In 2014, the Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in Atlanta as a place for education, connection, collaboration and action. By challenging visitors to understand their role in helping others and empowering them to “take the protection of every human’s rights personally,” the museum sheds much-needed light on a variety of global issues and, most importantly, the people experiencing them.
“Who, Like Me, Is Threatened?” serves as the introduction to “Spark of Conviction: The Global Human Rights Movement” gallery. As the gateway into the exhibit both literally and figuratively, it needed to create an emotional connection for the visitors to the content that they would carry with them throughout their time at the museum. The Second Story design team’s main goal was simple but significant—to help visitors see themselves in the struggles of others and to put a human face on complex problems that can otherwise seem foreign or abstract.
The installation utilizes interactive mirrors to mimic the experience of standing face-to-face with another person, listening to their story. As visitors approach, depth-sensing cameras respond to their presence. Gazing into interactive mirrors, they see strangers looking back, each labeled with a single identifier: “I am ________.” Visitors choose a label that resonates with them—options range from “LGBT” to “Muslim” to “black” and beyond—then watch video interviews with individuals who have been persecuted because of that trait. The stories are poignant and surprising true testimonials from a diverse cross-section of people from around the world. By allowing visitors to literally see themselves in others, it puts people in an empathetic frame of mind as they continue exploring the museum.
The Second Story team tackled a number of challenges in creating this experience, first and foremost being scale. To simulate the feeling of “meeting” the people in the videos, the team needed them to appear as close as possible to life-size. This required thorough prototyping to determine the right distance between subjects and the camera, the best composition for the shots, how to position the camera to simulate eye contact between the visitor and the interviewee and how to account for height differences between viewers and subjects. From shooting vertically to finding workarounds during filming and post to navigate the parameters of the installation, the Second Story team surmounted a number of video-related hurdles over the course of the project.
To make the technology in the space recede in order to allow visitors to focus on the people in the pieces rather than the screens displaying them—the Second Story design team mounted the 70” HD displays behind smoked, mirrored glass. The glass hides the bezel of the display, creating a seamless surface that appears to be identical to the other mirrors in the room without screens. Additionally, the content shown on the displays is designed to float, giving the impression that the screen extends the full width and height of the mirrored glass.
The decision to feature real people in the experience rather than actors also presented obstacles. Human Rights First (HRF), a nonprofit organization working to promote and protect international human rights, was a crucial collaborator, connecting the design team with their video subjects. Second Story co-drafted interview questions, directed and filmed interviews, and guided HRF to ensure they received the content needed. Since authenticity was crucial to Human Rights First, and to CCHR, they avoided scripting the pieces and focused on creating an environment in which the interviewees felt comfortable telling their difficult and often traumatic, stories.
The design team also knew that the visitor dwell time in the area wouldn’t be very long, but they still wanted visitors to fully connect with the exhibition. The Second Story team became adept editors, by highlighting brief sections of each person’s interview and supplementing those clips with text. This solution allowed for everyone to have a short but impactful experience, followed by the option to read more.
Finally, the team considered the weight of the content and their responsibility as storytellers within this important cultural space. They wanted “Who, Like Me, Is Threatened?” to be provocative, but how could they shock visitors without alienating them? And how could they draw people in, while remaining sensitive to the delicate subject matter? The design team considered these questions as they formatted content, conducted interviews and developed our design narrative, always walking the line between “provocative” and “respectful.” Seeing human beings reduced to a single word—Jewish, black, or gay, for example—is jarring, but the video pieces give each person added dimension. Exposing the ways they have suffered as a result of these reductive labels leads to a heightened understanding of the many ways in which one’s rights can be compromised.
Chris DeWan (creative lead), Matt Arnold (technical lead), Joe Condon (production lead), Erin Aigner (content strategist), Neil Gallagher (senior designer), Norman Lau (senior experience designer), Philippe Laulheret (technologist), Marc Lehman (motion designer), Swanny Mouton (art director), Vanessa Patchett (A/V producer), David Waingarten (story director), Rockwell Group (exhibition design)
Second Story, part of SapientRazorfish
Human Rights First (media partner)
Design and Production Incorporated (A/V integration)