Interactive Television Design Guidelines

 

John Withnell gives some guidelines to follow when designing an interactive TV service.

Interactive TV has come a long way in the last ten years, and many lessons have been learnt along the way. An interactive service is now an established part of television’s box of tricks for any advertiser or programme maker.  

Television is primarily a passive device. Viewers watch TV to relax and be entertained. Turning on the television and selecting a programme requires no greater skill than knowing how to use a remote control. 

Interactive TV services need to be that simple and easy to use. The design should be uncluttered and the operation obvious. People are typically in a relaxed and passive frame of mind when using an interactive TV service. If the purpose and function of a service is not obvious, then viewers will give up and not bother to come back. Keep the service simple.

Appealing creative design helps to engage viewers in a service. Colour, tone and style all influence the viewer’s perception. But the creative design must not get in the way of the content. Layout must be clear and logical. Fonts must be readable. Controls must be obvious. Form and function must work together to give a harmonious and clear user interface.

It is essential to design the service to meet the needs and expectations of the target audience. Some examples will help to explain this rule. A games service might be targeted at children. It should be designed to be enjoyable, entertaining and fun to use. A betting service could be targeted at rich young men. It should stylish, exciting and easy to use. A directory enquiry service is likely to be targeted at people at home who need to find out a telephone number. It should be functional, simple and quick to use.

Capture the imagination of the viewer on their first visit, so that they will remember the service and return again and again. Remember that the service is competing for the viewer’s time, attention and use. Never let the viewer down. Make sure the service is up to date, accurate and reliable. Include content and functions that will make the viewer want to return. Make the service sticky.

It is essential that you use qualified professionals to design the service. A skilled multimedia designer will help produce a successful service. They will design the navigation to be simple and the screen layouts to be clear. They will also provide options for the creative treatment of the service, recommending colours, styles and fonts. The designers used can either be from an in-house design team, or from a creative agency that specialises in interactive TV, or they can be freelancers brought in for the project.

Designing an interactive TV service is an important project that must be managed properly. It is essential to establish a clear scope for the service at the start. This will be based on the business requirements and viewer proposition. A ‘proof of concept’ prototype is a worthwhile investment. It will demonstrate to all stakeholders exactly how the service will look and operate. Such a prototype can be quickly built using a multimedia prototyping tool such as Director, Flash or even PowerPoint.

Once the prototype is built, it should be reviewed in detail and modified if necessary so that it exactly represents how the service will look and operate. At this stage the design should be reviewed and signed-off by all stakeholders. Now the project can move into the build phase with the knowledge that the service has been designed for success. 

 

John Withnell is Managing Director of Long Dog, a company that provides a one-stop-shop for project planning, design and build of interactive TV solutions. See www.longdog.tv for details.

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