February 14, 2019 marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Since then 1,200 more American children have been lost to gun violence. At Upstatement I worked with The Trace, a non-profit newsroom, to design Since Parkland — a special report to commemorate these 1,200 kids and their stories.
This heavy content presented unique design challenges. We wanted to share our thinking to help others ask similar questions and to invite feedback on approaching sensitive topics with design.
Focusing on life vs. death
Our creative process started with reading early drafts of the work — stories about child victims written by teen reporters. While there’s often an outsized emphasis on the tragedy of death, the piece focused on how these kids lived instead of how they died.
The emphasis on life humanizes them, where a focus on death objectifies them. We built on this, and the site navigation connects stories based on what these children loved — dance, community service, or their older sister.
One big challenge was our lack of imagery, with photos for less than 10% of the victims. We were inspired by a New York Times piece which used hand-drawn scribbles to bring survey results to life. We created unique stars based on the victim’s name and age for those without profiles.
Another challenge was deciding which of the 1,200 profiles to feature. We randomized which stories would display on the homepage and in navigation. This ensures that people see many more stories, and reinforces the giant scope of the project. Each reading experience is unique.
Making sensitive choices
Designing normal web interactions like search and share was an interesting challenge in the context of a tragedy. We wanted people to feel like they were reading a memorial, not crawling a social media network.
Search became a name wall inspired by the Vietnam Memorial instead of a standard autocomplete, and share became a simple copy-to-clipboard instead of a sea of social media icons. We hope these subtle differences keep the reader’s focus on the kids and their stories, not the act of sharing itself.
We’ve been humbled by the response to this project, and inspired by the reception it’s gotten. At the end of the day, it’s not about the design or the code, but the stories it tells. Thanks to the 200 student reporters for doing the work to tell these stories, to Akoto Ofori-Atta, Daniel Nass, Miles Kohrman, and James Burnett of The Trace for their ambitious editorial vision, and to the rest of the Upstatement team for helping bring it to life.
See the project at sinceparkland.org