Crunching 30 years into an interactive
Creating anÂ interactive timelineÂ is hard work.
Education Week, a non-profit education newsweekly,Â recently celebrated its 30th anniversary this September. As a multimedia producer for a company that focuses on very technical data and studies in education, it’s always challenging to visualize the information our reporters produce.
In this instance, it was pretty easy to conceptualize a timeline that would highlight the most important education stories we’ve published in the past 30 years.
But what’s in a timeline? Quite a lot, actually, especially if you’re creating it using Flash and ActionScript from scratch. We were responsible for everything from creating a buttonâ€™s action to programmatically placing the time markers to building transitions between different screens.
An early conceptual sketch of our timeline
It is true that there are many free timeline creation tools available on the Web. Â Many of them, such asÂ Dipity or SIMILE timeline are very functional, but they either lack the important options for customization or would still require considerable hours to make adjustments. Since Education Week’s needs were narrowly defined, it simply wasn’t feasible to rely on cookie-cutter solutions.
For one thing, we thought it was necessary to organize the timeline by presidential administration, as many of our stories revolved around federal policy-making.Â Another consideration was to be able to efficiently control every graphical aspect of the interface.
Sure, using a tool such as Dipity would have greatly reduced production time, but would have limited our options in the realm of design and functionality.
Ultimately, we went with Flash because it allowed us to design the project the way we wanted to, without being constrained by the functionality of a prefabricated timeline creator. But make no mistake:Â Creating this project in Flash presented many challenges, but our decision ultimately came with a better payoff. A project from scratch requires some heavy planning before programming takes place.Â Every screen was storyboarded and although minor tweaks and changes came later, our initial sketches imagined the core functionality of every slide.
For any other producers out there, it really comes down to a matter of time, effort and the Â key requirements. Â Essentially, how dynamic will the content need to be? Will it be based on curated or user-generated content? How immersive do you want the user experience to be? How much customized graphical components does the interface need?
Spot news coverage would ultimately be better served by Dipity-like tools. In this case, we had the time and the manpower to produce something that was visually beautiful and highly customized.
Article co-written by Education Week’s multimedia producer Paul Franz (@pkfranz) and online creative director Chien Hung (@cyhung).
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Tags: AS3, education, EdWeek, Flash, interactive, Paul Franz, timeline