An Interactive Documentary

Irene Pereyra, designer/co-founder of the firm Anton & Irene in Brooklyn, grew up in a communal house in Amsterdam. “Whenever I tell people about my childhood,” she says, “it inevitably turns into a 30-minute conversation about the pros and cons of communal living.” With things like AirBnB, Uber, and all the other companies allowing people to “share” much more than what was possible when she was a child in the ’80s and ’90s, the current “co-living” revival that is happening in NYC and San Francisco now (organized corporate start-up houses mostly intended for millennials) is interesting, but also inevitable considering today’s zeitgeist. With these two things in mind, “I wanted to find out what people are actually willing to share in their immediate living environment, long-term, beyond the safety of their screens. Internet? Sure. Utility bills? Maybe. But what about a bathroom, or a kitchen, or a car? And are certain age groups more open to sharing than others? How about men versus women?”

In a new documentary titled One Shared House, Pereyra tells the story of her childhood, and then asks the viewer to consider what they would be comfortable sharing themselves. I asked her how this unique interactive sociology experiment is proceeding.

 

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This is the first interactive documentary I know of. How does this crowdsourced information work?
We plot their answers in an infographic dynamically, and are able to see the results in real time. As the results have been coming in, it’s been incredibly interesting to see how we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to sharing things in our own, immediate living environment. Fascinating, really.

How did you finance and develop it?
This project was fully self-funded and self-initiated, and it took almost two years to complete in between our regular client work. We did it not just for the sake of self-expression, but because projects like these allow us to experiment with disciplines and techniques for which there typically is no space in client-based projects, and through this experimentation we get out of our rut and out of our comfort zone and become stronger designers because of it.

 

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Tell me about the style and form of the film?
We are digital designers first and foremost, and in our studio (Anton & Irene) we mostly work on large digital projects for clients (among many other things, we did the redesign of USAToday.com, Karim Rashid’s website, and the recent Met Museum website).

We have been very interested in using digital to push storytelling forward, and we wanted to try to see if we could make video and animations engaging in a medium that tends to get a bad rap when it comes to “long-form video content.” The film is about 10 minutes long and requires your full attention, which is not something you see very often. The other great thing about doing things interactively is that you can ask people to participate. The input the viewers are giving at the end of the film is an integral part of the story.

Since the story takes place in Amsterdam, we decided on having the art direction be an homage to Dutch graphic design, which meant we had to use the graphic elements that define that style: strong geometric shapes, simple and legible modernist typefaces, and strong contrasting/color-blocking colors. This style of design is not something you really see often in the increasingly homogenized medium of web design and we’re hoping to show that just because it happens “online” doesn’t mean it has to look and behave like every other website out there.

 

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What is your audience and what do you want them to take away?

This is going to sound a little crazy, perhaps, but we didn’t think about that at all. For our client work we always have to consider the audience of course, but we saw this project more like a personal research project, or a thesis. We wanted to tell this story, and we were curious about the data that would come in afterwards. We released the project in beta a week before its release, and invited people through our social media to participate prior to launch. We got an overwhelming amount of participants, and so many incredibly thoughtful emails from the beta participants afterwards. People from all over the world were sharing their own experiences or thoughts around communal living, which were all very personal and incredibly touching to read.

The communal society has been attempted for ages. Is there a moral in attempting this kind of interactive relationship?
I don’t claim to be the authority on co-living, or the current-day sharing economy—all I can offer is my own personal experience with having grown up in a communal house. However, working on this documentary for two years of my life, and researching everything that we would consider “communal” (including the psychological effect communal living has on children and adults) has, in a way, left me with more questions than answers. On the one hand I am proud that my generation (millennials) have created so many businesses that at their core try to connect people to each other, but on the other hand I worry that we are now living in a society where the word “sharing”—which is an incredibly powerful word—has, in a way, been devalued.

What is your next step with this project?
After two years of working on it, this project (and topic) is now completed. Depending on the data we’ll collect afterwards we might decide to make a book out of it, or we might utilize the data in some other form. We are now looking forward to the holiday break, and then we’ll start work on our next self-initiated project: an analog wristwatch!


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