Since our inception in 1994 we have focused on contributing to the evolution of interactive storytelling through the creation of hundreds of innovative media experiences served through almost every digital medium. We continually exploit new methods and technologies to enhance, evolve, and expand interfaces that reward interaction with powerful, personalized pathways through content and the world of ideas.
In 1994 Berkeley-based painter Brad Johnson creates Pinch, a self-promotional multimedia presentation. Cloaked in the form of a fictitious clothespin company’s promotion, the self-playing animated feature was distributed on a floppy disc inside a letterpress mailer with a souvenir clothespin. The playful piece received many industry awards and quickly launched Brad’s one-man multimedia shop, Brad Johnson Presents.
Disc-Based Multimedia Marketing 1995
Pinch’s success attracts Pacific Bell, Visa, and GE Capital, all of which commission disc-based multimedia experiences promoting their products and services. The scope of the GE Capital project goes beyond Brad’s individual capability, so he partners with a friend’s firm. One of the firm’s employees, Julie Beeler, starts moonlighting with Brad on other projects.
Art and Entertainment 1995
Attracted to the more content-focused multimedia that inspired his first passion for the medium, Brad creates an experimental interactive narrative project included in a digital art exhibition at Postmasters gallery in New York. At the invitation of the publisher of Myst, he pitches Broderbund software on a 3D game based on Pinch.
Entrée to the Web 1995-1996
With the release of Netscape 1.0 in 1995, Brad starts experimenting with the Web and creates self-promotional Web sites that attracts attention in online communities and magazines. After being featured in Hotwired, an adventure travel company hires Brad to create a site to showcase the real-time dispatches from a group of journalists in Antarctica. A more content-robust second site for an expedition to the Galapagos quickly follows. The instant popularity and critical acclaim of these projects take on a full-time programmer and Julie Beeler as a full-time employee, and attracts a new client, the National Geographic Society.
Steak & Sizzle 1996-2001
The studio is soon busy creating “content modules” and interactive re-interpretations of existing media releases for National Geographic. This work soon attracts PBS, NASA, Discovery, and similar clients who crave episodic online content. In 1997 Brad goes on assignment in search of the giant squid to create National Geographic’s first live-dispatch Web site. On his return from New Zealand he and Julie get married, form a new business partnership, change the name of the studio to Second Story, and move the company to Portland, Oregon, an emerging creative community away from the Bay Area’s start-up/IPO-obsessed environment.
In an attempt to diversify and extend the firm’s canvas beyond authoritative editorial non-fiction content modules, the studio experiments with ‘brochureware’ sites for Yashica and Contax, and creates promotional sites for the recording industry (DreamWorks, Virgin, Universal), connecting Second Story with clients looking for the most captivating, up-to-date online experiences. The confluence of ever-greater bandwidth, the browser wars feature arms race, and the introduction of Flash enables the studio to use each new project as a way to innovate and integrate more multimedia experience into their work.
Quest for Content Ownership 1999-2001
After outgrowing their first Portland studio, Second Story renovates and moves to the top floor of a historic building in the Pearl district. After creating a string of popular content modules for Eastman Kodak, Second Story pursues a new model of developing original content features that the studio would license to corporations. Weeks before the 2001 dot-com crash, the studio pitches a concept called Networks to 3Com, and Rhythms of the World (in partnership with Mickey Hart) to PBS; after 9-11, both projects are put on hold and never resurrected.
Off-line Aspirations 1998-2000
After almost a half-decade authoring for a host of wildly divergent and often unknown platforms, browser capabilities, plug-in possession, connection speeds, and screen resolutions, Second Story yearns for the creative control inherent in developing for kiosks. Paul Allen’s groundbreaking Experience Music Project emerges as one of the first museums that doesn’t discriminate between multimedia and Web shops, and based on Second Story’s proven experience in the music industry AND storytelling, EMP hires the studio to create a suite of installations for the new institution.
Online Exhibitions and Collections 1999-present
Museums quickly begin to adopt digital media both online and on-site. With storytelling expertise, technical inventiveness, and large body of authoritative editorial work, Second Story is an attractive partner for cultural institutions, especially compared to their competition within the prevailing commercial agency culture that dominates the industry.
Online exhibitions for MoMA and many museums in the Smithsonian are a natural evolution of the studio’s content module format. As “storytelling with collections” matures, Second Story’s facility with dynamic publishing, database development, content management systems, and interfaces designed for unmediated access to archives explodes. The Theban Mapping Project and Monticello Explorer bring important archaeological sites to life online by connecting dynamic collections, research, and media with navigable 3D reconstructions derived from laser-scanned data. The studio develops Armature, its own open-source framework for dozens of collections-based projects, including Arago, the National Postal Museum’s comprehensive collection of every stamp ever issued in the U.S., and the vast AIGA Design Archives.
Place-based Storytelling 1999-2011
After the turn of the century, Second Story pioneers many new permutations of place-based storytelling installations, evolving from discreet stand-alone touchscreens to integrated media environments supporting sweeping, sustained story arcs across galleries. Installations embrace and foster group engagements, and their physical forms are more seamlessly integrated into the architecture. Digital experiences begin to empower visitors to collect, bookmark, and comment on collections; bridge the on-site and online environments; and harvest the stories of visitors themselves. To facilitate early design experimentation, prototyping, and hardware engineering, Second Story moves into a new, larger studio with a dedicated lab space where growing interdisciplinary teams can collaborate. Second Story creates integrate media environments at the Marian Koshland Science Museum and at the University of Oregon that focus on the whole experience, from form factor to innovative user experiences to deep content and storytelling.
Beyond the Screen 2011-present
Second Story adds new members to its team: strategists and planners to lay the early foundations for large-scale projects, and in-house physical design expertise that expands the studio’s canvas beyond the electronic. At the same time, the studio’s enduring online innovation mixed with expanding expertise in mobile and tablet app development provides a variety of simultaneous cross-platform distribution opportunities. The advent of cheap depth-sensing technologies allows the studio experiments with new ways for audiences to interact with their environment.
Second Story develops multiple large-scale environmental installations, such as those at the World of Coca-Cola, which immerse visitors into digital environments they can manipulate. The leadership of Second Story recognizes the future of these digital/physical blended environments and the potential of emerging technologies as a tool for the brand of storytelling the studio has always excelled at.
The studio invests in a dedicated R&D team led by Innovation Director Thomas Wester to experiment with new technologies, demonstrate new capabilities, and discover new opportunities for the future of interactive storytelling beyond the screen.