Inviting Programmers Into Creative Teams

Episode 59 of the 99% Invisible Podcast explores what happened when artists were brought on board to work with architects on a project in New York City. Some of the architects didn’t like this much, being used to owning the creative talent and having the artistic sway, but the project manager told them to like it or lump it. Artist input did result in a creation quite different.

This made me wonder how things would be if programmers were given more creative sway in publishing houses, especially as big publishers move tentatively into the digital world. Programmers are not known for their creative bones, instead for their attention to detail and methodical mindsets. Yet the programmer in this house counts photography among his hobbies. Creativity and attention to detail go very well together, if only creative streaks are let loose.

On the one hand I can’t understand why we’re not seeing far more creative storybook apps coming out of the largest publishing houses, who I presume have much bigger budgets than ours, and who could really push the boat out if they wanted to. On the other hand, I can see that if programmers are not adequately invested in a project — if they’re paid by the hour, say, and told what to do by the designated creatives — the acquisitions team (and author illustrator teams) may not have the foggiest idea of all that is possible. It takes an experienced programmer to know that.

Header illustration: One of the illustrations by Mike Wilks from ‘Pile- Petals from St Klaed’s Computer’ by Brian Aldiss (1979)

Description in Picturebooks

Whether an individual picture is static or conveys motion, the more details there are in a picture, the longer its discourse time. The common prejudice is that children do not like descriptions, preferring scenes and dialogue. This must be an acquired preference, imposed on children by adults, since all empirical research shows that children, as well as adults, appreciate picturebook pauses and eagerly return to them.

– from How Picturebooks Work by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott

Decisions To Make When Storyboarding For Interactivity

First things first: Does this story require an active and alert reader, and do the interactions reward interactivity and alertness?

1. Should interactions be user-initiated or autoplay? A mixture?

I prefer narration to autoplay, with the option of turning it off completely from the main menu. When I have to press a button to start the narration on each page it takes me out of the story. As for the rest of the page, a mixture of autoplaying actions and user-initiated interactions works well in many cases, as long as any auto-play noises are not too irritating. Irritating = loud, unpleasant tones or even a pleasant sound that’s on too short of a loop.

2. How much animation, if any?

Too much animation and the storyapp runs the risk of emulating a film, losing its true interactivity. For small development teams, too much animation is costly and therefore not an option. When simple animations are utilised, which ones help to tell the story?

3. Should interactivity be allowed before the narration is over, or must the reader wait?

I still get frustrated when I can’t start the interactivity when I want to, regardless of whether the sound that accompanies the interaction drowns out the narration. It’s about user control. Also, I prefer gentle sound effects, which don’t drown out the narration even if played simultaneously.

4. After an interactivity has played out, should the user be able to cycle through again, or will the page fall inactive, waiting for the reader to turn the page and move on with the story?

The advantage of looping is that readers can linger on a page for as long as they like, which makes the reader feel more in control. The disadvantage is that younger readers in particular may lose the thread of the story, derailed by the interactivity. We used both finite and infinite loops of interactions for The Artifacts on a case-by-case basis. I’ve grown to slightly prefer finite looping, because if readers really want a specific page they can jump to it via the navigation pages, or simply turn onto the page again from the previous, losing no control — only a small bit of convenience.

5. Should the developer offer hints with flashing/arrows, or should the reader have to find all the interactivity themselves?

We believe young readers are more than capable of uncovering any interaction we think we’re hiding in an app. We hear quite a bit from parents that children find Easter eggs in apps that they never suspected were there. We don’t believe everything needs to be handed to a child on a plate, and goes with our general philosophy of ‘try it and see’ — an important attitude when using any type of technology.

The best children’s apps are successful because of a pair of more traditional qualities. Great storytelling. Strong characters. It seems apps aren’t so revolutionary after all, but that’s a good thing.

Stuart Dredge at The Guardian

The View From Bed

Not interesting.

Slightly more interesting.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen from your bed?

For me it would have to be the spider I woke up to one morning. It was dangling at the end of a thread, right in front of my nose. It wasn’t exactly a Huntsman, but still not pleasant!

Do You Look Like Your Dog?

There are some researchers, who’ve been very lucky with their funding, who have studied the ways in which pets resemble their owners. If you’ve ever been to a dog show you’ll probably have noticed the phenomenon yourself. Sure enough, it’s been noted that when shown a random mixture of owner/pet photos, people are able to match those owners with their pets at a higher than random rate.

30 Owners Who Look Like Their Dogs, from Buzzfeed

I sometimes wish I could see photographs of illustrators alongside their pictures. I bet illustrators most naturally draw people look like themselves — similar face shapes and stature, even if they don’t mean to. Indeed, even if they go out of their way. Because we spend a lot of time looking at family members, and they tend to look like ourselves. We must also have a ‘default setting’ for a face, and that default is ourselves.

Do you look like your pet? We own a rather attractive Border collie. Though if I think harder, he hasn’t had a good brush in quite a while, and I have to admit I care about my own coiffure just about exactly as much. Think I’ll duck off to the bathroom and run a comb through my hair…

Wladyslaw Theodor Benda (1873 - 1948)  Elegant Woman and Afghan
Wladyslaw Theodor Benda (1873 – 1948) Elegant Woman and Afghan
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960) girl dog
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960) don't point
The Penguin Ronald Searle By Ronald Searle (published by Penguin Books Ltd, London 1960)
Julian de Miske 1929
Sisters by Dorte Clara Wolff. 1928 (Dodo) (1907 – 1998), German painter and illustrator, women dog
Sisters by Dorte Clara Wolff. 1928 (Dodo) (1907 – 1998), German painter and illustrator, women dog

Related: Stuart Freeborn designed Yoda based on himself. Who else looks like the character they designed?

Slap Happy Larry Stories

I put this analysis into practice when writing my own short stories.

Lemon Girl: A movie-length novella by Slap Happy Larry. Everyone is someone else's little psycho.