula racing team, marks a major change in how we do online storytelling. We’ll be releasing the film on the web this Saturday, and hundreds of race fans and other teams are already queued up to see it as soon as it launches.

It’s a strong, compelling piece that has already earned both a commercial award at CASE (our higher ed industry PR/marketing professional organization) and an artistic award at the Reel Wheel International Film Festival in Knoxville, Iowa. Like our formula team, the film is two for two in competition. And it straddles the line between marketing content and pure entertainment.

On stage at OMSI
Web Comm filmmaker Justin Smith on stage with the OSU formula students at OMSI's IMAX theater

We’re pursuing deeper storytelling for several reasons. First, we have a talented filmmaker on staff. But also, times have changed. You can’t load marketing content onto your YouTube channel and hope that people will choose to watch it. Your feature content needs to stand on its own and provide either entertainment or educational value in the opt-in environment of the Web. We need to find new ways to tell stories.

We probably could have created dozens or even hundreds of short YouTube videos in the time it took to make Relentless. But we’re betting that we’ll make deeper connections with the results of this project because it’s a great story told in a compelling fashion.

I feel there’s a strong case for investing in this type of feature documentary content. Universities and even corporations are filled with great stories. And a well made film can be used in a number of ways beyond Web streaming. We’ve created nice packaging for this film and used it as giveaways for our engineering alums who come back to campus to receive awards. We’ve held three events, two on campus and one at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, where there was a sizable crowd of family, friends, prospective students and race and auto fans. There was even a troop of Boy Scouts in attendance, and we hope a future engineer or two in the group. These events were bolstered by a display of the car and a Q&A with the team after the film’s screening.

Beyond events and online streaming, we’ll also be sending copies of the film to high school robotics clubs. We’ll be screening it for recruits, staff and alums in the future. A film project like this is a powerful format, and I think it’ll have a future in the work we do as communicators.

— David

Last week I got a chance to attend An Event Apart in Seattle, here are some of my notes from the event, a lot was covered, these are just a few things that jumped out at me:

Jeffrey Zeldman – Content First!

  • Content is a design problem. Our designs are often hostile to content.
  • Design that doesn’t serve people doesn’t serve business.
  • Designers may no longer control the visual experience (referring to add-ons like Readibility)
  • Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
  • Responsive and mobile are creating a new interaction design landscape that puts users and content first.

Jon Tan – Big Type, Little Type

  • Good typography induces a good mood, users lose track of time, don’t mind it if it takes longer to perform a task.
  • Test typography in the worst environment.
  • Typesetting should help reading, not interrupt or distract.
  • There are no rules, just good decisions.
  • Design spaces where stories can be told.
  • Type shapes our experience. It paints pictures that echo in our memory long after we’ve left.

Kim Goodwin – Silo-Busting with Scenarios

  • Get clients to root for the user.
  • Think beyond site, consider all experiences.
  • 3 reasons to use scenarios first:
    • Excited team = better UX
    • Humans are not just system components, we empathize with emotions frustrations, hopes and dreams.
    • Silos = Worse UX
  • Add something unexpectedly good.

Scott Berkun – The Five Most Dangerous Ideas

  • Everyone is a designer.
  • You have no power.
  • Whoever uses the most jargon has the least confidence in their ideas.
  • The generalists are in charge.
  • If there are more than 5 people in the room, you have less power than you think.
  • You work in sales (regardless of your job title).
  • Creativity is risk.

Karen McGrane – Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content

  • NPR’s API – create once publish everywhere. Displayed different across devices, content is the same. NPR page views grew over 80%.
  • Magazine tablet apps are just a snapshot of print version, the web is not print. Ipad magazine sales are declining.
  • TV guide created adaptive content before the web even existed, they were creating multiple length descriptions for TV shows.
  • Metadata is the new art direction.
  • Metadata supports personalized content.

Ethan Marcotte – Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves

  • Solve the parts, not the whole problem.
  • “Chaos was the law of nature, order was the dream of man” – Henry Adams
  • A responsive design has a flexible foundation.
  • We should start treating layout as an enhancement.
  • Let’s embrace the entropy.
  • Simplify before you suppress.
  • We’ve been focused too much on columns, let’s refocus on content.
  • Start with the smallest part.
  • If something is not necessary on small screen, why keep on desktop version.

Simon Collison – A Philosophy of Restraint

  • We design to communicate and we seek emotive responses.
  • We don’t design web pages, we design systems.
  • Avoid misplaced vernacular and cliche, makes your design look stupid.
  • You don’t have to avoid complexity, avoid creating the impression of complexity, make it more manageable.
  • Don’t have to reveal everything, let audience fill in gaps, pause and think.
  • CMS template vs. editorial, used to be able to tell story with design.
  • Unleash complexity in orchestrated phases, and increase power gradually.

Luke Wroblewski –  Mobile to the Future

  • Mobile should not be a dumbed down version of desktop.
  • “…copy, extend, and finally, discovery of a new form. It takes a while to shed old paradigms.” -Scott Jenson
  • Do little things to make it easier, reduce mistakes.
  • Login screens – don’t remove critical features, show passwords by default.
  • Our focus on layout keeps us from seizing big opportunities on mobile.
  • Keep people on keyboard, consolidate input fields.

Whitney Hess – What’s Your Problem? Putting Purpose Back into Your Projects

  • Relying on best practices doesn’t make sites useful. No one size fits all
  • Leave the desk to find the problem.
  • Market research – what people like (doesn’t tell you who they are) vs. user research – what people do
  • Rarely ask about the product/company, get to know user, who they are what they need.
  • Specialize in the problem, not the solution.
  • Personas – categorizing people based on aspirations, personality, not based on demographics
  • Don’t use jargon use own words make it easy to understand the problem.
  • Don’t try to be good at it all, pick one “why” or problem
  • Understand the problem before devising the solution.
  • Sometimes there are no problems to solve, find out if there is one to begin with.

Jared Spool – The Curious Properties of Intuitive Web Pages

  • Unintuitive design – something that’s invisible becomes visible.
  • Design for gap between current knowledge and target knowledge.
  • Visual design – not about aesthetics, more about placement & organization.
  • Techniques for uncovering knowledge:
    • Field Visits – go to your users and see them work. Helps identify who the users are and their current knowledge.
    • Usability Tests – watch people use your design. Helps identify the target knowledge and ideal solutions
    • Paper Prototyping – testing early workflow & process ideaspaper prototyping.
  • Intuitive Design is how we give our users new superpowers
  • Intuitive designs are when what the user knows matches what they need to know
  • Identify current knowledge and target knowledge for your design
    • Train the user to grow their current knowledge
    • Simplify the design to reduce the design’s target knowledge