Columbia University - School of the Arts Interactive Design 1
Prof. Marc Johnson Fall 2000
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Application Design Process
Below is an outline of the design process for a multimedia project. These stages are completed before final production
begins in order to assure consistency and to account for as many issues as possible before production resources are
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The concept document provides the overall guidelines for a project. It should answer such questions as: What are the
project’s goals? Who is the target audience for this project? Why is multimedia the best method to achieve the stated
goals? How will this project achieve those goals? What form will the final deliverable take? What material will make up the
content of the project, and in what form? What are areas that present potential problems or concerns at the outset of
Define the technological framework of your project. This includes details such as:
•delivery platform (Mac, PC, or both)
• operating system and version
•delivery method (CD-ROM, Zip, Web)
•projected RAM and storage requirements
•CD-ROM speed (if applicable)
•screen size and color depth
•audio & video requirements
•networking or telecommunication requirements
•intermediate software, such as browsers, plug-ins, etc.
•description of palettes to be used
•external code resources
•additional system software
• additional hardware configurations
This component of the application design should be as specific as possible. The technical specs define the limitations of
the project and provide the production team with a technological framework from which to develop the application. Any
subsequent design features must adhere to the technical specs. It is important to realize who the final users for the
project will be and create the technical specs appropriately (remember, your target user may not have a 500 MHz CPU
with 256 MB of RAM, a 16 Gigabyte hard drive, and an 8x DVD-ROM drive - or they may!).
A flow chart or story board is a visual map of the application. It should detail each screen in the application, including a list
of major components, such as text, audio and video assets, interface controls, and input and output methods (text entry
and data fields, etc.). Much of the detail listed in the flow chart is related to the information in functional specification and
may be integrated with the functional spec.
The flow chart is key to determining the navigational flow of the application. Be sure to include all navigational controls at
this stage, including things such as help and/or quit buttons. Use this map to evaluate the path taken by the user to get to
the information you are presenting.
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The functional specification outlines what the application actually does. In particular, the functional spec should detail the
function of each control on every screen, as well as any “behind-the-scenes” functionality that is required, such as a
database structure, or the ability to read or write external text files, or dynamic updating of information from a Website.
Many functions are common from screen to screen, such as calling a help screen or quitting the application, and should
be incorporated into custom handlers which can be written once but called many times.
Depending upon the nature of an application, a script might be necessary. Much like a traditional movie or television
script, the script for an interactive title is a description of the user experience, both in terms of content and
environment. In a project such as an interactive game or animated presentation, the script would describe characters,
their personalities and appearance, and the dialog of their interaction with users and each other. For a project such as a
tourist information kiosk, the script is used to describe the environment in which the user experience takes place, what
the mood of the experience should be, what effect it should have on the user.
The graphic design of an application defines the “look” of an application. It is the most immediate way of conveying visual
messages to the user. Treatment of the following items should be considered in the creation of a graphic design:
•backgrounds & control panels
•colors & textures
•type – titles & text, bitmap & ASCII
•containers for type, video, and controls
• alignment & positioning
The interface is the main means of interaction between the user and the application. Most interface functions can be
broken down into one of three categories: getting information from the user, returning information to the user, and
For user input, a selection of multiple choice buttons or a text field where the user can enter information are most
frequently used, but variable interface elements such as sliders are also useful for modifying settings like sound volume
level. Returning information to the user occurs in a variety of forms, text output fields displaying messages, digital video
windows for appropriate content, audio feedback to confirm user actions, or altering graphics to indicate changing states
in the application. Any number of interface components can be used to initiate actions, but the most common form is
the button. In this case, a button is anything that is clickable, regardless of its graphical shape.
The most important aspect of an interface design is the ability of the user to get the application to do what he or she
wants. Interface designers must be careful of the assumptions they make regarding the user’s level of understanding.
Users have a certain amount of information in their heads that interface designers can rely on, such as the fact that
buttons are pushed, knobs are turned, switches are switched, and sliders are slid. Any additional information the user
needs should be supplied by the interface. If the system is too complex, a help system must be integrated into the design,
but, a good interface should be able operable without additional instruction, even if a help system is needed to explain the
functionality of an application.