BBC Future has the aim of ‘Making you smarter every day’. They wanted us to create an interactive visualization to tell the story of the evolution of the International Space Station (ISS). It would be part of their huge series called ‘Homo Spaciens – our new life off Earth’, about the next stage in space exploration.
Our international home in the stars, the ISS, is made up of 15 human-habitable modules. In total, it’s about the size of a football field. We started by looking at how best to recreate the ISS for the small screen. How could we make it immediately recognisable? Would we need to show every nut and bolt? How could we get across its sheer size?
The answer, surprisingly perhaps, was to go lo-fi. We settled on a low poly style of illustration, after trying 3D modelling and various more complex illustration styles. We set the modules on a starlit background, to put ISS firmly in its celestial place.
Navigation was one of the biggest challenges of this work. We wanted to fit in a great deal of information, and as the piece needed to be responsive, we refined the layout and UX for optimal use across devices.
Users were able to explore by using the timeline, or by using the up and down cursors. Pop-up hovers on the page revealed key information, such as the astronaut’s names, the location of the module and data such as its weight in buses.
We brought some of the modules to life with little surprises. For example, we animated the first pizza delivery to Quest in 2001, Buzz Lightyear flying around Kibo Jem-PM in 2008, and Barack Obama’s Twitter question to the Tranquility crew in 2015.
These little editorial touches helped bring a human angle back into the piece, a reminder that there are people living and working some 258 miles above our heads.
One of our favourite additions was including the crew’s wake-up music. As diverse as the crews manning the modules, the music choices varied from Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’, ‘Get Ready’ by The Temptations, to the Wallace and Gromit theme tune.
This added an unexpected dimension to the piece. It would’ve been easy to completely focus on, say, the history and technical stories. But as a studio, we always like to bring out the lesser-known stories, too.
The piece launched in time to celebrate Tim Peake’s blast off on his Principia space expedition on 15 December 2015.