Constant, Intelligent Pressure

Five years ago I started in Elon’s interactive media master’s program.

I’ve learned a lot since then. However, one quote has stuck with me more  than anything else since then. Ken Calhoun, one of my professors said it while giving us advice about problem-solving for our flyovers, short one-week trips where we would gather multimedia material to build web projects for nonprofits.

I don’t remember the full quote, just this turn-of-phrase about how to approach problems:

Just apply constant, intelligent pressure.

That’s it.

It has popped into my head over and over as I’ve worked to solve problems on the web and in life.

Six Things I’ve Learned and/or Relearned Since Grad School

David A. Kennedy at the FINDS Press Conference
David A. Kennedy at The Arc’s FINDS Press Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

When I saw the above tweet a few months ago, it got me thinking. I couldn’t believe I graduated from Elon iMedia grad program more than a year ago. I started asking myself question after question:

  • What had I done since?
  • What had I learned from it?
  • How has it impacted me?

What I’ve Done

I landed a job as the Online Communications Manager for The Arc, a national nonprofit that advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It took some searching and more than a handful of interviews, but I was happy to find a role that lets me do a bit of everything: strategy, design, code, social media and more. Since then I have:

What I’ve Learned

I can’t think of a week where I don’t learn something new. Sometimes you don’t learn anything new, but rediscover lessons from the past. My first year since iMedia has been a good mix. Here are the top nuggets:

  1. Listen. Always listen. It fuels the success of any project.
  2. It starts with content. No website can be truly great without it.
  3. Website statistics mean nothing, but the trends in them do.
  4. It doesn’t matter how popular you are in social media or how many pageviews you get if you do not know your message.
  5. Teamwork. Nothing else needs to be said.
  6. Shortcuts are dangerous. Standards are the road less traveled. Know them and follow them.

The above may sound like common sense, but it never hurts to be reminded of where you’ve been.

Five Online Tools You Should Use


Today is a big day. In 12 short hours, I’ll have walked across the stage at Elon University and received my master’s degree in interactive media with 35 talented and creative people.

I’ve learned an incredible amount in the program. Just take a look at my multimedia portfolio. I couldn’t create any of that media-rich web content before I entered the program.

I’ve also tried out hundreds of online tools over the past 10 months of my graduate program. Here are my five favorite tools that are easy to use and give you the most traction in the interactive media world.

  1. Delicious: This social bookmarking site isn’t a new one, but it has proved indispensable. I use it every day, whether glancing at it to find an old bookmark, making a new one or checking out a friend’s favorite sites.
  2. Google Reader: Again, the concept here isn’t new, but it this RSS reader has allowed me to put my hands on more new ideas in the past 10 months than 1,000 years in the classroom. I mean, hey, they’re pretty cool. Even if you don’t use Google Reader, find one and give it a try.
  3. Posterous: Half-blogging tool, half micro-blogging tool, this site is my new favorite. I just started a new learning journal there, and am looking to start a collaborative blog with Elon iMedia classmate Steve Earley using Posterous in the future.The site is innovative, easy to use and fun. I wish it outputted valid XHTML though.
  4. Web Developer Add-on for Firefox (and Firebug): This should really be number one. I’ve used it more than anything as I’ve created websites and other web-related projects. Quick, go find out how these tools help make writing web pages, validating them and more easier and faster.
  5. People: There’s one link for this, and it’s all my classmates in the inaugural interactive media master’s program at Elon University. I’ve learned more from these people than any other tool. Good interactive media follows best practices in design and technical aspects, while pushing the edges of what’s possible. Groundbreaking interactive media does that, and connects with people. And you can’t connect with people if you can’t learn from them.

Image by Jomirano.

Can You Have Too Much Media in a Project?

Thumb drive

After a first day of beneficial chaos, my classmates and I dominated the second day of content gathering in London on one of Elon iMedia’s project for public good.

Our faculty adviser, Ray Johnson, called it “the most productive day by a group I’ve ever seen.”

We’re back in the States now, and have an incredible amount of media to go through to create our final product – a digital prospectus for an elementary school in London.

We kept up a solid momentum for the last three days of the project and collected thousands of photos and videos. Now we have to turn all this media into a story, and it makes me wonder – can you have too much media on a project?

No. No way.

Here’s why:

  • A variety of media gives you choice and flexibility in storytelling.
  • You probably won’t regret not getting a shot or piece of footage.
  • You can give your client plenty of b-roll footage for future projects or as other sources of income.
  • You have plenty of places to find inspiration and stories.

Of course, a ton of media creates obstacles. You have more to comb through, it may be easy to lose focus of your final product and the sheer amount of material you have may eat up valuable time.

Here’s the strategy we’re taking on our London project:

  • We held a content and brainstorming meeting after two days to hash out exactly where the project was headed. We planned out our final product, so we knew exactly what we needed, but agreed we’d be flexible if we discovered any gems during the rest of the trip.
  • We created a shot list for video and followed it.
  • We created a log sheet for all media, so we know exactly what we have and how it might be organized.

These three simple steps have helped guide us and keep the amount of media we have from overwhelming us. That lets us concentrate on the important part of the project – the story.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Image by svilen001.

Why Chaos Can Make a Storytelling Project Work

Buckingham Palace guards marching

Sometimes chaos can be the best thing for a big project.

My classmates and I discovered this today as we finished our first day on location at Barrow Hill Junior School in London. We gathered content today for a digital prospectus we will build the school as part of Elon University’s interactive media master’s program project for public good.

We arrived and received a warm welcome by the head teacher and staff at the school. We took a tour, brainstormed and attacked several different mini-projects.

As the day went on, some chaos was unavoidable. We all had landed in a new place (the school) today and an entirely different country less than four days ago. We all had to get acquainted with everything.

We did.

And the first day’s chaos – the rushing around, the meeting new people, the action of finally shooting something on video after mostly planning and brainstorming – felt wonderful.

We all have a hundreds of ideas flowing, and we can’t wait to see where the project takes us tomorrow.

Like I said, sometimes, chaos in a project can be an amazing thing. Welcome it, because it can fuel you and your colleagues like nothing else.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Going with the Flow on a Storytelling Project

Tower of London tunnel

Every project has its challenges.

The winter term project I’m working on with my classmates at Elon University in London is no different. We knew that it would throw challenges our way, but the project hasn’t even begun and we’ve faced a major one.

It snowed in London a few days before we arrived and the school where we plan to shoot shut down for the week. It snowed again today, so we’re hoping the same thing doesn’t happen Monday.

To combat the uncertainty we’ve brainstormed ideas for possible new story ideas and solutions if the snow falls and we have to change plans. And we will probably have to ramp that up because it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow. We’ve also already shot one standalone project for the piece though, so starting the process felt good.

Ultimately, it’s about going with the flow.

You can do the same thing, no matter what kind of storytelling project you’re working on.

Go with this strategy:

  • Create a plan and a back-up plan for your project.
  • Go in knowing everything won’t work out.
  • Be ready to adjust at any time.

It’s a simple strategy, but one that can help you accomplish anything.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

The Strategy for a Storytelling Project with Unknowns

My classmates and I at Elon University have been huddled together planning some very exciting projects for public good.

My group heads to London tomorrow. We’ve brainstormed and brainstormed and discovered that many of our decisions about our project will have to wait until we get on the ground.

We will be creating a multimedia Web site for an elementary school in London – a digital prospectus, so to speak. We’d love to have more knowns than unknowns, but I think we’re learning that’s part of the excitement of this project.

It’s very journalistic in nature, even though it will serve as more of a marketing piece for the school in London. And that means reacting to what’s happening (with as much planning as possible) rather than following a specific schedule.

One of my classmates, and the Creative Director of our London project, Conor Britain, spelled out a great strategy for us yesterday.

He said that we will plan to create a good project, but once we get in London, we will discover how to make it great.

I like that approach – for any big storytelling project.

You’ll never know all the details. So plan all that is possible and be ready to be flexible.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Planning a Big Storytelling Project: Have an Eye on the Story

Big Ben

Planning any large, group project can prove daunting.

However, with some creative thinking and teamwork, group members can accomplish a lot of pre-planning before any boots hit the ground. That’s something I’m realizing with one big project I’m working on right now.

The Adventure

I’ll be creating a digital prospectus for an elementary school in London with 10 classmates of mine. The project is part of the curriculum in my Interactive Media Master’s program at Elon University.

My 34 classmates and I will embark on four separate projects for public good around the world. We leave for London, Costa Rica and Panama in the coming days.

The Challenge

As my group members and I have planned how to attack our project, we’ve faced a few challenges. One of the biggest has been how to organize our creative teams.

We will develop a multimedia website for our client that tells its story. This will include photos, videos, text and more. To effectively gather the content we need, using all the technology available to us, we’ve split ourselves into three creative teams. Each team has three to four people.

The Solution

How could we divide our team’s talents and divvy up responsibilities without locking anyone into a role for good?

We took each person’s talents into account, placing a strong videographer, photographer and interviewer in each group. Then we developed a varied roles within each group for the members to keep in mind as they were out collecting content.

Obviously, we will have one person responsible for shooting video and one person responsible for shooting photos. The third role is the storyteller. When this person isn’t interviewing folks, he or she will be required to have an eye for what the videographer and photographer might be missing.

Are they missing any shots or angles? Who are the most engaging subjects or characters? They are a producer, more or less.

It’s not terribly innovative, but these roles will be interchangeable among group members, giving people the opportunity to try different tasks. And what could happen if we fail to have someone keeping their eye on the story?

I shudder just thinking about it.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Image by et420.