In with the old: the art of interactive storytelling

Jonathan Richards spent more than a decade in the world of traditional media as a reporter for UK paper The Guardian, most recently as interactive editor.

Now he’s made the leap into a shiny new world, becoming team lead for Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney, but the principles of traditional storytelling are as important as ever in the interactive realm, he says.

Richards told the Axis speaker event yesterday that Google’s Creative Lab explored the limits of what the web could do, but still loved old media.

“You can’t discount the millennia of storytelling that has come before,” Richards said. “Some have become very ingrained and powerful and you ignore them at your peril. We work with what we know as well as looking forward.”

Some of the best examples of interactive storytelling gave the viewer an immersive experience using rich media, he said. “Old media, like video and text, done well can be extraordinarily powerful and some of the news organisations are the best on the web here”

An example of this was the New York Timesinteractive content focusing on the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The Guardian team had learned a lot about interactive storytelling from producing Firestorm the digital project that told the story of a devastating bushfire in Tasmania.

“We wanted to capture that content and allow someone to move through it at a pace that felt natural,” said Richard. “We worked with great video footage and text and graphics. We talked a lot about the advanced mechanic, the way you move through a story.

“You get this sense of a place that you’re in and a rich, full-screen experience. It was a fun experiment in how to let media breathe in this context.”

Technological intervention shouldn’t happen at the expensive of good storytelling, Richards said. “People love the kinds of experiences they can have and if technology plays a role it should be to add to and augment an existing experience in a delightful way.”

Technology could also be used to empower a user in the way they navigated a story. The Guardian used this technique with the Pontifficator, an interactive tool to choose a pope from among 115 candidates ahead of the election of Pope Francis.

“I’ve always believed there’s something very compelling about the old and the way in which it’s used in new contexts,” Richards said. He added the ‘Carousel’ pitch scene from Mad Men summed up the power of nostalgia in a brand story.


Image: theguardian.com

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