Second Story and The Art of Collaboration
Award-winning interactive studio Second Story has virtually written the history of interactive media. With projects ranging from the Vault of the Secret Formula experience at the World of Coca-Cola to the interactive entrance gallery to the Adler Planetarium and pioneering web-based projects, the studio brings a uniquely collaborative approach to creating interactive stories.
Second Story Co-Founder Julie Beeler is one of the key collaborators at The Art of Collaboration, SEGD's Exhibition & Experience Design Symposium October 4-5 in Raleigh, N.C.!
Join her and a multi-disciplinary roster of collaborators as they explore how the force of collaboration is impacting design experiences today.
For more information or to register, click here.
(Our special $99/night rate at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Raleigh expires Sept. 13, so book your room now!)
To enjoy our exclusive interview with Beeler, read on!
At the University of Oregon Ford Alumni Center, Second Story created a suite of interactive elements that provide a dynamic introduction to the school and its rich heritage.
How did Second Story get started, and what's behind the name?
My partner Brad Johnson and I started the studio in 1994, growing it from the roots of old-school multimedia. Our first work was editorial content for TerraQuest (provider of web-based virtual expeditions) and later, for National Geographic when they first launched nationalgeographic.com.
The name came from the idea that, using the personalized interactive stories we create, visitors can create stories of their own. That's the second story.
When Second Story is designing experiences, what comes first- the storytelling or the technology?
It's always the story first. That's the heart for us. We design from the inside out because ultimately, we need to hit people in the heart, not in the head! Technology is just a means to provide these experiences.
If it's too intellectual, or if technology moves people away from the story and not toward it, we won't engage their emotions.
How do you choose the technology that you use in your projects?
Technology is just a way in. We always start with the story, the concept, the content. We can then design accordingly, moving the story into physical spaces or virtual ones, but always in the most personal way, not in a slick or cold way. The question is always, "How do we craft the story in a way that creates an emotive connection for the user?"
We have a whole lab where we do a lot of R&D work and are inspired by what technology can afford us, but we're never making decisions because "this is an interesting technology, let's incorporate that."
At the World of Coca Cola (Atlanta), Second Story created 12 media experiences that engage visitors in the story of the most famous trade secret in history: the secret formula of Coca Cola.
Who are your collaborators?
We work with an eclectic mix of cultural institutions, museums, and nonprofits. And now, some of the world's leading brands and corporations-Coca Cola, Nike, and Chanel to name a few-are realizing they need this kind of storytelling to engage their audiences a bit differently than they have in the past.
Through these projects, we're lucky enough to work with a diverse range of other collaborators including curators, scientists, designers, engineers, programmers, architects, fabricators, and craftspeople.
Collaboration certainly adds to the richness of a project, but are there some challenges to working with large multi-disciplined teams?
Yes, there are many! Everyone is a specialist in their own discipline, but we also have to be fluent in everyone else's language. Tight budgets, tight schedules, too many cooks in the kitchen, and competing agenda among team members all make this challenging!
What are some of the keys to success when working collaboratively?
Probably the biggest challenge is clearly communicating the project's goals and objectives-and then championing them throughout the process.
We've learned that's the best way to make sure that all members of a collaborative team are clear on where we're heading and how we'll get there.
This is key because all of the collaborators have different agenda. For us, when we're strategically thinking through these digital interactives, we're grounding ourselves in those goals and objectives and making sure everyone has buy-in about what we're doing, every step of the way.
Cybelle Jones [Principal with exhibition designer Gallagher & Associates and Chair of The Art of Collaboration] and I were joking about a current project where the architect is saying, "Don't cover the windows!" and for different reasons, she and I are saying, "Block the light!" It's important to know other team members' agenda and constraints, and to work together toward the overall goals and objectives and, ultimately, for the user.
At the Adler Planetarium (Chicago), Second Story created a dynamic, interactive welcome gallery that draws visitors into the excitement of deep space exploration. In four content zones, interactive shadows invite visitors to play and learn.
And what are some of the major pitfalls you've seen in working collaboratively?
When core goals and objectives aren't followed carefully, individual team members can get too focused on their own agenda. If they work too independently, off in their own silo, you end up with a mish-mash of things, not a coherent outcome.
At the end of the day, the best strategy is to have everyone champion the project goals and be unified by the voice of the audience.
And how do collaborative teams reconcile their different agenda?
I'm a big believer in embracing challenges and restrictions; it makes us think through the creative solutions with our users in mind.
As we collaborate and collectively determine goals, we have to break it down into easily digestible pieces and understand each piece. So we all know the architectural objectives, even if that's not our own individual specialty. We all know the exhibition goals, and what the interactives contribute, and so on. It's work. It evolves.
For us, it gets back to designing for the living, breathing, beating hearts of the people who will be going through the experience. That's what every collaborative team member should never lose sight of. It's a challenge to say focused on that sometimes, especially over long-term projects going over several years. But nothing feels better than when you go full out and hit that original brief. Staying true to that is the best outcome possible.