How I accidentally created PowerPoint (or, the value of storyboarding)

Oct 16 2012

Ever heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, I fixed something that wasn’t broken in my latest assignment for the Reese News Lab.

My editors wanted an interactive tool that was not the overused swipe-through gallery currently plastering several posts featured on WhichWayNC.com. So what did I deliver? A swipe-through gallery, one that was purty darn similar to the one in our library that was off-limits.

You may be asking “Why would you do that? It’s a waste of time and resources. Where’s the innovation, man!?” Honestly, I have no good response or defense. Long story short, I left no time to plan out or storyboard the interactive and I paid the price: I missed a deadline and ultimately consider the product to be a personal failure.

If you are OK with that answer and enjoy short stories, you can stop reading here. However, if you like a good story and want to hear the longer version I alluded to a second ago, then please continue.

The mission: make a snazzy flowchart by deadline
The assignment seemed simple: We needed a flowchart that described the life cycle of a vote from the ballot to Capitol Hill. Immediately, I envisioned a Flash-esque interactive that would incorporate visuals and CSS transitions, keeping the user engaged. That was on Monday. My deadline? The following Sunday by 4 p.m. Easy enough, I thought.

Fast-forward to Sunday at 10 a.m. I had made exactly zero progress towards completing this flowchart before 4 p.m. And I mean nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And the icing on the cake was I had to work at my part-time job from 3-11 that night. So I did what any respectable college student would do: I went to Food Lion, bought some energy drinks and mentally prepared for an all-nighter (and a missed deadline).

By 5:30 a.m., Monday morning (I had to be back at my job at 6 a.m.), I was finished. At first, I was proud. It was my first time using jQuery and CSS transitions without any kind of plug-in or rubric from a professor. And then I was disappointed.

In my zombie-like state, I realized I had just created a jQuery version of the world’s most-popular and most-hated presentation software, PowerPoint. The animation was simple and the text faded in and out. Sound familiar? Like I said, I was disappointed.

More planning needed
The reason for this personal failure was the lack of planning that went into this interactive. Early in the week, the content was ready to go and I had only briefly discussed what the flowchart should look like with the story’s author. I was overly confident in my ability to achieve the interactive flowchart I envisioned and paid the price Sunday night and Monday morning.

I know, without a doubt in my mind, that this interactive could have been 1,000 times better than the “Homage to PowerPoint” that I delivered Monday morning. Had I sat down with the author and our Director of Graphics and Technology, we could have used any number of brainstorming techniques, from sketching out the entire process to simply talking aloud to bouncing ideas off one another. While the reporter and I did discuss the process and some basic architecture, the discussions were short because I was confident in the visual I had locked away in my noodle.

To add to the whole ordeal, this missed deadline forced me to miss a deadline for a story I had due later that same week, because I did not have enough time to schedule my interview before the editorial deadline. All of this happened because I neglected to take an hour and plan out and storyboard the flowchart.

In the end, I have learned my lesson, for now at least. In three weeks, I have an interactive due. Guess what I did today? You guessed it, I sketched it out in Adobe Illustrator. Now I have plenty of time to get feedback and tweak the idea before publication.

One more thing. Take a look at my story and let me know what you think. I am open to any comments, opinions or mockery. Feel free to comment on the story’s page or contact me directly:

Twitter: @_matthayes
Email: matthayes@reesenews.org


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