Anticipation On A City Block

Anticipation On A City Block goes all the way back to Obama’s inauguration in 2009 (it seems so long ago now). The New York Times interviewed the residents of a single Washington city block “where two churches for decades symbolized the nation’s racial divide.” The story is a snapshot of that divide today after the election of the first black president.

How It Works

The Times interviewed 14 people, both black and white, from the block. For every subject there is an audio clip, a series images, a brief text description of who the person is and where they came from, a text quote, and a headshot of the person.

In the audio clips, the subjects talk about the inauguration, Obama, the history of the neighbourhood, and/or race relations in America. While the user is listening, images of the subjects at home or at their church flip by on auto advance.

On the navigation page a 2D image of every building on the street pops up with the pictures of the subjects underneath. When the user moves their cursor over a subject’s picture, the building they live/work in is highlighted. Move to another street and the buildings pop down one at a time with new ones popping up to replace them. A small 3D model of the entire block at the top of the page allows to user to keep track of where they are spatially.

A short video introduces the story.

What Works, What Doesn’t

The design of Anticipation On A City Block is quite similar to Beyond The Stoop, another Times interactive feature. Like that story, the information presented here isn’t deep. Rather, it’s a quick look at how a group of regular people feel about an historical occasion. Whether or not they have something profound to say isn’t really the point.

To this end, the audio clips are short and personal. They don’t go far beyond a minute in length. Subjects talk about wanting to hug people, how super excited they are about going to the inauguration, how difficult it is to find a parking spot. These kinds of comments sound better when the actual people say them. In print, they would be dull. And combined with photos of the people inside their own houses, the audio makes the story more personal.

The navigation is probably the most innovative element. The way buildings pop up and down and become highlighted when the user moves the cursor over a picture gives the entire design a dynamic feeling. There’s always a place for dynamic design.

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