John introduces us to some DVD “Navigation & Linkage” tips.
DVDs are all about choice, about watching what you wanna watch when you wanna watch it, and DVDs are about special features and options. But, choice and options are only as useful as they are accessible to your viewers. In this next section, we’re gonna discuss menu design, usability, and how you can make your DVDs more accessible.
First, I want you to forget that you’re creating a DVD and, instead, think about watching one. When you pop that DVD into your DVD player, what do you want to do? The answer may seem obvious – you want to play the video. But, you wouldn’t know that from watching some Hollywood discs. Instead, when you put that disc into your player, you first see a wild splash screen that comes zooming in, followed by a bunch of previews and then you might be presented with the menu back, hopefully, to a menu that has the play button. I’m not advocating that you should be creating discs that are boring, but if your intention is to produce a video that people will watch, I strongly recommend getting that play button onto the screen as quickly as possible.
Now, that you’ve presented your viewers with the option to watch your movie on DVD, you’re gonna start thinking about more advanced navigational features. Unlike linear videotape, which must be fast forwarded and rewound, DVDs allow the viewer to jump around to various locations on the video instantaneously. The author of the DVD chooses where those locations are and adds chapter marks to break up longer movies into smaller segments, or your content might already be broken up into individual segments. In any case, you’re going to need to present the viewer with a way to jump to individual chapters. If you have a lot of segments, you might want to put your chapter thumbnails on a secondary menu or on a couple of secondary menus. Be aware that every secondary menu that you add to your project is another click and another delay before your viewer can get to what she wants to watch. If you don’t have too many chapters, consider putting your chapter thumbnails on the first page, right along with the play button.
As soon as you add a second menu to your project, the complexity of your disc increases dramatically and, if you aren’t careful, accessibility can go down. Again, pretend that you’re a viewer of your disc who knows nothing about the disc when you create it. When you click on a button on a sub-menu, what do you expect to see? If you need to go back to a previous menu, how do you do it? If the menu goes to another sub-menu, how do you get back to previous menu? And how do you get back to the main menu? These are not difficult questions to answer, but they are important. I’d recommend that you go low tech in the early stages and use a paper and pencil to create a flowchart of navigation and maybe create a paper prototype of your disc menu and navigation.
Disc navigation should look familiar to you, not just from renting from DVDs, but also from browsing the web. The concepts are the same. DVD players, however, have something that the typical web browser does not have – a remote control. Besides creating explicit navigation buttons on your menus, you also have to consider the behavior of the button presses on the remote control. Not all software will give you full control of all the button presses, but you need to preview your disc before you burn it to test what happens when, say, the root menu button is pressed or when the menu button is fingered, and when the previous and next buttons are pushed. You also need to determine where the disc gets your viewer when a segment ends. For a 90-minute narrative, the viewer probably expects the disc to play through from the beginning to the end without interruption. But, for a training DVD, such as the one you’re watching right now, your viewers might expect the DVD to return to the menu when a discreet segment is over. Designing DVDs is an immensely fun and creative process, but make sure you give your viewers what they want as clearly, quickly, and as simply as you can.
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