Eliot Peper and “narrative responsive design” on the web
Novelist and strategist Eliot Peper gave Extra Crunch readers a lengthy reading list of great speculative fiction a few weeks ago to help inspire the creation of startups. Now, one of his major projects has been published.
A few years ago, Peper published True Blue, a short story about discrimination in which people’s life outcomes are determined by the color of their eyes. It’s a parable to our own world, infested with the kind of speculative details that Peper is known for.
After publishing the short story, he teamed up with Phoebe Morris and Peter Nowell to bring a fully-illustrated and responsively-designed version of the story to life, with some funding from TechStars founder David Cohen.
What’s quite exciting about this project is seeing how artists are using the web as a deeper narrative platform. From Peper’s discussions of how the team made the product:
One of the counterintuitive lessons we learned was how powerful it is to obscure certain details, letting readers bring more of their imagination to the story. Specifically, we discovered that detailed lines often trigger the sense of something being depicted for you, so we smudged and faded and shadowed until we felt the right balance of detail and suggestion. This philosophy carried through to design — which so often aims to reduce tension by making experiences simple, intuitive, and convenient. But stories thrive on conflict, and Peter challenged himself to use design to evoke tension instead of erasing it.
He even engineered a new tool that cropped images so that they adapted to different devices and screen sizes not only by changing size, but actually changing image composition to preserve narrative content and emotional impact. When I told him about the project over a slice of Arizmendi pizza, author/friend/media experimenter Robin Sloan coined a term for this new technique: Narrative Responsive Design.
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