028: “Der Krieg und seine Opfer”—creating an online documentary with dekoder.org

Posted on Feb 23, 2024; updated on Jun 03, 2024

A few months back, Leonid A. Klimov from dekoder.org proposed an ambitious project: launching an online documentary series that tells the overlooked stories of civilian victims in Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union during WW2.

Each episode of the project is a personal story of a war victim, reconstructed by dekoder in collaboration with Heidelberg University, and will be published one at a time throughout the year. Our task was to come up with the project’s visual identity, as well as interaction design and to collaborate on the site’s frontend. The project is designed around animated illustrations, to create an immersive experience for the reader.

A gif showing impressions from the dekoder documentary “Der Krieg und seine Opfer”

Our designers got to work and created a fitting brand identity for the project, as well as an adaptable design system for multiple episodes, empowering dekoder to publish new episodes on their own. Technically we decided early on to split frontend and backend, leaving dekoder in charge of a headless CMS, while our developer Sev started to build the interactive and responsive frontend in Next.js + Framer Motion. Additionally we used Storybook to build and test the individual components, such as the chapter navigation, episode previews or context blocks.

Designing with lots of animated illustrations (the majority of which were still in the making for most of the project’s timeline) turned out to be tricky: We built prototypes in Figma, but had to switch to a more animation-friendly tools, such as Readymag and Jitter, to get our ideas across between design and development. 

This project turned into an enormous collaborative effort between dekoder’s journalists and technologists, researchers from the University of Heidelberg, illustrators, animators and us, contributing design and front-end development. By combining all this knowledge and our skillsets, we created something none of us could have achieved alone. Truth be told, it was a wild ride and for a long time it seemed quite impossible that all these threads could come together in the end. But we all played our part and last week the first chapter launched!

Leonid, who initiated the project and held it all together, had this to say:

I'd like to say thank you so much for this incredible collaboration. Not just in terms of the website – it's excellent, we (and I personally) have learnt a lot – not just about the subject matter, but also about how to do things (together) and why.

Right back at you, Leonid! We’re humbled to work on such an important topic with you and your team, using our skills to shed light on what must not be forgotten.

Check it out below—make sure to reserve some time, it’s heavy:

So far it’s only available in German, but will also be published in Ukrainian + Russian and eventually in English. It’s also meant to be a collaborative effort—dekoder is inviting readers to submit their own stories, to make as many visible as possible.

Until next time,
The Villagers

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