Media Magazine

Ken Burn’s New App a Lesson in More Than American History

Posted on the 27 February 2014 by Themarioblog @garciainteract

See America through the eyes of award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

And, while taking this joyous and instructive, but fun, tour of the history of America is in itself a delight, my interest in recommending it here has more to do with a thought I had upon examining the app:

This is a textbook case study of what we can do with an immensive multimedia story. It is timely also in the scope and sequence of TheMarioBlog. This week we reviewed the most recent Vanity Fair tablet edition, and wondered why it was still so print driven and flat.

At a time when editorial tablet editions are beginning to settle into a blended smoothie with a 60% component of legacy print syrup, it is refreshing to get ideas from this app from award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs. His documentaries are about The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011) and The Central Park Five (2012. In this app, he brings some of these topics back, adapting the storytelling to the tablet’s potential.

Ken Burns history of America is not limited to war, peace treaties and presidential elections and assassinations. It is an all inclusive account, with music, entertainment and sports people and moments playing an essential role.

The app
Ken Burn’s new app a lesson in more than American history
Ken Burn’s new app a lesson in more than American history

Start with a navigator that includes a series of circles with titles such as The Alamo, The Better Angels, The Civil War or A Common Treasure. A time line from 1776 guides the user through various historical periods, such as Soldiers of Music for the 1940s.

As robust as this app is in terms of information, what makes it an inspiration for those of us working with editorial apps is the role of storytelling. Ken Burns hints at that in the app’s introduction:

I have been making films about the stories of American history for over three decades. What is so exciting to me about this app is the opportunity to pull back and isolate some individual stories and connect them with other moments from other films….

You can browse through a free version of the app, or, for $9.99 unlock the full potential of the app. I particularly liked the role that audio—-and music—play here.

This app is, for all purposes, a fantastic multimedia story presentation. It is part documentary, part television, part radio, LIFE magazine photography and allows the user to experience it all in the tablet.

What we can learn from the Ken Burns app

1. Take a story and/or theme: in this case American History

2. Create segments that organize the content and make that an easy to follow navigation.

3. Create a template for each of these segments, not just for the look and feel, creating a familiar environment in which to approach the broad subject of the story. In the specific case of the Burns app: the circle that guided the navigation opens each segment; an audio narrative is part of each opening; followed by video and/or photography.

Download the app here:
TheMarioBlog post # 1442

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