Nick Higgett and Andrew McNamara,
School of Design and Manufacture,
De Montfort University,
Leicester, UK.

Multimedia Design: Teaching a New Design Discipline

N.P. Higgett and A. McNamara

School of Design and Manufacture, De Montfort University

Fletcher CADLab, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH England


Developments in computer graphics and associated developments in digital media technology have allowed the creation of a new cognate area of design, namely multimedia design. This paper will examine the major developments in multimedia design technology that have taken place and the range of the new multimedia products that they now make possible. It will then describe the new unique blend of design and technological expertise that is required in order to develop these applications. Finally the paper will examine the way in which this new subject of multimedia design is taught at De Montfort University.


Computer based design systems are now well established tools in most mainstream design areas. The first author is responsible for the provision of computer-aided design (CAD) teaching to students on both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in several of these traditional design disciplines including:

Fashion and Textile Design 3 Dimensional Design Graphic Design

The students are introduced to the CAD tools used in their design area and are given an understanding of how CAD is integrated into their specific design process. The CAD systems employed in these traditional design disciplines include 2 dimensional drawing and image manipulation systems and 3 dimensional modelling and animation systems. The CAD system is used primarily as a design tool and a means to an end design which may then link to the production process through computer integrated manufacture (CIM) technology.

However, these systems along with developments in digital sound and video manipulation, virtual reality and multimedia authoring allow the creation of new genus of digital screen based products and immersive applications. In these cases the computer is used not only to design but also to produce a product which is itself either computer or screen based. This new design domain, Multimedia Design requires a new breed of designer, the Multimedia Designer.

De Montfort University has been at the forefront of establishing this new design discipline. In 1992, the authors began a three year project funded by the Enterprise Learning Initiative (ELI) to investigate the emerging multimedia technology and to introduce multimedia design into the curriculum of existing courses. This originally involved creating a half module comprising of 60 hours of student activity for both second year undergraduate and first year postgraduate graphic design students within the School of Design and Manufacture. The culmination of two years work resulted in one exceptional undergraduate graphic design student winning the RSA Multimedia bursary in 1994.

Even with this minor success it was found that this approach of introducing multimedia design into existing graphic design courses was limited, particularly because there was insufficient time to effectively introduce students to this growing new subject and teach the full range of skills required [1]. This approach was also inhibited by many of the backgrounds of the graphic design students who were on the whole not very computer literate and possessing only narrow media expertise. It was therefore decided that specialised multimedia design courses with a specially selected intake were needed and in October 1994, De Montfort University validated and launched two new multimedia design courses:

BA (Hons) Multimedia Design, and MA Multimedia Design

This paper will now outline the nature of multimedia design and describe how the subject is taught at De Montfort University.

Developments in multimedia design technology

In approximately the last 15 years major developments in both personal computer and digital media technology have made possible the so called "multimedia revolution". In 1979, Philips introduced Compact Disk Digital Audio (CDDA) for storing digital sound. In 1985 Philips and Sony jointly introduced Compact Disk Read Only Memory (CD ROM) for general digital data storage. This provided a medium for the storage of digital text, sound and both still and moving graphics of 650 megabytes (mb). In 1992 a further development was made by Kodak and Philips, who jointly launched Photo-CD which was a standard for storing photographic resolution images on CD-ROM [2].

An important development for the handling of all this digital media on a personal computer has been the introduction of a range of digital compression techniques. This is particularly important for dealing with digital full screen full motion video (FMFSV) a key component of multimedia. Digital full motion video (FMV) has been made available by technologies such as Microsoft's Video for Windows and Apple's Quicktime. However these technologies do not at present provide either the required full frame rate of 25 frame per second or full screen images. With a single digitised broadcast picture requiring approximately 1mb of storage, a CD-ROM would only hold 26 seconds of FMFSV. The solution has been to compress the video data, storing mainly differences between successive frames using Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT) techniques. The motion video compression standard to do this has been defined by the Moving Pictures Expert Group and called MPEG and gives data compression ratios in excess of 100 to 1 [3].

Developments in digital media communications such as in Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Loop (ADSL) technology and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology also mean that multimedia elements including high speed graphics and real time video can now be transmitted via copper cable or optical fibre [4].

Besides these developments in digital media, there has also been a parallel progression in personal computer processor technology and associated graphic and sound subsystems. Taken together, these technological advances digital media, communications and computing now make possible a new generation of multimedia applications and services incorporating:

Digital text and Digital sound
Digital still and moving graphics and Full motion digital video
Real time interaction with 3 dimensional objects and environments

The range of new multimedia products

The range of digital multimedia products that are being or have yet to be developed can be divided into the following broad categories and include:

Education and training

These include interactive multimedia computer assisted learning (CAL) and computer based training (CBT) products which are being developed for either CD-ROM or the Internet.


These include interactive 2 and 3 dimensional "video" games,interactive film and television programmes, virtual theme rides,digital film and television 2 and 3 dimensional programmes, special effects, and graphics and interactive multimedia edutainment and infotainment products.

Information and Presentation

These include multimedia points of information (POI), multimedia reference libraries and databases, electronic books, multimedia information displays, virtual visualisation and simulation products, multimedia exhibition, conference and presentation materials.

Marketing and Advertising.

These include multimedia points of sale (POS) for product advertising and demonstration and virtual product previewing and simulation systems.


These include video conferencing, telematic and multimedia mail applications as well as virtual, cyberspace based communication systems.

([5], [ 6])

The design and development of this new genre of multimedia screen and computer based products is however being impeded by a scarcity of designers who have the necessary multimedia expertise .

"the most critical obstacle to the development of a "critical mass" of CD-I titles has been the dearth of individuals with the appropriate skills" (Luskin 1989) [7]

This shortage, which still exists, is further evidence of the need for the development of new multimedia design courses.

The multimedia designer

The development of the range of multimedia applications described in the previous section requires a diverse range of knowledge and skills which include:

Subject Expertise

Subject expertise to determine the content for the multimedia application and also assists in the structuring, scripting and story boarding of the application

Programming and technical Expertise.

Depending on the complexity of the application most require some form of technical expertise in the use of media generation and manipulation packages, authoring packages, scripting languages or programming and technical knowledge in respect of the intended authoring and delivery platform.

Graphic, Audio-Visual and 3D Design Expertise.

Most multimedia applications require the assimilation, creation and integration of many diverse media elements. Expertise is therefore required in the design and production of the original artwork, graphics, screen layouts, animations and 3 dimensional objects and environments as well as in the generation, capturing and manipulating of digital audio-visual media.

Instructional and Interactive Design Expertise.

This expertise is required in the development of a multimedia application to structure the information in close liaison with the subject expert into a concise logical form and then to design a suitable user interface along with navigation systems to allow effective interaction.

Project Management Expertise.

The variety of tasks and the broad range skills involved in multimedia production require specialist multimedia project management expertise to co-ordinate and manage the design and production processes at both a creative and technical level. ([8], [9], [10])

For the development of a particular application the subject expertise will vary. However the knowledge and skills which are required, that are common to all multimedia design and production are those relating to computing, design and management. Very few individuals have all these skills and therefore most commercial multimedia production companies have specialised personnel to fit specific roles. However studies have indicated major communication problems exist particularly between the designers and the information technologists involved in multimedia production who fail to understand and appreciate each others requirements [11]. Furthermore these studies highlighted the need for designers to understand the constraints and opportunities offered by the new technology and the need for the technologists to appreciate the role of design [12].

There is therefore a need to bridge this language, knowledge and skills gap with individuals who can integrate in particular the full range of computing and design expertise that multimedia design and production requires. These individuals, the new generation of multimedia designers must be able to perform a number of the roles described combined with an ability to understand the roles and expertise of others.

Teaching Multimedia Design

At De Montfort university the staff involved in teaching multimedia design come from either a design or a computing background. They developed their expertise in this new subject through mastering, expanding and integrating these two fundamental areas to multimedia. This basic need both types of experience was also identified through the ELI project and is reflected for example in the student enrolment for the MA Multimedia Design course. Of the 13 students, 7 students have an information technology background and 6 have a design background but both sets of students were able to demonstrate an active interest in the other's area.

Multimedia design is by its very nature multi-disciplinary usually requiring a team effort. An important teaching method employed therefore is the use of group projects some of which are live. Through this approach not only do the design and the computing students learn from each other by working together, they also learn how to deal with real project management issues. In this way they gain a better understanding of each others expertise as well as experience of the actual multimedia design and production process.

To prepare the students for these group projects and their own individual multimedia design projects the students will undergo a series of lectures and multimedia laboratory practicals.

The lectures cover the basic theory of Multimedia Design and include:


Digital Media Technologies, Authoring Platforms, Authoring Tools Technologyand Languages, Multimedia Content Tools and Delivery Platforms.

Multimedia Design.

Design Methodologies, Storyboarding and Scripting, Structuring and Navigation, Human Computer Interface Design, Audio-Visual and Graphic Design Issues

Multimedia Production. Application Areas, Production Team and Skills, Production Process and Project Management

In the practicals students get experience of a range of multimedia tools. They use either Apple Macintosh or IBM compatible multimedia computers to digitise text, image, sound and video and an array of multimedia software which includes:

Image Generation and Manipulation - Adobe Photoshop

Digital Sound Manipulation and Editing - Macromedia Sound Edit Pro

Digital Video Manipulation and Editing - Adobe Premiere

Multimedia Authoring and 2D Animation - Macromedia Director

3D Animation - Autodesk 3D Studio & Silicon Graphics Alias/Wavefront

Equipped with the tools and guided by the theory the students will then be given a range of multimedia design problems to solve. Through these individual and group projects and assignments the students are allowed to develop their own multimedia specialisation finally negotiating their own major multimedia study or project.


Currently, we find ourselves in the early pioneering days of multimedia design. This is confirmed by recent reports from Milia, the multimedia trade fair held this year at Cannes, which highlighted the continuing poor design quality of most of the multimedia products on display.

"the designers and content providers are still learning the alphabet,never mind the grammar of this new language "

(Rosen 1995) [13]

It took over 30 years to master and formulate the conventions and genres of film that we are familiar with today. As the subject is so new many examples of the multimedia techniques being employed and multimedia products being produced at present have their origins in other traditional and well establised media such as books, film and television. It should be recognised that the subject is in its infancy and that there are no established rules for multimedia design only guide-lines. Consequently students should be encouraged to develop new and innovative approaches to design for multimedia.

It is therefore the role of the multimedia design courses at De Montfort University, along with the growing number elsewhere to establish these guide-lines and encourage the students in this way. This pioneering work will support the development of this new cognate design area and in turn assist the emerging multimedia industry.


1 Higgett, N., McNamara, A., "Multimedia in Higher Education", Enterprise Learning Initiative Final Report, De Montfort University, 1995

2 Cotton, B. and Oliver, R., Understanding Hypermedia, Phiadon Press Ltd., 1993

3 Cotton, B. and Oliver, R., The Cyberspace Lexicon, Phiadon Press Ltd., 1994

4 Skibb, N.," Enabling Technologies for graphics and Video Networks", Computer Graphics Expo, 1994

5 Vaughn, T., "Multimedia, Making it Work", Osborne McGraw Hill, 1994

6 Cotton, B. and Oliver, R., Understanding Hypermedia, Phiadon Press Ltd., 1993

7 Luskin, B.J., "Compact Disc Interactive: A Dream and reality", The CD-ROM Yearbook 1990, Redmond, Microsoft Press, 1990

8 Higgett,N.P., McNamara, A., Stroud, J., "Educational Courseware Development - A Case Study", Eurographics, Oxford University, 1994

9 Admiral Training Ltd, "Multimedia Design, A Newcomers Guide", Admiral Training/Department of Employment Publication,1993

10 Hoffos,S. et al, "CD-I Designers Guide", McGraw Hill, 1992

11 McNamara, A., "The Multimedia Explosion" MA Information and Graphic Design Report, De Montfort University, 1991

12 Stabolis, A., "Making Multimedia : An Explanation of the Visual Designer's Role in the Production of a Training Package" MA Information and Graphic Design Report, De Montfort University, 1992

13 Rosen, N., "Slipped Discs" The Guardian, Guardian Newspapers, 2 February 1995.



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