This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

We’re paving a road to the Future of Content. The first brick was Multi-Access. We want our content wherever we are, whenever we want it. We talked about 1.) accessing the same content in multiple ways, 2.) linear content that mixes access methods, and 3.) non-linear content that mixes access methods. You can read about that here.

The next brick in the foundation of our super highway is Mixed Media (or Mulit-Modal), something that is particularly close to my heart. Content will not just be one thing. A story will alternate between pictures, text, and audio. Articles will include videos. And they will engage more than just one or two senses.

As It Deserves

Mixed Media simply means content presented the way it deserves. Each piece of great content is vibrant and unique. Some pieces may be visual while others are a symphony of great word choice. In the past, content developers have usually been locked into a single medium to express their ideas. If you were lucky, you got a few charts to illustrate what the text is already saying.

Not so in the future (or even the present). Remember our content distinctions? Content is the whole enchilada. Substance is the half that defines what you are saying; the story, the pitch, or the information. Form is how that substance is presented to your audience.

What if each piece could be presented in exactly the form it deserved? Visual pieces in images or video. Emotional scenes as song. Internal conflict as novel prose. The content, then, moves back and forth between those different forms to present the substance in an engaging way.

This may seem like an old idea (and really it is), but really think about the possibilities. I’m not talking about illustrations or bonus features. I am advocating a single content (linearly or non-linearly) drawing the audience along through multiple forms of media.

Some Basic Principles

I have written extensively on the topic of mixed media stories, and am not alone. Many agencies, artists, authors, and researchers are barely scratching the surface of how we can use digital technology to enhance an age-old idea. Together, they are discovering some basic principles (rules that are meant to be broken at times). This is not the place for a lesson in how to create multi-modal content, but here are some basic principles that define what I mean:

1. Not for Novelty

None of this is for novelty. None is “just because it”™s cool.” Every aspect of the piece is crafted to be what is best for the overall content. It is tempting to throw some pictures into a story or a chart into a blog post, and that may liven up the content, but it does not make it mixed media in the way I am proposing. Unless the different forms of media carry the narrative (substance) along.

2. Limit the Medias

It is also tempting to use every media you can think of. We would even scratch-and-sniff this post if we could. Instead, it is important to choose your media carefully because it is the best fit. In the same way an artist chooses a color pallatte and does not stray, set a contract with your audience so they know what to expect and how to interpret it.

3. Stimulate Multiple Senses

When possible, harness the power of multiple senses. Even if you can’t actually do scratch-and-sniff, describe or symbolize that sense.

4. Linear or Non-Linear (Interactive)

Whether there is only one direction for the audience to follow (like a traditional book or an article), or the audience can choose multiple paths (like links), it is important to direct the audience through the media.

5. Simplicity and Easy to Follow

No one wants to “work” through content. They want it to be fun, engaging, simple, and easy to follow.

6. High Quality

One reason to limit the types of media is because no one can be fantastic at all forms of media creation. I can’t draw. Maybe you can’t sing. Whatever media we choose, we should make sure it is of the highest quality for that craft.

7. The Sky is the Limit

Experiment with many different things: images, videos, sights, sounds, movement. Incorporate live-action, graphic novel, or animations. Just make sure it fits together to present the content as it deserves.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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