Responses by Asher Pilbrow, senior designer; and Guy Trowbridge, head of design, Gladeye.
Background: Data Disappeared is a deep dive by HuffPost’s Highline magazine into the many ways the US government—Trump in particular—has obfuscated, manipulated or outright removed important data records. We wanted to visually bring to light how manipulation of information disrupts public understanding and discussion around key issues, sowing chaos and confusion. In the time leading up to the 2020 US elections, our goal was to create something that would radically cut through the noise, deeply engaging HuffPost’s audience in this important series of topics.
Design core: There are two main ideas behind the look and feel of Data Disappeared: “visual information decay” and “outdated technology.” Both of these creative territories guided the art direction and informed the experience. For example, the visual backgrounds throughout the site are destroyed, distorted images. Using WebGL enabled us to replicate a digital glitch transition driven by the reader’s scrolling.
During our research, we came across data punch cards from the 1970s still in use by the US government. We converted each section’s title into a data punch card pattern and used these as visual motifs for each topic. We love getting the opportunity to research and derive design elements from the subject and source material.
Favorite details: The way the creative references the subject matter and complements the reading experience. Also, the apparently simple structure of the site certainly took a lot of thought and work to achieve. This is something we feel proud of.
Navigation structure: We identified early on that this project had a potentially complex structure: an extended introduction leading into eight chapters, each containing two to four different articles. With such a huge amount of copy divided in that way, we became concerned that the site would have a fragmented reading experience. With that in mind, we made the decision to keep all the chapters on a single page but ensure the chapter index was always visible, enabling readers to jump to the subject matter that interested them.
Challenges: Finding a balance between content and visual effect without taking away from either. When we started, we explored many ways to show the visual decay of information, including an amazing prototype that shredded the articles as they reached the top of the page. But as we progressed, the effect took away from the reading experience. Finding the right balance between visual effect and long-form reading is tricky!
Special features: The image glitch in the background is a clever piece of code that takes chunks of photo data and deletes, at the same time, coping data from the next image in the sequence and adding that code into the original photo. Randomly. As you scroll. In real time. It’s cool.