Four years ago, Twitter had just migrated from being just a status update tool to also being a learning platform for me. I was reading new opinions and learning things from people from all over the world. I was learning about politics and sports and complex socioeconomic landscapes, and I felt brand new.
One of those conversations stirred my patriotism, and I started to worry about why I was unbothered about Nigerian history or politics. My conclusion was simple. The complexities around everything in Nigeria, down to important history such as Biafra or Boko Haram, are shrouded in a mist of sacrilege. It felt to me like the only way to be able to understand those things was through reading — multiple books from various writers, a fusion of subjective text that would eventually make for a balanced opinion.
Immediately, I concluded our history and political reporting needed one thing — to be repackaged. If history would be told, it’d have to be reformatted for consumption by people like me. I wanted to take complex topics and design interactive learning experiences around them. I wanted to make it easy for people like me to follow these things, and so I started a web project: Retold.
The first (and only) Retold project I made had nothing to do with history, or politics. Instead it was a microsite that was counting down to the reply from Biodun Fatoyinbo, the COZA pastor who was accused of sexual misconduct. It’s still counting down. It was relatively easy to build, and it touched on something that bothered me a lot — misconduct from religious authority.
My next project was supposed to map Boko Haram. I wanted to visually document the history, the deaths and killings, the names and places. I started collecting the data and exploring presentation for the data. I was largely inspired by people who had built visual experiments around drone strikes in the Middle East. (See Dronestream, Pitch Interactive). Unfortunately, the people I worked with didn’t come through with the data, and it just fizzled out.
Fast forward four years later, and I was recently reacquainted with the work of Senongo Akpem, a Nigerian-American designer who has inspired me so much with his interactive storytelling. His project Pixel Fables retells African fables using a mix of conventional web design and bleeding edge tech like Augmented Reality — talk about a hero. His latest project The Voyage of Captain DaCosta is beautiful storytelling, and it curates the information in the way I’ve always dreamt to tell a story on the web. Yes, I’m gushing.
Back in 2014, I shifted from trying to make experiments on the web to designing products. I’m good at it and I’m really happy building stuff that thousands of people use everyday. But somewhere deep down, I hate that I never gave myself a chance to excel at narrative / experimental design. Considering that I like storytelling (Snapchat king, me), it kinda sucks that I never did enough with that.
Next year, I want to take some time off building products to build something for the sake of it. I’m thinking I’ll take a month off, work at a bar, and build any of the stories I’ve had in my head for such a long time. One of them is documenting the types of things you can buy in Lagos traffic. I may just go easy and do a 15 days in Japan type story.
Regardless of what it is, I really look forward to being able to recoil off my tangent for a bit and do something I really love again.