Responses by Maya Kopytman, partner, C&G Partners
Background: People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North for educational and historic preservation organization Historic Hudson Valley (HHV) is an in-depth educational resource designed for a broad range of users from students to teachers to the general public. C&G Partners structured the design and UX in a way that tells the neglected story of slavery in the colonial North in a fact-based yet heartfelt way about enslaved individuals, delivering a personalized narrative of the past that connects with present-day issues of race in the United States.
Core features: Dozens of original short-form films, extensive historic documentation and responsive interaction design. The site’s color palette and aesthetics convey the serious nature of the content with the use of dark tones. The muted palette is also conducive to video content, and historical documents emerge from the darkness, inviting exploration. We deliberately selected a design tonality to serve a range of audiences from young to old and from scholars to history enthusiasts to activists.
Favorite details: The heart of People Not Property is the numerous, original films covering dozens of important subject areas. We had the rare opportunity to bring documented activities of enslaved people to life through filming reenactment videos, which were shot on location at a provisioning plantation owned by HHV in Sleepy Hollow, New York. To convey the appropriate tone and level of scholarly rigor, the reenactment videos were created as interpretations without dialogue between characters or musical scores to avoid dramatizing the events. These vignettes focus on the human element based on primary documents. Scholarly interpretation and testimonials follow the reenactment videos as documentary commentary.
Challenges: The site’s focus posed a challenge to the studio in terms of visual presentation, since sparse historical documentation exists about enslaved people. C&G Partners determined the most appropriate digital format for each story that would engage viewers in understanding this history’s basic facts. For example, one story of a family whose members transitioned between slavery and freedom is told through a series of original illustrations and animated silhouettes, since no actual portraits of them exist.
Navigation structure: C&G Partners took its extensive experience in designing physical exhibitions for museums and applied those principals to People Not Property. This resulted in site design and navigation that enables users of all ages to engage at different levels, providing satisfying, high-level summaries of information for casual viewers and enabling them to go deeper into additional topics by reading, watching videos and exploring interactive documents. Navigation consistently leads to stories of enslaved people—whether it be sequentially through chapterized content, a TimeMap that connects points chronologically, a questionnaire of situations and choices, interpretive tools to decipher historical documentation or simply related links that take users on their own journey, crossing sections and topics.