For the past few months, starting in May, I’ve been working on editing my Grandmother Ines’s memoirs and turning them into an interactive book. I originally submitted the book to iBooks at the end of June, but due to a few repeated editing errors (oops…I need to find an editor for my work), the book wasn’t published until yesterday. I know that’s a really quick turnaround for creating and publishing a book–only 3 months from beginning to end. I have a chapter in an edited (academic) book that took almost 2 years to be published. But, even though it was pretty quick, I was frustrated with waiting for it to be available. 

My editing fails have forced me to realize what I already know, but have been denying for too long: I need an editor who can review my work and provide me with critical and constructive feedback. I’m hopeful as I work to expand this project that I can connect with other writers/artists/storytellers/editors. Before doing that, I’d like to come up with a proposal and a more coherent outline for the project and my vision and goals.

An Overall Theme?

I’m currently trying to think through how to organize all of the material that I have for this project. What to include? What to leave out? What’s the most effective (engaging, compelling, intelligible) way to bring everything together? What should I use for the overall design?

To help me with these questions, I’ve been looking at other interactive documentary sites. Two that I particularly enjoy are Hollow and Reframing Mexico. I like Hollow because of the creative way it brings together digital stories with infographics, images and pull quotes by using a parallax design. It’s a beautiful, fun and immersive experience. But, I’m not sure if I really like parallax scrolling. It’s trendy and cool looking, but…. Is it too trendy? What sort of story/stories does it allow you to tell? Are those stories too linear? Is the way you engage with the information too directed (always compelled to move forward by scrolling down) by the design?

Hollow, which just went live last month, uses cool, “cutting-edge” techniques to provide information and tell stories that are compelling and that make you (almost) feel as if you’re in the West Virginia county. Reframing Mexico, which went live back in 2011, emphasizes easy, clear organization with themes, navigation bar buttons for quickly accessing all infographics and digital stories and for reading/viewing in English or Spanish. It lacks a little bit of the flair that Hollow has, but it’s beautiful too and I like how it allows the user to experience the stories and information in a number of different ways by clicking on the different links (themes, movies, infographics). It seems more accessible for a wide range of users (who speak different languages, are interested in different types of stories).

In thinking about my own approach to storytelling, I’d like to combine some of the elements from each of these sites: beautiful; effectively conveying moods/feelings; providing multiple ways to access and engage; displaying clear, yet compelling, organization. How? As a starting point, I’d like to focus the structure of the site (the information architecture) around this image of the farm from above:


Perhaps this image/map of the farm could have clickable links to each of the buildings, and in-between the buildings, for stories, images, videos, archival material and more. Again, how? Time for some more research.


Partly inspired by Room 34 and all of the work STA has done on Responsive web design, I have decided to make my project responsive. What does that mean? Very simply put, a responsive website is a single site that works on many different devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops. So, you don’t have to create a separate site for the phone and another for the laptop; the same content scales down (or up) to fit your device.

I like this approach, partly because STA has been proselytizing about responsive for a few years now, but mainly because I want folks to be able to engage with my stories on any number of devices and I don’t want to fiddle with making sure the content that I use isn’t too big or too small for a phone or with needing to create multiple sites (mobile and desktop).

As a user, I prefer responsive sites over non-responsive ones. It’s annoying to have to zoom in to read text or see an image and then keep moving the site around to read the rest of the content. On a responsive site, since the content is scaled to fit the device, you don’t have to fiddle with that. You just need to scroll down normally to read everything.

For my current site, I’m using a free, and very popular, WordPress theme: Responsive. I like that it’s free and that it has been (so far, at least) easy to customize it.


In my preliminary research on other interactive documentaries, I’ve been surprised to see that most (all?) of the sites that I’ve found are either not available for smartphones (Welcome to Pine Point and Hollow: The Film), or aren’t fully scaled to fit phones (Reframing Mexico and The Waiting Room). Why not? Is responsive too limiting in what it allows you do with stories? Are digital storytellers turning to apps for their interactive documentaries instead?

Pondering all of these questions has also got me thinking: are responsive sites (like my Responsive site) accessible for visually impaired viewers? If not, what can I do to make sure that my stories meet these accessibility requirements?

note: In checking this post out on the phone, I realized that the title “Responsive!” was not…responsive. I plan to go in and fix the font size for the mobile version right now.