DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Program Agency) came to IDEAS to create a plan of building web-based software with a simple interface to assist service men and women with PTSD, in both storytelling and graphical content creation. The idea was to provide simple-to-use authoring tools to provide the flexibility of telling a wide range of stories, while allowing users to draw from a library of artwork, icons, and other templates to assist them in telling a story related to combat experiences. We put together a best of breed team including therapists, subject matter experts, artists, game and graphic novel designers.
Like all of our projects, the audience and their unique needs drove the process. Given the mental and emotional challenges that persons with PTSD experience, we knew early on that many of the exciting features that we could envision and build would appeal to sophisticated artists, but would limit the product’s usefulness if it were placed in the hands of an inexperienced person with PTSD. Because their symptoms sometimes make it hard to do certain tasks, we recommended that there must be built into the tool facile ways for a person to spend as little as five minutes creating and telling a story, or fifty minutes or longer if they choose.
We also derived important lessons from the gaming industry, and endeavored to make the interface intuitively simple and easy to use. Secondly, the task of creating stories must be simultaneously challenging and achievable, leading to what writers in the field refer to as the flow channel. In our research we made a number of important discoveries and breakthroughs. Because we believe that the tool will favor iPads and other smart devices, we rethought the form factor of the graphic novel. Whereas the printed page drove layouts in the past, the iPad interface with its swipe technology lends itself to an entirely different layout, seeing one cell at a time versus a number of cells grouped together for a vertical page.
We also explored a variety of parameters regarding how the art assets would be created. Whereas graphic artists are all migrating to 3D scenery, we concluded that putting that kind of asset into the hands of someone with PTSD might frustrate them. Likewise, placing objects in the right perspective into a scene with 3-point perspective appeared to be a potential challenge as well. Instead, we opted for simple scenes drawn with minimal perspective to make composition and storytelling the primary concern. Finally, we developed an easy to use interface that offers a range of storytelling activities to provide guidance and structure to their creative process and to augment the therapeutic experience.