Evaluate ‘Highrise’

“A Short History of the Highrise,” by Katerina Cizek is an innovative example of multimedia storytelling. The story, which was originally published on the NY Times, is a creative digital project that combines several different media elements to tell a single story. What could otherwise be perceived as a monotonous subject, Cizek has transformed into a captivating work of art.

Describing multimedia projects is often difficult, and “A Short History of the Highrise” is no exception. Because so many different media elements play a vital role in the story, there is no real way to classify the design. The project is a website, yes, but it is also a video, a slide show and a text-based story. The collaboration of these elements is what makes the work so enthralling. From the very beginning, readers are led through Part 1: Mud, narrated by Feist, where the interactivity and brilliance of the project is immediately apparent.

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Black and white photographs from The New York Times archive are juxtaposed against moving graphics of birds and a developing city. Concurrently, a calm female voice is setting the scene for the project, while a timeline at the bottom enables readers to pace themselves throughout the story. Additionally, by clicking on the subheading of each section of the story, readers are provided with further information about that stage of highrise development. Some of these exploration tabs are interactive, while some are simply archived photographs. Whatever the link leads to, the additional information supplements the story in an invaluable manner.

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One of the most notable additives to the story is the timeline at the bottom. The timeline is exemplary for multiple reasons. Firstly, it formats the project similarly to a book, with each new subject modeling a new chapter. Further, the timeline operates in a traditional sense, allowing readers to see where each section takes place in relation to the rest of the story.

In an even broader sense, it is useful to analyze the bar on the left-hand side of the story. At the uppermost corner of this bar, readers can link directly back to The New York Times homepage. Just underneath that, they can follow the link to www.highrise.nfb.ca, a page about Highrise and the National Film Board’s role in its construction and dissemination.

Screen shot NFB

Below this link is a link to the story’s menu, which is one of the most useful aspects of the entire story. The menu serves like a traditional table of contents. Here, readers can decide which part of the story they want to access. If a reader is on Part 3, for example, and they want to refer back to Part 1, they can simply click the menu button and be directed to the very part in the story they want to access. Likewise, here is where readers can read “about” the story, as well as see interactive credits and film credits. Finally, this left-hand bar includes a ‘share’ button, a link to reader commentary and an instruction page, all of which are extremely beneficial in their own way.

Screen shot meu bar

believe that utilizing a timeline as a navigation tool suits the story well, as the story is chronological in nature. Further, the viewer is limited in options as to where and when they can view specified sections of the story. As referenced in his video “MMR- Issues in Multimedia Storytelling: Navigation,” Dr. Mark Walters explains that many recent examples of multimedia stories have completely neglected navigation, the very essence of story telling. When the reader is presented with limitless options, with no real structure, the story is lost. The Highrise, on the other hand, works both visually and navigationally. It is beautiful and innovative while also leading readers through information in an intentional manner.

Ultimately, I think the New York Times, in conjunction with Cizek and other contributors did an impressive job in the construction of “A Short History of the Highrise.” In the future, multimedia reporters should use this as a prototype, to build off of and develop their own digital narrations.


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