Reconciling History

Overview

A brief video overview of the project. Can also see on Vimeo...

The Show

The Spring 2016 television miniseries, The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story was based on the trial of football legend OJ Simpson who was accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. The televised trial was notable for the resulting media circus and making those involved into soap opera characters; some consider the trial to be a precursor to modern reality shows. The series even makes small nods to defense attorney Robert Kardashian’s children who later became reality stars. Social media demonstrated two types of reactions to the series; either viewers were remembering what happened OR treating the show as entertainment since they were too young or born after the trial. While biopics are typically centered on one protagonist, the series instead featured an assemble of several ambitious lead characters while OJ Simpson functions more as supporting character. This treatment echoes the sentiment that the trial was larger than Simpson or the crime itself.

The initial focus of the design will be the Emmy-winning 6th episode, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" - the title references Jan Brady's jealousy of her sister Marcia on The Brady Bunch - intersects all of these themes of sexism, racism, and celebrity the most. No one is jealous of Marcia Clark; instead, the talk is all about her appearance and barely anything about her job as the lead prosecutor. Clark is in the middle of a divorce that has made her a single mother juggling to take care of her children while prosecuting the "Trial of the Century." We also see OJ. Simpson's "Dream Team" of lawyers beginning to weave a story of systemic racism in the Los Angeles Police Department through cross examination that plants a seed of reasonable doubt in the jury. Lastly, nameless network executives begin taking advantage of the high ratings that supersede those of the usual afternoon soap opera fare, and make plans to expand coverage into primetime programming.

The Companion

Since viewers were either re-living or experiencing these events as fictional work, can documents and first-hand accounts be used as insights in a companion tool to dive deep into the fictionalized version of the series?

Questions and Challenges of the Design

narrative

Would the interactor be more apt to explore the narrative on a companion through either the characters or theme for increased agency?

crossreferencing

Does cross-referencing diverse media allow for more immersion into the series and interest in the trial itself? For instance, would it be effective to also feature digitized legacy media like print and photography in the companion?

dramaticappeal

Docudramas do bend facts for dramatic appeal. If the interactor held previous opinions on the trial or key people, would using a companion further solidify or change their opinions if they formed one solely on the show?

Ideas & Brainstorming

When the design process began, other projects from the eTV lab (Experimental Television Lab at Georgia Tech) were used as comparative narrative examples to this project. In the <i>Game of Thrones Companion</i>, relationships between fictional
characters were examined while in <i>American Experience</i> two realities intersect.
Meanwhile, <i>Stories in Motion</i> enable interactors to explore the episode through specific
characters in House of Cards. <b><i>Reconciling History</b></i> will look at the parallels of reality and
fiction and examine points where these worlds meet in the middle.
The initial design of the companion utilized an optimization model - selecting filters until
there is a definite result. Three different factors were examined that would affect the
filtering of the episode clips: episode, characters, and themes. Once the filtering was
halted by the interactor or exhausted, the clip can then be compared to the real event via
an archived document or interview.
Basic wireframe layouts of buttons was created to begin working out scenarios of how
an interactor may filter out archival clips that they are interested in. Seeking which episode
to examine was a top level decision first. After choosing the episode, both the characters
and themes most featured in the episode would all highlight as 2nd level choices.
I began to experiment with space and color
more, using cooler and neutral colors as the primary palette while using brighter color like
yellow to be rollover accents. The interactor is still able to filter to find episode clips and
find out more by clicking on the thumbnail image. Beside each clip would be a description
of each so that the interactor can understand why they relate to each other. However, the
copy was very long and would not be concise enough to hold the interactor' s interest.
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Design Iterations

A scrolling feature was added that treated the
episode clips as a <i>film strip</i> where each <i>frame</i> is the clip. After clicking on the clip, the
filters or scroll do not disappear. Instead a new section is formed that is still an integral part
of the <i>choose and compare</i> system. The interactor could still keep filtering and visit a
different clip where that section would reset and fill with the new description.
The interactor can choose to
focus on a person or theme without
necessarily filtering, but rather freely
comparing the volume of clips that
focus on particular themes or people
in this episode. The thumbnails for the clips become transparent and disabled clip does not correlate to the tag that was chosen by the interactor.
Both sets of episode clips and archival clips was added to the primary interface in this
version and they are each linked together as <i>factual</i> version and <i>fictional</i> version of the
same events. As the interactor scrolls, these married clips remain aligned together to make
it clear that they are related clips.
A strength of this vertical orientation was the
increased prominence of the headers that label the
sets of fictional and factual clips so that the
interactor will know that the clips are implicitly
related and show both the similarities and
differences between these universes.
What did not work about this design was that
importance of looking at clips and urge to scroll was still missing.
Experimenting with more ways to make the clip timelines more
engaging continued, and an <i>animated</i> timeline was created in which the fictional and real clips would be
visually spaced far from each other in the prototype. When the interactor makes a choice,
the related clips would join together.
More text and supporting images were added to provide context to the
prototype the color palette became more controlled. The marketing for the series is dark monochromatic and black
with orange accents, so the choice was made to stay close to that palette and yet have the companion
be a visually unique artifact. The hues were restricted to gray and black with orange and blue
accents with yellow highlighting links. Experimentation with color within that palette,
but there was no need to incorporate other colors like purple or green.
A major change included arranging the clips in a grid rather than a timeline that interactors
were not sure whether or not to scroll. Also, in lieu of headers for clip sets, top-level clickable assets were created that
toggle between sets of episode scenes and archival media. The clips are not completely
linked in this format as there is still agency to choose individual clips. However, there is
some correlation that is visible, which is more apparent when looking at individual key
people and themes. Also, the background was changed to a light gray with black font to
make the text in the primary interface more readable and the color accents and images
stand out better. Rather than a preview rollover that shows the title of the clip only when
mousing over, the label is already there along with an icon that indicates whether the link is
to a video (play button) or text (rectangle and lines).
On the primary interface, if the interactor decided to choose a particular category, clips are
activated and deactivated on the grid depending on the associated tags for each clip. For
instance, if the interactor selects <i>Media and Celebrity</i>, all clips associated with Clark for
both fictional and archive clips will remain active and opaque while unassociated, disabled
clips will become transparent.
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The Prototype

finalprototype

Click around on the Final Prototype yourself!

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