Tell us about your Pike River Mine project – why did you decide to create a piece of work about this, and what's the relationship between the web-based and print-based outcomes?
It has been said that contemporary Western society has become intellectually and emotionally divorced from death. The Pike River disaster brought New Zealand and the world face to face with some difficult truths about worker safety, and forced us to confront what an event of this magnitude means in terms of loss to a community.
Through the primary form of a website, with a supporting publication, the aim was to produce a way of helping people understand this tragic event. Both pieces of work function separately, while at the same time are anchored to each other through a shared visual language. The website’s main pages share a conceptual visual narrative. Large abstract shapes representing the mine entrance are positioned and scaled in a certain way to invite the user to explore the content below. I wanted to subconsciously ask the user to stare death in the face and to discover what actually happened in the mine.
The overall design uses visual cues that are typically associated with editorial design. Paragraphs are broken by indents rather than hard returns, columns are set to approximately 50 characters wide to create the best optical reading distance – rags, widows, and orphans are considered and adjusted to help with the overall reading experience. Content is divided into different sections with the use of images and white space, to break up the pacing and help with the overall flow of the document.
I wanted the treatment of the type to be the main graphical element; to give gravitas to words chosen, to be straightforward, accurate, and factual with a degree of solemnity. I put emphasis on using as much white space as possible to create a clear visual hierarchy between the headings, body copy and other typographic elements. This theme is carried throughout the site with the hiding of the visual navigation behind dropdown menus, the removal of colour from all of the images, and many other small details that enhance the legibility of the content. This way of approaching the layout essentially removed all added distractions and put emphasis on letting the user be fully engaged with what they were reading. This recognising the gravity of the event, and seeks to convey the facts without sensationalism, but with dignity and authority.
To reinforce the uncomplicated, sincere visual elements and structure, I optimised all of the graphics and other elements to reduce load times – this emphasis on performance rather than aesthetic flourishes compliments the visual and textual narrative, offering a website that is a considered synthesis of content, form and function.