Nell Shaw Cohen: Educational Media Design

Explore John Muir's Yosemite is a web installation & iPad app illustrating the writings of John Muir through interactive photography and music.

Screenshots from desktop version


A few years ago, I fell in love with the vivid descriptions and keen observations of turn-of-the-century conservationist and early advocate for the National Parks, John Muir.

In spring 2013, I had been experimenting with open web technologies to create interactive, browser-based experiences that would seamlessly integrate music and video/photography.

I decided to merge these interests by creating an installation that utilizes web-native tech to present my musical-visual-textual interpretation of Muir’s vision of nature to a general audience. With the help of my partner, John Resig, this project expanded into a native iPad app.

Production & Design

In June 2013, I traveled with John to Yosemite and nearby Sequoia National Park to capture about 1,000 videos, photographs, and audio recordings of sites that were important to John Muir.

Over the following several months, I designed and constructed alpha and beta versions of the interactive media experience.

I started by choosing excerpts from Muir's books to pair with videos and photographs I had shot in California, using these to plan out slideshow-esque narrative sequences.

Next, I composed a non-linear chamber music score, in which musical changes are triggered with each visual change. The score is made up of many short instrumental loops, which I created in Logic Pro using Virtual Instruments from EastWest's orchestral libraries.

I created the first version of the website using Popcorn.js to control HTML5/CSS3 animation of the visuals and audio. John then coded the custom Javascript that seamlessly drives the animations and audio/video playback in the beta and the final version.

The beta version was tested with several different representatives of my target audience. User feedback and behavior were used to inform several iterations of the user interface.

Over the following months, John and I kept refining things under the hood. We eventually adapted the browser experience into a visually immersive iPad app, which is now available as a free download in the App Store.

Bringing it to the Public

The 2014 launch of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite commemorated the centennial of John Muir’s death, the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

I was honored to exhibit a pre-launch version of the project for renowed Muir scholars in March 2014 at the international John Muir Symposium at The University of Pacific in Stockton, CA, with support from NYU’s Student Senators Council Academic Conference Fund Grant.

Production of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite was supported in part by a Challenge Grant from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.