Designing for participation

Aside from user research, there are other useful tools to help us to design for participation, particularly when thinking about collective participation. I’ve been looking at Forrester’s Engagement Pyramid (Charlene Li, 2009), Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956), Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969) and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943). Each model comes from a different discipline – media, education, civic planning and psychology respectively. Maslow’s model has been critiqued for only looking at a biased sample and not taking into account how needs change with age, gender or within specific contexts, but also falsely states that lower needs must be satisfied before a person can achieve their potential and self-actualise, this is documented elsewhere.


These models, in particular Arnstein’s Ladder, might be useful in thinking about public service broadcasting as a platform in terms of how much power its audiences are given. We might ask ourselves, how and in what ways does broadcast give power to its audiences? Arnstein was deliberate in making the model provocative.


Can we design experiences that give an opportunity for all types of audiences in the Engagement Pyramid?

How might we engage the 90%? How might we make contributing zero effort? Can Bloom’s Taxonomy help?


The 90-10-1 Principle is just a rule of thumb. I was initially surprised to find out that its at its most extreme ratio with sites like Wikipedia, however, that might not be such a bad thing – it could mean that Wikipedia is inherently useful for a very large audience, keeping in mind, entry to being a ‘author’ on Wikipedia is more difficult than, say, participating by voting with stars.

So perhaps levels of participation, rather than power, might be more appropriate for a public broadcaster? Reflecting on a recent participatory broadcast project that I worked on, Get Playing,  which invited audiences, through a call to action, to learn to play a piece of music, film themselves playing their part and uploading their video for a collective performance as a virtual orchestra, for Last Night of the Proms. Over 1200 people participated, playing 50 instruments at different levels of ability.

What’s interesting here is how we started with getting a high and creative level of participation from individuals and moved towards the goal of audiences watching a collective performance. Is what’s motivating individual participation, the prospect of being part of something bigger, that then becomes a shared cultural experience?

It’s important to explore what motivates or drives individuals to contribute creatively. Dan Pink explains it best…

Building on this and going back to the idea of universal needs, Self-Determination Theory (STD) (2000) first developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, considers ‘conditions’ that enable specific needs to be met, and the presence or absence of these conditions in a social setting are crucial.

‘Conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity. In addition, Self-Determination Theory, proposes that the degree to which any of these three psychological needs is unsupported or thwarted within a social context will have a robust detrimental impact on wellness in that setting.’


So, if we get it right and tap into intrinsically motivated people, who are creatively expressing themselves, how do we turn the experience of watching TV/content into a platform for shaping people’s lives and interactions for the better?

There are examples of TV/content viewing being extended to a shared collective experience with friends by creating viewing parties – Netflix Party and Showgoers – both use Google Chrome extensions to share (stream) the same content with viewers in different locations. A chat box in a corner of the screen allows people to comment and chat as the content is viewed. But ‘online chat’ (discussion), is low down on the engagement triangle in terms of getting active participation going.

A limiting factor in terms of participation is only having one remote control, controlled by one person, but several social television projects have introduced multiple remote controls through objects (e.g. a cushion), gesture detection and mobile phones acting as remote controls, opening up options to gamify every households living room.

Building on the idea of gestures, its worth considering self-organised learning (SOLE), where, to complete a complex goal and learn skills, encouragement seems to be the key: children are able to teach themselves computing, english and even science with encouragement from a peer or a nurturing adult, like a grandmother. Could this mechanism be utilised for participation in adults online?

Bringing this back to user experience, some design questions that could be explored in future…

 How might we design to enable mass participation that expand content experiences?

How might we encourage audience exploration?

How might storytelling fulfil these drivers?

To research some of these questions further, I wondered where live, immersive events such as Secret Cinema or a Punch Drunk immersive theatre experience might shed some light. Having participated in several Punch Drunk experiences and recommended them to others, it was interesting to come across R&D that PunchDrunk did in collaboration with MIT Media Lab, to explore ways in which online might connect with the live immersive experience. To try and achieve this they used storytelling and created a new storyline within an existing immersive experience. From the case study, it appears there were many lessons learned but the endeavour failed to make create a shared experience driven by participation. The main challenge seemed to be the failure of overly complex technology or lack of time to test the technology.

Looking at the experience of live cinema, where cinema screenings might be expanded to encourage participation, it seems that the most successful live cinema experiences are those where the audience knows and loves, e.g. Star Wars, The Rocky Horror Show, and has nostalgia for the story, to the extent that they know the words, can sing along to the music, have learned a dance that features in the film. It appeals to their fandom as well as expanding from their knowledge of the narrative – designing competence and some autonomy into the experience . And they can get lost in a ‘hyperreality’.

This leads me closer to the idea that having a story that is known and loved by the audience encourages people to express themselves. Perhaps there is an element of fulfilling a need for relatedness here – the audience knows the character so well that they relate. I wonder then, if there is scope to encourage people to go further in their explorations and participations by breaking up the story and encouraging that people search for known elements of it? This is something that Punch Drunk do quite effectively – in Sleep No More – you are thrown into an abandoned hotel and go around exploring the building and expect at some point to come across a scene from Macbeth. I found this experience absolutely thrilling and one of the best experiences from my adult life.

Or, another example could be that the general [younger] population are aware of Afghanistan because of the recent war, so Adam Curtis can capitalise and build on that knowledge to show us something (possibly) unknown or unimagined within our own understanding of history.

A key question or few might then be…

How might we trigger participation through a desire to see more of memorable story?

How might we use anticipation to drive participation?

How might we use audience’s knowledge to divert their viewpoint? The familiar unveiled?

Creating and interactive storytelling experience has its problems, and I think the solution is in the experience design of the piece.

These are questions to which storytelling holds the key… and, its all about knowing your audience.


Making a Murderer

This Christmas i’ve been holed up watching Making a Murderer, a fantastic and gripping 10-part documentary on Netflix, released in one go, about the wrongful sentencing of Steven Avery.

Made by two directors whilst they were studying, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, over 10 years. Their persistence, patience and ear for a good story clearly pays off. Read more about the making at New York Times.

I’d highly recommend it. Bold scheduling seems to be something Netflix is great at. Xmas holidays are indulgent, impulsive … none of this one episode a week malarkey.

Listening to ‘Slow Riot for a New Zero Kanada’ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, after watching this documentary makes the song “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” lyrics seem more real to life.

Video squared?

Vertical video is on the horizon. I recently watch and loved the New York Times video feature about the ‘making of’ Justin Bieber’s hit, ‘Where are U Now?’. I’m no Bieber fan, but I appreciate the innovation integrating sound and form.

Watch The Making of a Hit – try it on your mobile for the 9:16 version and on laptop for 16:9 version.


The 9:16 space offers interesting possibilities for extra graphics (top and bottom) as a letterbox with square video, or full frame 9:16 video. And, the graphics relate to the sounds sampled from the song, useful when Diplo or Skrillex talk about the beats.

9:16 vertical video proportions

9:16 vertical video proportions

The New York Times feature comes as a package, including an article linking to the video. And yet, the video feels quite separate there is no way back from the video to the article.

The music video itself is actually pretty cool too. The creative team set up shop for people to come in and draw on tracing paper, with a frame shot of Bieber behind, then animating it all together, it’s a mass-collaboration video and really quite beautiful.




But back to vertical video… so the feeling is that its another step to turn your phone to horizontal when watching a video in 16:9, and apps like Snapchat are paving the way for 9:16 format, so why not make it easy for the audience and offer 9:16 versions for mobile?

At BBC, I work on a project, called Pathways, which aims to link up online user journeys over time and space. Whilst there is a lot we can learn from Bieber’s video, a vertical video can’t just be reframed, it needs to be crafted, shot and edited in the new format. This would change the broadcasters standardised workflow or create an extra format with associated storage and workflows.

So how else could we do it? I’ve been looking into other mobile platforms and apps. There is a space for vertical video, on for example, SnapChat, where content is deliberately designed for mobile. It’s exciting to imagine, what other kinds of data might be encoded in the infographics – could we get infographics from a weather datastream relating to a story? But will journalists make use of it?

Another fascinating case study for digital storytelling is slow journalism on Instagram. Neil Shea develops word-picture packages, sometimes in collaboration with photographers. Heres an article at Nieman Storyboard.

photo by @randyolson | story as told to @neilshea13 — This is my favorite image from our work along the Omo River. It’s a very private photograph, because this guy isn’t facing us, and he’s looking at something beyond the frame. It’s so simple, and yet we don’t know what’s going on. That’s part of what I love—a kind of a secret is hidden here, a moment no one else knows. I made this photo outside a village called Duss, home of the Kara tribe. In the background is the river, flowing south toward Lake Turkana. The sun is setting. Dust rises from this guy’s goats as they walk down to drink. He was a tribal elder, and he and everyone else in Duss were painting themselves brightly that evening because there was a full moon and they were going to have a moon dance. People were so jazzed, so joyful, and here I am, the only white guy around, and they’re not doing it for me, they’re not doing it for the camera. There are always overtones with stories in Africa—is this real? Is this tainted by my presence? Is it changed because tourists have run through here? By this point we had spent a long time living with the Kara. They knew us. Knew us so well they almost didn’t see us anymore. So the dance wasn’t a performance for strangers. It was life. It was this last beautiful breath before their world was crushed between the big dam upriver and the sugar plantations lower down. In our work you can never really belong, but in that moment I felt like I did. Like I was part of that place. It happens so rarely. For me the photograph is actually a failure. It doesn’t come close to describing the experience. — This image is an out-take from our recent Instagram series on Ethiopia’s Omo River and Kenya’s Lake Turkana, where we’ve worked over the last six years documenting culture, change, and conflict. You can see the whole project archived at #NGwatershedstories, and find our features about this region in @natgeo magazine. For more of our stories, please check in @randyolson and @neilshea13. #2009 #africa #ethiopia #omoriver #river #duss #kara #tribe #moon #moondance #culture #documentary #everydayafrica #truestory @thephotosociety @geneticislands

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Shea puts his approach beautifully, it’s not replacing longer-form journalism, and journalism on Instagram does require a different approach. “Approx. 360 words… stripping down to the basics… lede and arc and kicker… [and using] hashtags to organise pieces.”

New York Times

New York Times

He mentions the New York Times, who are doing some serious stuff on Instagram. Music and Fashion have trodden this ground with campaigns and commissions from Burberry on Snapchat and The Space of FKATwigs Soundtrack7 on Tumblr. Rather than re-invent the wheel, how can broadcasters embrace these innovations, a better still, leapfrog them?

Vertical Cinema

FILM, Tacita Dean, 2011

Outside of social media, within art, Tacita Dean – produced a love letter, a surreal visual poem, to celluloid film with her 2011 ‘FILM’ exhibition in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. And, in 2013, a vertical cinema programme, comprising a series of ten commissioned large-scale 35mm celluloid works by internationally renowned experimental filmmakers and audiovisual artists was projected in a vertical cinemascope and toured to festivals and galleries internationally.

Music Scoring / Online Mapping

I’m off to the Delia Derbyshire tribute with food by the Aumbry team, at Whitworth Gallery later today and wanted to jot down some thoughts.

Thinking about music, i’ve been looking at the Fontana Mix by John Cage recently. Theres a nicely written overview of graphical music (including Cardew*), by Jimmy Stamp at Smithsonian Mag . I’m looking at the pieces as a metaphor for peoples journey behaviour online.

Fontana Mix, image from BBC

The Fontana Mix consists of a series of sheet of transparent paper with annotations as you can see in the picture above. It almost looks like a topological map, but add time, and it could be the trajectory for multiple users across a ‘campaign’, a bit like Steve Benford’s theory here while at BBC. We have a ‘designers intended route’ through a [media] experience then the ‘participants trajectories’, and where they mean becomes social.

Theres some similarity in the approach with intended user journeys and blueprinting, but they are not identical. I see trajectories more obviously social in the possibility in how remote strangers (users) might otherwise interactive and influence each other.

*Six or so years ago, I photographed and filmed the Cornelius Cardew Conference at ICA in London.

Nature’s Switch Workshop     

Here’s our photos from yesterdays Public Lab Workshop, hacking a camera for infrared photography. At Wellcome Collection’s On Light weekend.

The hacked cameras take infared photos which, uploaded to can analyse plant health. Great for farming!


Image of the Week: Nature’s Switch

Follow through to the blog post to watch the trailer.

Wellcome Trust Blog

This Image of the Week was contributed by Dr Erinma Ochu, Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow. 

Our image – or in this case video – of the week is an extract from Nature’s Switch, a film exploring the relationship between light, and specifically, wavelengths of red light, and plants. The film is a collaboration between Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow Erinma Ochu, visual artist Caroline Ward and composer Louie O’Grady. It was inspired by visits to Dr Giles Johnson‘s plant research lab in The Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester and Stockbridge Technology Centre in Yorkshire.

This clip features a scene in plant scientist, Dr Phillip Davis’s LED farm, where plants and flowers are grown under different light conditions, an endeavour designed to help and inform growers. For example, growing under LED lights, a mix of red and blue light, can help maximize photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light…

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