The Emerging Media master's program focuses on interactive digital media through project-based classes that include design, development, storytelling, strategy, data analytics, brand identity, user research, product ideation and management, and emerging technologies.
EMERGING MEDIA SUMMARY:
I began with new media production, which was an intensive four-week study in basic website development. We started with the simple task of setting up our own web hosting service, and learned the essentials of file/folder management and ftp uploading. Many of the lessons in the first module felt simple at first, but I was amazed how many things I did on autopilot and never actually knew WHY they needed to be done a certain way.
The New Media Design class was a unique experience for me. Partly because I have been designing for 16 years, and partly because I actually exempted the class and took on various TA duties. The class covered a variety of topics, such as designer/client relationships, aesthetics, color theory, typography, photography, layout, and even logo design. Students were required to learn a basic understanding of Adobe XD, Illustrator, and Photoshop. As TA, I assisted with grading, answering student questions, and facilitating classroom communication. I also stepped in as partner for a student who had no one for a two-week project. I created a style guide and responsive website for Ashleigh Hinesley’s boutique photography portfolio.
Rich Media Production centered around iOS app development and I loved it! Following the Mastering SwiftUI workbook, we started at the very beginning with “Hello World,” and quickly learned the basics to start building projects for ourselves. Much like HTML, CSS, and JS, we had to grasp a general understanding of another language and how it related to the different functions. The big picture of how structs and views and functions worked together opened the doors for countless possibilities, and it was wonderful to see what each classmate created for different purposes. SwiftUI is easier (in my opinion) to manage than other development languages because it is self-contained in Xcode with many universal standards. I also appreciated the very clean and customizable UI aesthetic options. In my experience, half of the time was spent getting the code to function, and the other half (sometimes more) was getting it look as good as possible.
The Emerging Media Storytelling class taught me new ways to analyze and view media from many different platforms. Though it was challenging, I really enjoyed the lessons and the work I put into each section. There were seven modules including letter writing, music video analysis, documentary analysis, YouTube analysis, video game analysis, and final creative representation project.
The Special Topics class I took as an elective was divided into three modules, each taught by a different instructor. The first module was Digital Content taught by Kyla. We began with content creation, specifically, writing for digital media. I learned how to go through the writing process, beginning with planning, then drafting, critiquing, and finally a finished draft. The second module was a deep dive into social media and taught by Leah. This was divided into two sections, an online media strategy certification and an academic essay on a social media platform that we were not already familiar with. The third module was all about presentations. I THOUGHT I knew what made a good presentation, but the texts and lessons from Megan opened up a whole new world of possibility! I now look for the hook and spark moment in everything I consume and everything I create. I use stories and statistics wherever possible, and I do my best to create contrast and “keep it moving.”
The customer experience design class taught me to think through multiple perspectives and to look through different lenses. It’s hard to put the experience into words since it was such a whirlwind, but I valued every class discussion and exercise. I hope to continue research in this area, and I even created a subfolder in my work outlook account where I can save interesting resources for future perusal. Outside of future career goals, this class changed the way I view my environment as a consumer. Just like with bad design, once you recognize it, you can’t unsee it! There were so many things that I took for granted as “normal,” but now I have an understanding of “why” and “how” they work.
I absolutely loved the project management and innovation class, and found it very helpful for both my career and my personal interests. We started with a very broad overlook of project management, what it is, what it isn’t, and how it could be. There were a lot of buzzwords I have heard over the years, but until this class I never knew what they meant. This was particularly fascinating for my job, because I was able to break down and analyze a lot of the systems my department had been using for years, and I finally had the words to explain it. My office does not prescribe to any one management system, but instead combines elements of each to create an agile waterfall scrum ban. We are currently in the process of remodeling our project management hierarchy and job duties, and hope to have a new Sr. Project Manager soon.
In the interaction design class we focused on the user rather than the project. The subjects were organized into 4 modules: Understanding Users, Preparing Prototypes, Data-Driven Decision Making, and tying it all together for Testing. I particularly enjoyed the books that we read and discussed in class. The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman, was a great into the psychopathology and psychology of product design. I have encountered several “Norman” doors since finishing the book. I also loved the sections on knowledge, memory, and design thinking. The class lectures and discussions gave us a chance to dig into some of the meatier UX design issues, like dark patterns, laws of UX (psychological design principles), and accessible and inclusive design.
In the graduate student seminar, we dove headfirst into the projects that would ultimately lead to our final capstone product. We went through expectations, idea consulting, and planning, and this was our chance to make our projects real by actually building them in the final software native to each product. We continued to meet throughout the semester and receive one-on-one feedback as our projects progressed, and then presented the Beta version in a final “mini-merge” event.
The capstone was all about user testing, polishing, and getting our product ready to launch. You can read more about my personal journey below.
BETA & CAPSTONE:
My husband and I encountered a generic little bug several years ago while sitting out on our deck, and being the dorks that we are, we gave him a name and a backstory. Freddy the Thingbug is an adorable little green bug with big eyes and a big heart. But Freddy doesn’t know what makes him special. He can’t run fast or jump high or fly like the other bugs. So he goes on an adventure, and he learns about himself along the way. Originally, I had planned on telling this story as a traditional children’s book for my nieces and nephews. However, halfway through the EM program, I saw an opportunity.
Children are learning to use technology before they can even walk or talk. In fact, children’s access to technology has grown incredibly over the last decade. In the U.S., the percentage of children 8 and under who live in homes with a tablet has increased from 8% in 2011 to 75% in 2020, according to the Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight, 2020. Screen time has also increased, ranging from an average of 49 minutes for kids under two, to three hours for kids 5-8. This may seem like a lot, but the perceptions of screen time for children have really shifted over the years. Nearly three-quarters of parents say it helps the child’s learning, and 60% say it helps the child’s creativity. So I decided to create an interactive story that kids can follow along with and navigate on their own.
I started with Adobe Illustrator for character and background design, including the creation of the custom “Freddy” font, then imported those files in Adobe After Effects for animation. At first it was a struggle to figure out how to incorporate animations in SwiftUI. But then I discovered Lottie files, that uses a plugin for After Effects to export animations as JSON files, and a package for Xcode that imports and reads them as keyframes. I used Audition to redord and edit the voices and sound effects. Finally, I pulled everything together in Xcode with SwiftUI to make the finished app. The app had an easy to navigate user interface with only two input gestures that were demonstrated in a short tutorial. Swipe right and left to turn the page and tap on characters or objects that animate with sound effects.
So once I had my Beta, I needed to test it. My overall goal for user testing was to measure the usability of the app, for both kids and adults, and to identity areas that needed improvement. I wanted the app to be easy enough that a 3- to 5- year-old could navigate it either with the help of a parent or on their own, but not so simple that they get bored with it quickly.
The feedback was unanimous in every group, and they had some fantastic ideas. Unfortunately for me, that meant a major overhaul. Based on the testing results, there were several key areas that need to be reevaluated and further developed before product launch. Major changes included integrating dialogue instead of the more traditional “story” narration. Speech bubbles asl part of the character animation, and they should go by “proper” bug names instead of nicknames. The characters should all have dedicated voices and sound effects and should clearly animate when they are speaking. Two of the biggest technical objectives were to enable overlapping audio, and a continuous static background to make it easier to identify tap-able objects.
Once all the changes were successfully made and troubleshot, I decided at the very last minute to make it work for iPhones as well as iPads. You can download the Freddy the Thingbug on the app store today.