Creative Digital Storytelling: “A Short History of the Highrise”

A Short History of the Highrise is an interactive digital documentary created for New York Times’ opinionated documentaries, Op-Docs, as a part of the National Film board of Canada’s ongoing HIGHRISE project. The project uses a variety of multimedia elements and techniques to entertain and engage the viewer. Here is how they were implemented to help create a unique viewing experience:


“A Short History of the Highrise” makes use of a few different types of navigation. The documentary begins to autoplay as soon as you visit the site but in addition to that there is a regular navigation in a slide-in sidebar on the left. The autoplay function serves as the main navigation. It guides the viewer through the content, in the order he is supposed to see it. This helps avoid confusion what needs to be seen first. The viewer can either sit back and watch all parts auto play as a movie, then interact with the additional content, or watch, pause and explore the additional content as he progresses through.

The documentary has four parts organized as a timeline and in themes. The first part shows the world history of the Highrise, the next two parts show how highrises evolved. Last part presents visuals of the lives of people living in highrises, organized in themes. The photos are from around the world and in a way present a day in highrise from dawn to dusk. Those photos are also organized in a filtered gallery that can be accessed through the side menu. Every part of the interactive documentary has a horizontal time navigation with different parts. Viewers can click on them to pause the documentary and explore additional features. When exploring those features viewers have additional navigation to browse those extra elements, and go back to playing the movie. Moreover, all of the photos in the story have the option to be clicked to see their back side as if the viewer is holding a real photograph in their hands.

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The feature is great considering that the photos in the project come from New York Times’ visual archive. The older photos are especially interesting because some of them have handwritten publishing guides and additional information on the back. The more recent photos only have digital photo credits when flipped.

Media Elements

The project uses a variety of interactive media elements, including photographs, animated illustrations, clickable and draggable elements and even games.

Many of the photographs in the movie version are self-collaged and animated to create additional depth and sense of movement.

Animated interactives are used to tell additional stories…


…or prove a point.


There’s also interactive audio. For example, every time users click on this photo, they can hear the storm.

An image comparison slider was used to show and compare two photos from different parts of the world. Viewers can simply drag the separator left and right to see more of a photo.


There is even a game!


Every time users click on the blinking white spots, they can build a highrise. I built 13.



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