The New York Times has put the spotlight on sex and consent in college campuses, helping audiences explore the complexity that surrounds the issue.

As a part of the project Modern Love and the NYT’s Gender Initiative, 45 Stories of Sex and Consent on Campus unveils the reality of sexual encounters in a series of interactive snippets that develop into a full narrative as audiences keep reading.

Tracy Ma, visual editor, Styles at The New York Times, says that her team had received hundreds of short essays from their call-out back in February this year.

“What stood out as we combed through were certain common threads found in all of these narratives, regardless of gender, country of residence, or sexual orientation," she said.

The striking revelation of similarities between the stories, which included themes like heavy drinking, consenting to be polite, and feelings of regret in the aftermath, was something that the team at the NYT wanted to highlight to audiences through an interactive feature.

“We set out to come up with a design that could accommodate as many narratives as possible. A ‘cacophony of voices’ was a phrase we used a lot internally to describe the project,” she said.

The publisher asked college students for their stories of navigating this gray zone, and split their stories into three categories: anticipation, negotiation and aftermath.

As a reader scrolled down the page, stories, text messages and pictures would pop up, keeping audiences focused, without distraction, on the text they were reading.

Screenshots from the project, 45 Stories of Sex and Consent on Campus

Ma admitted that stringing user generated content in an editorial form is not a novel idea, as is showing a snippet of a text from a larger whole, but the audience experience was specifically designed to keep audiences hooked, reading as if they themselves were involved.

“Perhaps what made this effective was the cohesiveness of the editorial form," she said.

"I had watched the team labour over it with great care and attention, especially the subtle typographic animations which showed the small ‘breaths’ with which the stories are revealed."

Ma said that from those who pay attention to design, there have been a handful of praises on the unity of form and content, but most people don’t pay attention to this kind of things.

“The general reader that I wanted to reach was not someone who cared about ‘typesetting’ or ‘grids’," she said.

“From the onset I wanted the design to almost feel natural or non-existent – a container that heightens the emotional impact of the stories without making itself obvious with flourishes.

"Seeing the overwhelming impact, and readers leaving notes to express how much the narratives resonated with them, makes me think that we were successful in crafting that.”

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