Reimagining Out of Eden Walk


#Interactive Storytelling    #Visual Journalism    #UX Research    #UX Design    #National Geographic


Out of Eden Walk (OOEW) is a years-long journalistic expedition through which National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek is walking the globe, retracing the pathways of human origins from Africa to South America. This 24,000 mile odyssey is an exercise in slow journalism, allowing Paul to report the major stories of our time holistically by slowing down to walking speed to share the full context and voices of local people behind the headlines. Paul’s words, as well as his photographs, video, and audio, are creating a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium.”
OOEW is National Geographic‘s longest standing project with a global following and has a legacy of followers from other platforms like Reddit. The project continues and has many years to go, but the current website, pioneering when built, runs on an outdated platform.

During my internship at National Geographic Society, I reimagined the OOEW website with more current storytelling and interaction approaches using UX research and design methodologies.
Timeline: June - August 2023

Tools: Figma, Procreate, Heap

My Role:
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Comparative Analysis
  • Design studio
  • Prototype
  • Share-out with stakeholders


01. Identifying Opportunities

In order to identify opportunities and top priorities to consider when redesigning the OOEW website, I conducted site analysis as well as interviews with stakeholders that hold different roles in this project.


Activity 1
Extract keywords from the program overview document for potential UX insights
Activity 2
Conduct stakeholder interviews to understand business/storytelling goals



Stakeholder interview with Paul Salopek

Leveraging the identified keywords above as both an estimate and guide, along with a customized set of interview questions tailored to various stakeholder roles, I conducted a series of 4 interviews at this stage. These sessions involved engaging with 6 stakeholders, including Paul Salopek himself, National Geographic Storytelling Programs Managers, Product Manager, and Paul’s content editors.



Activity 3
Analyze the current site to identify potential issues and opportunities

With the insights from stakeholder interviews, I conducted analysis on key pages of the current site to pinpoint underlying issues and opportunities.

02. Comparative Analysis

Simultaneously with the stakeholder interviews, I performed a comparative analysis to understand and align strategies for asset arrangement approaches and interaction patterns that elevate the storytelling experience on the OOEW website.

Planning
Guiding Questions
  • Compare OOEW website to the comparators:
  • What do they do well and not so well?
  • What are some commonly used approaches and patterns?

Activities
  • Identify comparators
  • Review reference websites to identify trends, approaches, and patterns for interactive storytelling in journalism
  • Summarize insights from the analysis

Criteria
Web-based interactive storytelling projects that
  • Come from a strong brand for digital journalism
  • Cover various types of media and data, including images, video, audio, geo-spatial data, time-series data, etc.

Selected Comparators

Summary of Findings
Navigation & Interaction
  • “Scrollytelling” as the main interaction approach
  • Immersive while allow for user-led navigation

Content Arrangement
  • Qualitative visual explainers to explain when and how something happened in a chronological breakdown of an event
  • Situate audience in the context using screen-wide visuals and overlaying information
  • For stories with audio, the audio is usually correlated with visual cues in a text form.


Comparison with Current Site

Insights for Design Goals
  • Utilize scrollytelling to improve navigation
  • Enhance the integrations of various media types
  • Apply geo-spatial data with cartography to contextualize the narrative

03. Research-based Design Insights


↑ The graph above shows the architecture of the current site.

↓ The one below shows a proposed architecture after the research process.


Based on the research findings, I proposed a new architecture along with a list of design goals.


Next Steps for Design

To redesign
  • Home page
    • A visual header that contextualizes the project for new readers and provides the latest update for returning readers
    • A “scrollytelling” experience that integrates the chapters and tells the story based on geo-locations chronologically
  • Chapter page
    • A “scrollytelling” experience that tells the story locally within a chapter based on geo-locations chronologically
  • Milestone page
    • A “scrollytelling” experience that integrates a diverse range of media
  • Article/Post page (dispatches, media, lab talks)
    • A visual header/explainer that helps with contextual onboarding
    • Better integration of audio as a companion while browsing text

To create
  • Search page/function
    • Aggregates all articles with filters helping with the search
    • Dedicated pages for categorized content like milestones & audio

04. Design Studio

During this stage, I made two iterations of wireframes based on the feedback from stakeholders.

First iteration of wireframes

Second iteration of wireframes

Summarized Feedback from Stakeholders
  • How could readers find every post on the site?
  • To add more human elements from the story
  • Enhance connections between posts
  • Enhance connections between all project assets, digital and physical

05. Medium-fi Prototype


Integrating all the feedback that I received from the two iterations of wireframes, I developed a final prototype of medium fidelity in Figma.




Video Demo

06. Some Design Decisions

“Super Nav”
Originally for the navigation, I followed the approach on the current site where there only is a dropdown menu with a list of chapter names of the journey. Thinking about what the stakeholders mentioned during the interview and feedback sessions, I started thinking about how I can push the design of the navigation to presenting readers with more contextual information and a broader view of the holistic journey of Paul’s. Therefore, I designed a “super nav” for the site, which provides a general overview for each part of the journey with time-and-location-based data, as well as the numbers of posts with different categories.


Cards
The first iteration of the cards for posts is on the left side below. In the final version, I decided to use circular frames for the images of people and have them float next to the card. This design choice came from the idea of bringing out more human elements from the story. Based on one of the principles from Object-Oriented UX (OOUX), masked objects should be avoided, meaning that objects with different purposes should look different. In order to focus on the various metadata that posts under each category have, I created designs for each of them.

07. Future Steps

Due to the time limit of the internship, I was left with a few more questions that I hoped to answer through more user research and goals I hoped to acheive through design.

Regarding user research, I would like to further look into the following questions:
  • Do users who enter sideways get a full picture of the entire journey?
  • How is the human element emerging?
  • What do users consider to be the focal point of the story?

In terms of design, following is a list of functions that I would like to add:
  • An about page that ties together all OOEW resources
  • More iterations on the navigation design
  • Prototyping tooltips and explainers to provide better contextual onboarding experiences
  • Improvements on the search UI with recommended keywords and filters
  • Read/Unread states of posts for the readers to get the latest updates
  • Accessibility design for mobile devices and low-bandwidth situations

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Luke Miller, Pauline Munga, Mary Finer, the UX Team, the Constituent Products Team from National Geographic Society for the guidance and support.

Thanks to Paul Salopek, Julia Payne and Ollie Payne from the OOEW Editorial Team, stakeholders from National Geographic Society‘s Storytelling Programs, Content and Editorial Strategy, Strategic Communications, and Mapping for the insights and feedback.