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How our UX-powered Website Helped Tell an Important Story

American AncestorsGU272 Memory Project tells the story of the 1838 selling of approximately 272 slaves.

Founded in 1845, American Ancestors is the USA’s first and most respected genealogical organisation. The nonprofit corporation advances the study of family history. It does this in a number of ways.

Firstly, American Ancestors’ expert staff leads the charge. These specialists oversee study, lectures, seminars and learning opportunities. Secondly, there is the organisation’s Boston-based eight-storey research centre. This is coupled with a comprehensive website. Together, these empower users of all levels to shine a light on their family histories.

Recounting a Story of Connection

The men, women and children recalled by the project were sold to Louisiana plantation owners by Jesuit priests. The subsequent funds assisted in the construction of Washington DC’s Georgetown University. The project recounts the incredible tales and histories of those sold.

Thanks to our web-building experience, American Ancestors asked Hookson to create the project’s website. We were honoured. It would be a powerful tool for connecting those people sold to the plantations with their many descendants.

Create a Visually Stunning Design

This project, with so many moving stories to tell, would offer opportunities for a highly creative visual direction and layout.


Use Animation to Tell a Compelling Story

An engaging site was a must. Animation would bring fascinating visual elements to life.


Ensure Integration with Drupal

Integrating our website with Drupal’s content management system would ensure varied, easy-to-update pages. Using Drupal would also provide a flexible foundation for subsequent American Ancestors’ sites.


Boost User Experience with Powerful Content and Search Capabilities

Our site offered an array of historical data and facts. It would be crucial that these were easy to search and negotiate.   

Creating a Layout That Connects the Past with the Present

Above all, the idea of connection inspired our website layout. Elements associated with memory influenced visual direction. These included photographs, documents and maps. These assets combined to form a collage effect. We then applied a hover effect to selected images. This saw visuals changing from black-and-white to colour.

Overall, our layout certainly echoed the visual language of ancestry mapping. When scrolling on selected pages, lines ‘drew in’. These linked boxes and sections. The result was a particularly warm family-tree effect. This was entirely in keeping with the heart of the project.


Presenting Subtle Animation to Bring Stories and Emotions to Life

Site-wide animation was art-directed to stir memories of the Georgetown ancestors. Consequently, our home page featured a striking, animating composite montage. Alongside a photograph of a Georgetown ancestor, a descendant, eyes-closed, is imagining her ancestor’s story. Behind these images an actual sugar plantation map animated. This obviously provided emotional impact. Moreover, it also added further interest and context.

Hookson then created illustrations of figures in historical dress. Contemporary portraits of actual descendants accompanied these illustrations. These visuals were, in turn, presented against an animating backdrop of family names. We then applied a parallax scrolling effect to these names. This undoubtedly invited engagement to this most human element of our story.


Using Drupal to Showcase Elements Now and in the Future

This project was home to a wealth of captivating video and audio content. To fully showcase these assets, we created a suite of components in Drupal 8. This made certain that a wide range of UI and UX-oriented layouts could be created.

Our GU272 site was part of a group of sites offered by American Ancestors. Our client, therefore, required a consistent approach to future site builds. We created a master theme on Drupal. After that, we enabled subsequent sites to utilise the same base. This made future developments a snap. It also allowed plenty of scope for unique look and feel. Most importantly, there was no need for complicated coding or technical know-how.


Enabling Descendants to Easily Connect with Their Ancestors

Our website illuminated lives and stories. High-quality content included a timeline, ancestor-tracing advice and links to further American Ancestors’ resources. In addition, clear menus and calls-to-action boosted UX. These particularly aided navigation, interaction and exploration.

A big part of the project was enabling descendants to research their ancestors. Hookson ensured a powerful search facility eased this task. This greatly enhanced UI and UX.

Our highly creative visual elements complemented the search tool. On the website’s principal menu page, descendants faced directly into camera. These striking portraits further connected the past and present.

In conclusion, by combining UX functionality with emotionally arresting visuals, we created a useful and memorable website. The media evidently agreed. The site, and the stories it told, received significant exposure from major outlets. These included ABC News, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, and The Washington Post.


User Journey
UX Design
Website Design
Website Assets
User Testing
Integration with Drupal 8

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