Re-living history

Digit, Windfall and Channel 4 brought D-Day, 1944 to life yesterday with an immersive multi-platform experience that allowed users to track events in real time online, on TV and via social media.

Digit, Windfall and Channel 4 brought D-Day, 1944 to life yesterday with an immersive multi-platform experience that  allowed users to track events in real time online, on TV and via social media.

D-Day: As it Happens told the story of D-Day through the perspectives of seven people who were there including a nurse, a paratrooper and a military cameraman.

An hour long show on June 5 introduced the back stories of each character and a follow up programme on June 6 recapped the day’s events. In between, internet users could track progress in real time through a breaking news-style website created by Digit and by following individual Twitter feeds set up for each of the ‘D-Day 7’.

The website and TV shows used new and previously unseen material collated over 15 years by D-Day researcher Colin Henderson. Henderson’s radio reports, film, photographs and records allowed Digit to create maps plotting each of the D-Day 7’s locations throughout the day and a 24-hour live feed displaying their reactions, photographs and video footage of the invasion.

“The idea was to take yesterday’s news and tell it through today’s technology. If D-Day happened now, there would be rolling coverage, live feeds and constant Twitter updates. By using the web and social media, we managed to create something that had people engrossed in the characters and their stories,” says Digit creative director Adam Lawrenson.

Digit (which has worked with Channel 4 on previous multi-platform projects) had just two months to build the site. “We had spoken previously with Channel 4 about the role technology can play in re-telling historical event like D-Day and at the same time, Windfall had been discussing Colin’s research with them and looking at how it could be used, so we all ended up working together,” he explains.

The biggest challenge, explains Lawrenson, was to build a website that was simple and engaging to use but could hold an enormous database of archive material and would update throughout the day without a hitch.

“We had to create bespoke maps for each character, different styles for breaking news headlines, third person accounts and personal reports and each video or photo had to be assigned to the right news feed and update on time, to correspond with the show. The website looks quite simplistic, but behind the scenes, it was incredibly complex,” he adds.

The attention to detail – made possible by Henderson’s research – is impressive. Each person’s Twitter feed has a distinct voice and the website looks a slick as any global news site.

“We wanted to get  the aesthetic right and reflect the period. When we were researching source material like ration books, we realised that when they weren’t battered and dusty, they had quite a clean and modern design – a similar aesthetic to today – so we tried to emulate this and keep the colour palette simple and typography sleek,” says Lawrenson.

“With the Twitter feeds, we wanted to create a sense of realism – each person’s Tweets are spoken in their own words based on their written reports and records. There was no artifice or editorial heavy handedness,” he adds.

On the day, the project attracted more than 14,000 Twitter followers, with visitors spending an average of five minutes on the live page of the site. Hundreds posted messages of support, expressed sadness at the death of soldier Ronald ‘Dixie’ Dean (above) and Tweeted pictures or details of their own relative’s D-Day experiences. “It was very moving to see,” says Lawrenson.

D-Day: As it Happens was a poignant and innovative way to re-tell a major historical event and one that clearly captured the public’s imagination. Based on yesterday’s success, Lawrenson says the team are already planning similar projects.

Pink Floyd fans may recognise the cover of our June issue. It’s the original marked-up artwork for Dark Side of the Moon: one of a number of treasures from the archive of design studio Hipgnosis featured in the issue, along with an interview with Aubrey Powell, co-founder of Hipgnosis with the late, great Storm Thorgerson. Elsewhere in the issue we take a first look at The Purple Book: Symbolism and Sensuality in Contemporary Illustration, hear from the curators of a fascinating new V&A show conceived as a ‘walk-in book’ plus we have all the regular debate and analysis on the world of visual communications.

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