Digital Resolution

There are always new opportunities for digital media designers.

The dotcom revolution of the past five years has led to an explosion in Web design as companies rushed to go on-line. As a result, Web design consultancies have sprung up all over the country to meet the demand, but what we are now seeing is a shift in the way companies are handling their website development – they are bringing their management and design in-house.

Companies are realising that the best way to transmit their brand messages through their digital media activities is via a thorough understanding of their values. This is better facilitated by using designers who live and breathe their company’s philosophy. But the benefits of bringing Web design in-house aren’t simply about getting closer to the brand.

For me, working with an in-house team at Capital Interactive has tremendous benefits over an outside consultancy. For example, we can prioritise jobs immediately because we have an in-depth understanding of the company’s vision, needs and commercial requirements. We recently secured Wowgo.com as a major sponsor for the Party in the Park website, PITP2000.com, an hour or so after going live. We were able to have its presence on-site within ten minutes of the contract being signed. Most consultancies would have struggled to make this kind of response time. Also, with no middle-man to go through, turnaround times on projects are far shorter.

In-house teams have a full knowledge of the capabilities of their systems and have direct access to their company’s resources. In our case, we’re able to access DJs, artists and record labels and use the working relationships already in place to make sure a job is a success.

We are currently working on the relaunch of Capital Radio’s powerbrand websites – FM, Gold and Xfm – and we have been able to give each of the sites an individual feel while following a theme and ensuring a good fit into the bigger picture of Capital Radio.

Until recently, in-house teams haven’t been regarded with as much respect as their consultancy brethren. However, with a growing band of in-house teams scooping prestigious awards and respected former consultancy designers moving in-house, it is clear that the mood in the industry is changing.

Many design consultancies see this as a threat to their business. If the design work in-house is varied and interesting enough, with better salaries and packages, and a strong management infrastructure is in place, then agencies could struggle to hold on to personnel.

That said, external groups are a necessary and valuable part of the Web design process. They are critical when there is a fluctuation in workflow and they can bring creativity and fresh minds to a project. But if they want to stem the flow of key staff to in-house positions and put a stop to current trends, agencies need to continually evolve their business areas.

There will always be a need for some of the specialist skills in new development and technologies that some agencies can offer. Several consultancies, for example, are now experienced within the field of digital TV production, and it is often quicker and cheaper to outsource this work than develop it internally. However, I do believe that the pattern of blue-chip companies hiring in-house design teams will continue to grow as in-house designers’ vision, knowledge and value gain greater commercial recognition and credit within the industry.

Desiree Collier is head of design at Capital Interactive

You might swear that your mum’s hand-me-down black and white telly is all you will ever need. You might be right. But what we soon choose to watch on our screens could be wildly different from the programmes scheduled in any weekly TV guide – a welcome relief you might think.

Within a decade, all TV programmes will be broadcast digitally. It’s not up for discussion, it is a point of fact. The Government has committed itself to turning our analogue signals off within probably ten years. And for some, digital TV could come a whole lot sooner than that.

Cable TV provider Cable & Wireless Communications, for instance, plans to convert all its TV customers (currently on analogue) to digital within two years (at least that’s what its customer service department says). Like BSkyB, it is currently broadcasting in both analogue and digital while subscribers are converted.

But although digital TV has now been launched by most of the main pay-TV providers such as ONdigital, SkyDigital, Cable & Wireless and Telewest, a significant number of design consultancies specialising in digital media are still holding back from building DTV design capabilities, their next natural step. Web design specialists like Digit (which has Web clients from the broadcast stream like MTV and Open) are waiting for the digital market to take shape before investing in design strategies.

That said, an abundance of roles is already played by designers in the broadcast arena. English & Pockett creative director Federico Gaggio says the use of the term design first needs qualification. “What we do is design, but this word now describes many processes and many skills. In the digital TV domain, design processes include graphic design, product design, communication design, brand identity, broadcast design, sound design, environmental (set) design, interactive design, information design… Thus there are many levels at which designers can play a role, within an agency or a media organisation,” he says.

Digital pioneers such as Pres.co, Razorfish and Deepend London are already carving a niche with the commercial application of DTV for their clients. English & Pockett, Static 2358 and Lambie-Nairn work with broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, which are developing digital brands – for example, the rumoured BBC 3 and Channel 4’s E4 entertainment channel.

Consultancies such as Nucleus, Wolff Olins and the Added Value Group have helped brand platform owners, including C&W digital, Telewest and ONdigital, while those with technology expertise like Nykris Digital Design have created their user interfaces.

Often less noted are the in-house design teams of digital broadcasters like the BBC, Open and Teletext, producing broadcast content sometimes for themselves and sometimes for third parties. A surge of new TV broadcasters with in-house designers is also emerging through the Internet. The Web offers these new TV networks like Now and DVTV, as well as the computer software giants, broadcast ambitions on a global scale.

DVTV marketing director Simon Picken is one of many who aims to change the type of programmes we watch electronically. Picken hopes lifestyle channels like his Sheffield-based DVTV, (www.dvtvchannel.com) launched this month, can sit alongside the programming of traditional TV broadcasters. Now that consumers are being offered unlimited Web access for a flat monthly fee, Picken predicts a surge in the number of Web-based broadcasters, especially as Web TV takes off. “We are not an Internet company. What we are is a broadcast company that has chosen to use the Web as our means of distribution,” says Picken. Evidently, the laws of terrestrial TV are being completely overturned.

Teletext design editor Gareth Bouch heads a team of 13 designers plus four or five freelances. The team works on its Web and digital TV service, which has been launched on ONdigital, Telewest and Cable & Wireless. “A fuller commercial service will be launched later this year,” says Bouch.

Digital TV’s arrival is a godsend for companies like Teletext, as a provider of text-based information services viewed through the TV. The comparative richness of the digital medium makes the use of graphics, full-colour images and embedded typefaces a possibility for the first time, Bouch explains.

In redesigning Teletext for digital broadcasting, the Teletext team has been evolving its navigational, or user experience design expertise, not just its visual design capability.

“[Navigationally] we are moving away from entering page numbers,” says Bouch. “We are now concentrating on a system of pop-up menus that lets you jump to different sections by pressing the red, green, yellow and blue buttons on the remote control. The response we have had from users has been great,” he says.

While digital is positively changing the design of analogue services, other areas are becoming more complicated by the process. According to some, the buying of design services by broadcasters is likely to be complicated by digital TV as the number of people with design requirements stands to increase. Typically, a broadcaster could have a head of broadcasting, a head of marketing and a head of promotion and presentation, all buying design consultancy services. If design is included as part of the production process, when buying programme titles, for example, consultancy services can also be bought by TV producers.

“The complexity is likely to increase for digital TV and especially convergent media as there are more stages involved,” Gaggio says.

With digital comes the opportunity for broadcasters to weave pictures with graphics and links to the Web. But more importantly, it affords viewers the opportunity to have a hand in designing their own programming. TV will move from pre-packaged programmes to a realm of totally personalised entertainment. Viewers will be empowered to watch or play with the box during their nights in. The TV, we are told, will become a complete leisure console for checking personal e-mail, buying groceries, playing an entire country at Doom, or listening to John Peel on Radio 1. You might even find time to catch EastEnders.

“It would be depressing if it were possible to predict how the look and feel of screen entertainment would change with digital,” says Gaggio. “Every brand owner or content provider and every project might present different conditions and have different requirements.

“The design process is aimed at finding the most suitable solution to fulfil those requirements under those conditions. Therefore the ‘look and feel’ of each project will be dependent on a wide number of factors. The only common element that I would like to consider is the fact that every solution will be appropriate to that particular set of constraints, and therefore likely to be different from other solutions – which are created for a different set,” he says.

Whether or not design consultancies begin to design actual broadcast content in the digital world, once the preserve of the production company, is still not certain. But as technology allows cheaper programme-making it becomes all the more feasible.

“It’s an interesting question,” continues Gaggio, “because in the digital domain, particularly if the channel/ product is non-linear and interactive, content, branding and navigation tend to crossover and blur their boundaries more than in linear TV.

“Some companies have already started to develop and offer content which is culturally relevant to their target groups – and supports the brand values – although it might be totally unrelated to the company’s product. In this respect, the role of the designer as a creative problem solver might well include coming up with content ideas and developing them as part of the overall brand experience,” he adds.

While the short term future for design groups is fairly easy to predict, the long term is perhaps less so. As designers are increasingly asked to design user experiences for the viewing public, their remit suddenly becomes as varied as the number of possible viewing permutations. And as and when consumer brands begin to transform into TV channels themselves, maybe we will see design groups creating TV programming within the parameters of the brand.

Digital TV Platforms

Terrestrial

TV received through an aerial (ONdigital)

Cable

TV piped by cable (Cable & Wireless Digital, Telewest Active Digital, NTL)

Satellite

TV received by satellite dish (SkyDigital)

WebTV

TV received over the Internet

New-look TV

PlayJam – games channel

BBC Learning – education channel

DVTV – Web-based lifestyle channel

NOW (Network of the World)

– 5 Web-based European TV “vortals”

Teletext Digital

MTV2 – interactive broadcasting from the music TV channel

Gameplay – games channel

Case study

Pantene Interactive Ad

Digital TV is causing brand owners to seize new opportunities in reaching their target audience. As a two-way channel, digital cable TV allows viewers to interact or rather react to programmes, services, brands and ads. A few weeks ago Procter & Gamble aired the first cable-based interactive ad for its Pantene brand, created by London interactive advertising house Grey Interactive TV.

The nature of the new television medium required a new set of design and creative aesthetics to be established for the screen by both Cable & Wireless and Grey. Templates for the Pantene ad are now being widely adopted for other advertisers on the platform. Director of creative strategy at Grey Interactive Janette Mooney says there is still a misperception in the industry that you can just put the Web on TV.

In designing the ad, explains Mooney, the aim was to make optimum use of the two-way relationship between viewer and brand, while still delivering the brand message ‘the two of us together’. The banner ad relies on viewers selecting to click into it with the promise of personal hair advice. Before seeing any products viewers are taken into a ‘micro-site’ and asked nine questions to determine their hair type. ‘We used large numbers to flag up each question because we found it was important to acknowledge that a question had been answered,’ says Mooney, adding: ‘You actually see 15 screens before any products are shown.’ A summary of your answers is next displayed, then a personalised set of haircare advice screens and recommended Pantene treatments. Finally, you can enter your personal details to receive free samples and a written resumé of the hair tips.

Mooney says the key to creating a successful ad is to create an original idea and a personal experience for the viewer. With the Pantene project, time was taken to exploit the functionality of the digital medium with a set of e-mail postcards that were designed for the brand. In this way, Mooney says, digital TV can enable brands such as Pantene to extend the brand experience and communicate with individuals.

Digital TV retail services

SkyDigital – Sky’s Open service was the first interactive service to be launched on a digital platform. It is designed as a retail mall for the TV, with content providers ranging from Iceland and Woolworths to Midland Bank.

Telewest launched interactive television services, including on-line shopping and banking in the Midlands in March and is currently rolling out interactive services to Telewest regions. By the end of the year it expects Telewest Active Digital sales to grow from 156 000 to 500 000.

Cable & Wireless/ NTL – C&W is rolling out its interactive services for digital TV, despite being bought by NTL. NTL meanwhile has not yet launched interactive TV services for digital, but it is expected these will be aligned with C&W. The C&W brand will eventually be dropped.

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