ideation iteration illumination

The frame is a powerful tool that has been utilized by artists, illustrators, photographers, directors and, of course, designers. There are many kinds of frames and framing, both real and artificial as well as temporary and permanent. While designing experiences that transcend single frame types and contexts I’ve been thinking more and more about the spaces between the frames.

The frame has probably seen the most dramatic shift from formalistic device to expressive canvass with maturation of the comic book artists who have harnessed the frame and the space around it to create dramatic and compelling visual narratives. Scott McCloud did a thoughtful analysis of comic book’s frame and gutter back in his 1993 groundbreaker Understanding Comics. I’ve read the book a few times since ’93 and this notion of the space between the frames has hit me as an obvious antecedent to “away times” of digital content experiences that shift in time, context, and form.

As with comic books, my interest in rethinking the digital frame sill respects the time element but is now an interval of pause rather than shift of temporal movement. A freeze frame. Granted, when re-engaging the experience time has passed, but the user has also moved through time and most likely (more interestingly?) into a different context. How does that effect the experience? How can designers manipulate and reinterpret that transition.

Frames of digital experience can be thought of as multiple small boxes within a larger box that encompasses them all (the “big-E” Experience). There’s a big facebook mother ship out there blocking the horizon of the internet with it’s girth, but I experience it in a short intervals of 5 minutes, within the frame of my little profile in a web browser, on a computer screen. The behemoth on the horizon is where the digital gutter exists and is exponentially bigger both temporally and spatially than the moments of experience themselves. In another example, I may consume 2 gigs of data in an hour of daily video consumption but there are practically unlimited gigs of data available twenty four hours a day. In fact on youtube alone,”it is estimated that 24 hours of new videos are uploaded to the site every minute.” No user could possibly consume that amount of data, nor have I heard of anyone that wants to. Nonetheless it’s there, in the gutters.

That’s how I’m thinking about the “big-E” digital gutter, but now what about those more personalized “in-between” digital gutter moments. From starting a new TV episode on my computer during my lunch break, to catching a few more minutes on my mobile during the bus ride home, and then finishing it up after dinner in my living room on my television. I can understand the experience to be contiguous despite the very obvious frames and gutters, but at the end of the show, they’re somehow closer together, more seamless.

What’s more, the system is self aware enough to know which of the various frames (computer, mobile, TV) are active and roughly cognizant of who is viewing them and when. So how should/can those frames adapt? And what about those gutters? Right now we mostly assume the world inside the frame remains still until we re-animate it by looking through the frame once more. This often is not the case and certainly shouldn’t be. How can we as experience designers best take advantage of this opportunity? Updates are the most obvious, like email or wall posts when I have something new or a status has changed the system should reflect that, but what other opportunities are there for engagement or enhancement? It’s intensely interesting and rife with possibilities.

There’s so much room to explore what happens during the gutter-time and in understanding how the experience changes in light of the transition. With video on-demand experiences both the frame the gutter time can very greatly in duration and frequency from day-to-day, month-to-month, and user-to-user as well as device to device and I’m certain there are interesting ways in which to explore those gutters and many untapped opportunities for exciting experience innovations. It’s time we experience designers take some cues from our comic book artist cousins and begin getting creative with the frames and the gutters in the interest of more engaging experiential narratives.

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