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7th Floor Media has been thinking seriously about interactive digital media for culture and education for over 20 years. Here on our much less formal blog, staff discuss discoveries and issues that arise from the fascinating work they do. This is 7FM "outside the box," where ideas and opinions are set free.

You are invited - nay, encouraged - to participate in the conversation.

Archive for 'Julie Zilber'

Kid’s Online: It’s not whether they’ll be there, but what they’ll be doing

By Julie Zilber on January 21st, 2010

A colleague recently forwarded me a link to an article in the NY Times entitled If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online. The article reported on the results of a study conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation on the amount of time American kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend using some form of media (defined as TV content, music/audio, computers (including mobile devices), video games, print and movies).

The key finding of the study, as reported in the article, is that kids in this age group spend on average more than 7.5 hours per day with these devices and, because they’re often multi-tasking, this equates to an average of 11 hours of “media time” daily.

A couple of findings in the study will undoubtedly be pointed to by those individuals who believe that time spent watching television or videos, using computers, or playing video games has negative consequences for youth. The study identified a correlation between poor academic performance and heavy media use (47% of those who used media more than 16 hours per day averaged C’s or less compared to 23% who used media for no more than 3 hours daily). Furthermore, the NY Times article states, “The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.”

Gasp! I can hear it now: “Heavy media use causes poor academic performance and social and emotional problems,” says the Fox News commentator, ignoring what is, in my opinion, the most import line in the NY Times article:

“The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.”

As I was reading the article, this need to distinguish between correlation and causation was nagging at me. Do these findings say something about the effects of media consumption, or – more likely – suggest that the kind of family that regulates media usage is probably highly involved and concerned in their kids’ lives? Let’s face it, in today’s society limiting your kid’s exposure to media to less than 3 hours per day requires active intervention on the part of parents and guardians.

More importantly, whether we like it or not, we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle. I agree with the pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital Boston quoted in the NY Times article: with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.” The question is not whether kids should use media, but: given that kids will use media – how can we identify and support uses that will have a positive impact on their lives?

Why is there no definition for “takeaway”?

By Julie Zilber on November 5th, 2009

JulieZIn conceptualizing content –rich web sites, interactive exhibits, mobile learning applications and other digital interactive media, a key question we always need to answer is: What is the takeaway? In other words, if a user only takes away one idea or concept from this interaction, what should it be? We know it’s critical to clearly define takeaways. Lovely as it is to imagine that users will spend extended periods of time exploring our content in depth, the reality is that most users will touchdown briefly on a web site, or pause for a short time at an interactive exhibit in a museum setting. In a world of “continuous partial attention”, where users are bombarded with a constant stream of distractions and are continuously paying “partial attention in an effort NOT TO MISS ANYTHING” (Linda Stone), it is essential that we focus on our key message and communicate that message clearly and powerfully. That message, the one idea or concept or impulse that the user will take away from his or her interaction with what we have created, is the takeaway.

Now I know this is not a unique use of the term. If I do a Google search on the term “takeaways” (or “take-aways”), I’ll get a list of results like this:

Takeaways

Obviously these folks are using “takeaway” in the sense I am: the important concept or idea that sticks with you from a presentation, event, publication or experience. Yet when I search online – (for example at dictionary.com, thefreedictionary.com, wordnet, answers.com, Wikipedia, etc.) – this usage is no-where to be found. What gives? And given that there doesn’t seem to be an established definition for this usage, how about this one:

Takeaway ( n. ) (also, Take-away): the key concept, idea or message that an individual retains following an experience.

Who needs your web site?

By Julie Zilber on October 19th, 2009

Julie ZilberPeople often throw around terms such as “needs assessment”, “requirements gathering”, and “user experience design” (or UX Design!). I confess that I am as guilty of this as others – after all, it’s a big part of what I do. But what do those terms really mean when you’re talking about developing web sites or other interactive digital media for education and culture? And why are they important?

Here’s an exchange that took place with a major organization with an informal public education mandate during a discussion about a web site it was planning. We had – after much discussion – come to the conclusion that the primary audience/users of this web site would be K-12 teachers:

Me:  What is that teachers need?

Client:  They need a web site that does X.

Me: Hmm. Why do teachers need a web site that does X?

Client: Well, because otherwise they can’t do X.

Me: But why would they want to do X?

Client: Because their students will find it interesting?

Me: What difference does it make if their students find it interesting?

Client: Well, they’ll pay more attention and learn the concepts better.

Me: Okay. I’m going to keep pushing a bit here. Why do the teachers care if the students learn these concepts?

Client: That’s one of the requirements in the Ministry of Education’s Provincial Learning Outcomes.

Me: Ah. So teachers need their students to learn these concepts in order to meet the learning outcomes required by the Ministry of Education?

Client: Yes.

Me: Okay, then, how is this web site going to help them learn those concepts?

I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has told me that their target users “need a web site.” Of course, no-one needs a web site. People need to eat, to sleep, to be healthy, to feel safe, to form relationships, and many other things. But no-one needs a web site (or a mobile application, or an interactive installation). It’s like the pair of 3” stiletto heels on sale in the shoe store. Who “needs” a pair of 3” stiletto heels? – they hurt your feet, they’re hard to walk in, they’re dangerous, they slow you down. No-one needs them. But maybe the young woman who buys them needs to look sexy in order to attract a guy she likes. Now that is a real need. (Especially if you’re a lot younger than I am.)

Audiences and needs may be internal or external – or both.  There may be multiple audiences or user types, and each one will have needs: or at least they’d better have needs – and you’d better understand them. Otherwise, you can be pretty well guaranteed that you’re going to spend a lot of time, energy and resources creating something that won’t be used.

There are a variety of ways of getting at user needs, and different approaches are suited to different stages of the conceptual and development process. I’ve found that when you proceed from a real understanding of what your intended audience/user needs, it drives everything from how you describe what you’re creating to content, organization, technology, functionality, tone, language and look-and-feel.

Here are a couple of links to sites where I think it’s clear the people responsible have really thought through the needs of their audience/users:

Translink:  Okay, maybe you think it’s obvious what the needs of transit users are. But this site does a really good job of making it easy for transit users to get the information they need quickly and easily. – And to illustrate that it’s not as obvious as you might think, contrast the Translink site with the web site for New York City Transit.

MSNBC TV:  Not perfect, but pretty darn good. The folks at MSNBC TV know what people coming to their  site want – entertaining editorial news. If they’re fans of a particular show, they want to get right to the latest video from those shows. If their interests are topic based, they want to get right to those topics. Within the sub-sites for each program, the video window allows users to clearly see what’s available, what’s playing, what’s up next, and choose a different video. The main navigation allows users to jump to regular features of that program, link to related programs, or search for specific items. At the bottom of each page are more in-depth or interactive content such as blogs, commentaries, host bios, and twitter feeds for the dedicated fan.

I’d be really interested in hearing about your examples of web sites or interactive digital media that you think really reflect an understanding of audience/user needs.