Web Versus Movie Experiences


Last week it occurred to me what’s missing from a lot of modern digital design and interactive marketing on the Web, and it began with a simple question that crept into my head while sourcing imagery for a post I wrote recently exploring some of the challenges facing digital teams:

Why is it many of us are able to vividly recall movies we’ve seen 5, 10, even 15 years ago (or longer), sometimes recalling very specific scenes, characters, and visual details -yet we cannot remember that award-winning, cutting-edge Web site we saw on thefwa.com last week?

“Time Is Not Important, Only Life” -don’t ask me how I remember this quote from Luc Besson’s visual masterpiece The Fifth Element -but I do, along with a lot of other memorable scenes involving the heroic Corbin Dallas (played by Bruce Willis) and the evil Zorg (played by Gary Oldman).

Weird, but when you actually think about it, time actually is very important when recalling events and experiences in our mind -and is precisely the reason why so many Web experiences fall short and are easily forgettable.

Here’s my theory: movies typically demand on average 90+ minutes of our full undivided attention whereas Web sites (and I am referring to sites chiefly in the entertainment and info-tainment genre) perhaps only require 5 to 10 minutes (at best) of our attention to fully experience.

What this says to me is that the majority of the Web sites out there in this genre, Web sites supposedly designed under the premise of heightened interactivity and user experience to engage and entertain people, are in fact more time-disposable than we digital creators would care to acknowledge.

The Web is a hyper-transient medium characterized by speed and immediacy of information delivery. By contrast movies are linear, passive experiences demanding much more of our time.

The other factor working against Web-based experiences are the sometimes varied and distracting environments in which we view sites. Interactions with Web based content can occur anywhere Internet access is available —and lately, this seems to be everywhere. For many of us this can be noisy public spaces including the office, the kitchen —even while commuting on public transit. Sometimes these environments are not the most conducive to immersive experiences. Moreover, how compelling can a Web site experience be on a 320 x 240 pixel screen with the sound of a bus engine accelerating in the background?

Theatrical movies performances on the other hand are presented in controlled, purpose-built environments for the optimal experience. That is, a very large dark room, acoustically isolated with multi-channel surround sound, a very large screen, and a comfortable seat -and the popcorn and snacks don’t hurt either. This eliminates a lot of the unnecessary distraction working against our Web-based experiences.

Aside from the constraints of time and space, the movie industry is also much more established than the Web industry. To be fair, movie budgets can be enormous and well supported with diverse teams of pre and post production specialists: photographers, location scouts, art directors and set designers, lighting technicians, musical score and sound designers, script writing, special effects, editing, and the list goes on.

A typical [marketing] Web site on the other hand will only include a small handful of contributors: perhaps several Web developers, creatives/designers, a copywriter, project manager, technology supervisor, several senior managers, and 1 or 2 account service liaisons -that’s about it.

Even with all these challenges and differences, digital teams can still learn a great deal from how movies are made and the working strategies we can employ to genuinely improve the quality of the Web experiences we create.
If we can’t control where people view our sites, we can certainly take steps to control what people experience by thinking more about interactive storytelling and narrative design as a start.

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