Illustrations by Richard Whitters
Currently, I'm busy writing up the creative brief for the next iteration of D&D. In a nutshell, the creative brief is the document that defines the strategy and "big idea" that will drive the visual development of the product line. Right now things are pretty general—we're tackling only high-level strategy ideas. We won't get into the meat of the look and feel for a while yet. This high-level strategy tries to define big ideas that we can hang our hat on. In essence, the creative brief makes sure that everyone is looking at the same bull's-eye. Why do I bring this up now? Well, while I was reading the comments and discussions from my first article, an element of the creative brief came to mind. One of the discussions that I have been following is the debate about the heavily crafted look of 3.x vs. the "textbook" look of 4E vs. the easy-to-tote D&D Essentials format. This is a great conversation to have!
Let's start with this question: Have you ever thought about the reasons that you love a product? I think about it all the time. In fact, you can say that I spend my whole life evaluating my spending decisions. Why is it that I'm willing to spend $10 on this item, but won't pull together $2 of pocket change for another item, and won't blink an eye about putting down $100 on yet a third item? For me, it all comes down to the experience.
Please consider this:
Product A: I'm buying it for information and knowledge. I don't care what it looks like—I'm not interested in paying for a premium treatment. All I care about is the ability to access, browse, store, and use the information. The value for me is the knowledge gained by participating in the experience of the product. This could be a textbook, a database of information, a collection of stat blocks, and so on.
Product B: I'm buying an experience. I'm buying into the concept that I will be immersed, engaged, and given an interactive experience. Pretty pictures and information are important only if they increase the engagement of the experience. I want to create a memory! I want to walk away from the experience thinking, "I will remember that forever and tell all my friends about it." This could be a movie, a video game, a convention or event, and so on.
Product C: I'm buying this one because I just gotta have it! It is the coolest thing around, and only a few select folks will own it. I'll be able to hold it, smell it, touch it, put it on my shelf, hand it down to my kids, put pictures of it on Facebook . . . in other words, I will treasure it! This could be a cool limited-edition printing, a super high-end custom gaming table, a book individualized with a drawing and autograph from my favorite artist, and so on. The value is in the ownership of a treasured item.
As you can see, each of these examples illustrates very different experiences so when I read discussions about 3.x vs. 4E, I see folks arguing about those experiences. The 3.x person seems to love the immersive qualities of the product. They love the handcrafted feel and the in-world quality. They enjoy the fact that it feels like a small treasure, engages them in the storyline, and immerses them into the world. The 4E person seems to like the fact that it's easy to read, and that it's easy to access information and copy pertinent data for the rest of the table. As you can see, folks aren't evaluating the products in the same way, which means they have very different expectations for what the product will offer them and they have very different motivations for purchasing the products.
Looking at the examples above, I see three distinctly different motivations for interacting with a product offering.
Product A is what I call "consume." You want data and information. Forget the fluff. It just slows you down. Ditch the noise—if it doesn't make you smarter, faster, or more efficient, you just don't see any value.
Product B is "engage." It's all about the experience. You want a bungee jump over a textbook, or you want to stroll through an art show. You want to get connected and excited, and you want to feel as if you are alive! If you don't get all dreamy thinking back to the experience, you'll feel as though you threw away your money.
Product C is "cherish." It's all about finding and squirreling away little treasures. For example, I have an original D&D book that is held together with duct tape and is filled with scribbles. I'd never part with it. The value isn't monetary—it's a priceless treasure. I know few of them are out there, and none of them are just like mine.
All right, so far this has been a pretty high-concept, abstract discussion. So let's put it into some context. I've received a ton of emails and messages asking me to . . .
- Make the products more immersive
- Make the products easier to use based on the way the content is presented
- Make the products digital
- Make the products analog
The list above has just a few of the things I've read from you all. These requests show that everyone has a take on how the products should be presented. I've kicked back messages to some of these folks and asked, "Why should it be ____?" Each time, they have great reasons why the products should be created in a particular manner. Each of those reasons relates back to an experience or usage. Perfect!
So, one of the topics I want to tackle during our explorations is to take a look at the usage and experience of products.
Is the product primarily focused on "crunch" text? Chances are it fits into the "consume" model, right? So why invest a lot of time and costs into making it beautiful and immersive. In this case, the look of the product could get in the way of the usage.
If the product is about pulling you into the world—then creating a product that is rich and compelling makes more sense. Make it "cherish-able."
And what about those products that might be a mixture? Perhaps we'll create sections to the product. Storyline is rich and compelling. Stats are clean and easy to consume. Doesn't it make sense to have the design of the content fit the usage—rather than the other way around?
Coming up next time: art style!
Until then, here's a poll for you. Choose the word that best fits your preference in order to complete the sentence below.
Core books are ____ products.
Last Week's Poll
To you, the most important aspect of a D&D logo is:
|The dragon ampersand
|It has a retro look
|A hard, aggressive look
|A sword through it
| Other (I'll tell you in the comments section)
|It must be red
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.