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Responses by Magda Kęsik, project manager, Huncwot.

Background: Led by Incite, an interdisciplinary institute at Columbia University in New York City, Elders Project is an oral history initiative that captures and preserves stories from underrepresented American elders. Inspired by the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project, Elders Project continues the tradition of highlighting marginalized voices. Since 2022, ten writers have conducted interviews across diverse US communities, documenting interviews and mementos; focusing on themes of identity, geography, and migration; and ensuring these unique perspectives are preserved for future generations.

The project’s target audience includes not only the general public because of its educational value but also creators, such as journalists, playwrights, poets and podcasters; researchers and academics; educators and students; and oral historians. By capturing stories and memorabilia, the project fosters cultural understanding, raises awareness and bridges generational gaps. This ensures that diverse voices are valued and remembered while also serving as a rich resource for research.

Larger picture: The Elders Project website is the core result of a multiyear project, but additionally, Incite is organizing a lot of promotional events, mostly meetings with authors in the regions related to the collections.

Design core: The site’s core features include a user-friendly player for listening to interviews with elders, designed to be intuitive, comfortable and discreet. This player lets users delve into the personal stories being shared while navigating the website easily. Inspired by the traditional practices of oral history, the player resembles a small dictaphone, connecting users to the richness of the narrators’ life experiences.

Another key element is the Collections section, where storytelling introduces users to the authors of the collection, their selected regions, and the common themes and differences among the narrators. This curated approach offers a deeper understanding of the diverse narratives showcased on the site.

Furthermore, the site incorporates beautiful illustrations by the talented artist Ada Buchholc. These illustrations not only visually distinguish each collection by highlighting their unique themes but also contribute to the overall design aesthetic of the website. Through these artistic elements, the site celebrates the variety of human stories, experiences and lives shared within its digital space.

Favorite details: One of the aspects we take particular pride in is our design philosophy, which symbolizes the kaleidoscope of human stories—capturing their diversity, contrasts and unconventionality. By intertwining this visual representation with a thoughtful approach to storytelling, analysis and content gradation, we have crafted an experience that not only celebrates the myriad of narratives but also makes the journey of discovering stories of elders intuitive and enjoyable for every user.

Challenges: Analyzing the materials and creating an appropriate system that would significantly streamline the browsing of interviews with anonymous narrators through collections, a map or relevant filters.

Navigation structure: The navigation structure was thoughtfully designed to offer users multiple pathways to explore the site’s content. Beyond a filtered catalog of interviews, we provide curated storytelling collections for those seeking thematic exploration, the option to discover interviews randomly for those who enjoy spontaneous discovery and a geographical search feature via an intuitive map for those interested in location-specific narratives.

Technology: HTML5, CSS3, TypeScript and GSAP, and Mapbox GL. The back end runs on PHP, MySQL and Twig, and the site is deployed on AWS.


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