Digital junkies getting their fix. (image via yodelanecdotal)
In the not-so-distant past, there was online and there was offline. They had their own readers, and their own rules. But in our increasingly connected society, strict media boundaries are growing scarce. Bonus content from books and magazines can be found online, digital design conventions are popping up in print, and bus shelters are becoming interactive.
For those of us in the interactive trade, it’s tempting to conclude that offline media is adapting to become more like digital. But a closer look reveals a more complex story: as connectivity expands, all media types are evolving to work in synthesis to create an expanded user experience.
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Not so long ago, a magazine headline would grab your attention on the cover, then you’d spend the next 10 minutes wading through pages of ads trying to find the article. But attention spans have dwindled, and many readers won’t suffer through pages of fluff before reaching their intended destination.
You can’t hyperlink from a print magazine (yet), but some publications have begun to put the page number directly next to the headline on the cover. Others include handy page number callouts from the table of contents to direct you to the articles you’re looking for.
A Common Language
Conventions from digital design are making their way into print. The slide indicator has traditionally been used online to signal the slide number being currently viewed, but in their May 2011 issue, Wired used a slide indicator to orient readers in a sequence of product reviews.
Wired also makes frequent use of the decision tree type of graphic, which mimics the way a user moves through a digital experience, branching and refining, based on user choice. Even print books have begun to feature “you might also like” suggestions, to introduce readers to content that relates to what they’re currently viewing.
The Content Concert
Publishers are creating linkage points between offline and online media to build an ecosystem of opportunities for audiences to connect with their brands. Books offer passcode-protected access to online videos, tests, and other bonus content that makes for a richer learning experience.
Magazines feature scannable QR codes. Readers can tweet their favorite magazine columnists; some columnists will engage in one-on-one discussion through tweets and DMs. And earlier this year, online giant Yahoo got into the outdoor game with interactive bus shelters in San Francisco.
Users can encounter content pretty much anywhere and anytime. Additionally, they can begin their brand experiences at any point in the communication cycle: online, outdoor, in print. The very idea that content is linear, with a prescribed start and finish is no longer a given.
The Effect on Content Strategy
Increasingly, the complete story isn’t found in one medium—it’s strategically coordinated among different media types within the communication cycle. As interactive content professionals, we don’t need to become print or out-of-home experts, but we do need to sharpen our understanding of the capabilities of different media types.
It’s time to start thinking about handoff opportunities, places where our work can pass the baton. Done right, these integrated efforts can help build optimal experiences for users while helping brands meet users where they are—whether that’s on the bus, at the bar, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or just at home on the couch, with their feet up.