Alex Kan

Alex Kan Memorial

Total Design developed a storytelling website with interactive animations focussing on the tragic life of Alex Kan, a jewish boy growing up in the 1930s in Amsterdam.

  • UI / UX Design
  • Research
  • Animation
  • Visual Design
  • Storytelling

Alex F. Kan approached Total Design with a request to preserve the life story of his older half-brother, Alex Kan. Born in 1930 in Amsterdam to Jewish parents, Alex Kan had to hide from the Nazis during World War II. Fortunately, his life is well-documented through records saved by friends and relatives during the war and subsequent decades. By utilizing this material and interweaving it with the historical context of WWII and the Holocaust, we were able to present Alex’s life as a relatable and personal story of a young boy growing up amidst escalating persecution and violence.

Infusing Color into the Past

When reflecting on WWII, our collective memory often recalls black and white images. However, relying solely on such pictures can create a sense of detachment and make it seem as if this history has no relevance to the present day. To counteract this, we deliberately chose strong and meaningful colors to make the project feel pertinent.

White and blue symbolize peace and Jewish identity, while black represents fascism and WWII. The color yellow represents the discrimination and persecution endured by the Jewish people. Through the use of blend modes, the blue color transforms into yellow when placed on top of black, subtly alluding to the connection between fascism and anti-Semitism.

Breathing Life into the Story

The narrative is enhanced by scroll-based animations that illustrate and support Alex’s journey. These animations highlight significant moments, such as his first car trip and his mother’s arrest and deportation. Additionally, numerous subtle micro-interactions bring the story to life. To create an immersive historical atmosphere, we incorporated a soundtrack featuring classical music composed by Jewish artists, complemented by occasional sound effects.

The animations were crafted using After Effects, exported as JSON through bodymovin, and seamlessly integrated into the website using GSAP3.

Transforming Dusty Documents into a Narrative

Working closely with Alex F. Kan, we dedicated many hours to meticulously comb through surviving letters, diary entries, and photographs. Our goal was to select the most relevant and captivating content, which gradually formed the narrative. To provide historical context and situate the story within the backdrop of rising fascism in Europe, we wove together the personal events of Alex’s life with the broader historical developments. As he grew older, the narrative unfolded alongside the success of the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) in elections, ultimately leading to WWII and the German invasion of the Netherlands. During the war period, we referenced “Ashes in the Wind: The Destruction of Dutch Jewry” by Jaques Presser.

To ensure readability despite the length and complexity of the story, we categorized the content into four sections: narration, quotes, historical context, and images. This allows readers to navigate and differentiate between different types of content.

Spaces for Expression and Preservation

In addition to the story itself, the website includes a blog, an archive for documents, and an overview of all the individuals involved in the narrative. These sections are curated by Alex F. Kan, the client. The blog provides a platform for the client to share his thoughts on his half-brother’s story, while the archive and people pages serve as a historical database.

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