Finding my ultimate user persona: Crossover Lab

Editor's note: 'The Nightshift' in this article refers to Carol Cooke's interactive documentary series The Nightshift, not to be confused with the Bridging the Gap short documentary Night Shift

Arriving at Crossover Lab 2 in Antwerp, I felt like a definite contender for Channel 4's hit series Faking It. Targeted at “creative professionals with a unique crossmedial concept” and billed as “the answer to all your questions”, it seemed like the perfect course for me and my latest project. The Nightshift originally began life as a photo documentary on prostitution which I had developed for the BBC's Why Poverty pitch. However, having spent the summer on ESo Doc learning all about the wonders of multi-platforming from the likes of IDFA's Caspar Sonnen and Katerina Cizek from the National Film Board of Canada, I was beginning to get a wee bitty overexcited about The Nightshift's cross-media potential and had a lot of questions that needed answering.  So Crossover couldn't have come at a better time and I was delighted when I found out I'd been accepted.

The_Nightshift_Mood_Board_.jpgWhat I'd failed to realise however was that by the end of this five day workshop, I would be doing a live pitch at the 2011 European Games Summit in front of a panel of award winning 'Games Masters' and some of the biggest names in the industry. It was at this point total panic set in and my Faking It journey began because, what I'd failed to mention in my application, was that I hadn't actually played a computer game since I was 12 so my last experience of gaming was as a skateboarding Bart Simpson on my big brother's Amiga.  And now, 16 years on I had just 5 days to develop my very own game and convince some of the biggest players in the industry that it could be a hit. Cue Faking It titles and an utterly exhausting but totally inspiring following five days...

Day One

With the big pitch just 4 days away, our first session at Crossover focussed on getting to know you, getting to know your project and getting to know your audience. Using the tried and trusted concept of User Experience Design (UDX), we were challenged to identify an ultimate persona for our projects and develop a unique user journey for them. Analysing everything from their use of facebook all the way through to their biggest fears, this proved to be a really challenging but thoroughly rewarding exercise in audience and project development that pushed every aspect of The Nightshift under the microscope and forced me to consider why, where, when, how and how much my ultimate persona – 28 year old Stephanie from Glasgow – would interact with it. 

Day Two

Fresh from the soul searching and psychoanalysis of Day One, Day Two at Crossover began with an introduction to multi-platform pitching and treatment writing which, we soon discovered, has a much greater emphasis on the intended audience than there is in traditional documentary pitching. So unlike my big pitch for Barefoot in Business at ESoDoc the month before – where my only reference to my audience was with “this is a character driven documentary for international broadcast and theatrical release” – my pitch on Friday would have to be all about my audience and my ultimate persona, Stephanie.  

So, what was going to attract Stephanie to The Nightshift and what would her user journey entail? It was time for me to get to grips with the frighteningly unfamiliar world of gaming which first meant getting to grips with the language of the industry. From nurturing and solving all the way through to aiming and fighting, it turns out every game that has ever been invented can be summed up with just one verb so our first challenge was to identify the key word that would characterise our individual user experiences and drive our game's development. Indecisive as always, I opted for two and spent the rest of the day brainstorming, experimenting and pitching with the ever inspiring Crossover Team and Lab mentors in my new and surprisingly fun role as Games Master. 

Day Three

Having gone from a petrified 'pre-historic' gamer to an overexcitable 21st Century 'Games Master' within the space of just one day, it now was time for me and my big ideas to undergo a serious reality check. So just how easy it would be to bring these big ideas to life? What exactly would I need? Who would I need?  How long would I need them for? And, most importantly, how much would all this cost? It was out with the unrealistic and, bit by bit, in with the makings of a really exciting, achievable and affordable final concept – and perhaps the first glimmers of hope that I might just have what it takes to Fake It in front of the panel on Friday.   

With the final concept confirmed, it was time to inject some 'emotional resonance' into my project with the help of a word cloud (pictured below) and mood board (see above). So, did I want Stephanie to find her Nightshift experience challenging or comforting? Funny or frightening? Insightful or inspiring? And, what did I want it all to look like?  Ultra modern or minimalist? Subtle or in your face? Taking the verb challenge from the day before to a whole new level, this was a fascinating exercise that forced me to really get to the heart of the project and my motivations for making it and then bring it all to life with the help of Crossover's genius graphic designer, Adam. 


Day Four

With the final pieces of The Nightshift puzzle now in place and just 24 hours until the big pitch, Day Four was all about rehearsals, rejigging and the writing of the 'elevator pitch'. As a woman of many words, I struggle to even say my name in 140 characters let alone describe my most ambitious project to date.  However after much editing and abbreviating, I was finally within my word limit and fair chuffed with the following – "a 3 part interactive journey into the world of prostitution for anyone who has ever wondered what it is like to sell your body for sex..."

After a tentative tweet to the outside world and some encouraging feedback from Crossover's followers, I was back at the Watering Hole for an afternoon of pitching, feedback and frantic re-writing until I finally had my presentation down to a comfortable seven minutes and could relax with a few nerve settling local beers and an extra big portion of Moules Frites. 

Day Five

So the day of the big pitch had arrived and, in spite of two rather bleary eyes and a serious dose of sleep deprivation, I was feeling surprisingly calm. Having discovered just how strong my Scottish accent was at ESoDoc the month before, I was steering clear of the caffeine and gradually re-mastering the art of speaking slowly. Although with the prospect of an expert panel in front of me and an unforgiving audience of avid, and at times unforgiving, gamers tweeting live to a big screen behind me, there was no controlling when my nerves and my apparently incomprehensible Glasgow accent may make an appearance.  Just like ESoDoc my entire 20 minutes in the spotlight remains a bit of a blur – well apart from beginning my pitch by asking loud and clear in my microphone headset just how exactly the wireless mouse that I had just been handed works. That was perhaps not the best way to start a pitch when you're trying to Fake It as a 21st Century 'Games Master' – however according to the official feedback and the encouraging number of offers and business cards that I left Antwerp with, it appears this new media novice may just have pulled off the seemingly impossible. Cue Faking It credits and an extra big Belgium beer to celebrate! 

If Crossover Lab had its very own word cloud, I'm pretty sure 'Intense', 'Challenging'', 'Inspiring' and 'Illuminating' would all feature. This is a course that takes you well out of your comfort zone but really does provide the answer to all your crossmedial questions, so I would highly recommend it to any other documentary makers and new media novices like me who are keen to take their projects to a whole new level. So thanks again to all the Crossover team, my mentors and my fellow participants for making it such an enjoyable and rewarding experience and thanks to the Scottish Documentary Institute for selecting me for this unforgettable trip to Antwerp, and to Creative Scotland's Creative Futures programme for funding it.