vagrants & murderesses


Vagrants & Murderesses is designed as a mix of online-exhibition and searchable database intended to display upwards of 7,000 newly released female criminal records dating from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries. It endeavors to humanize individuals contained within the records by placing visual emphasis on mugshots; drawing attention away from their crimes. Using a duotone palette to draw as visual link between itself and it's content, Vagrants & Murderesses attempts to place a special importance on the accessibility and availability of it's content towards it's audience.

vagrants and murderesses artistic impression


The Problem

In 2015, Public Record Office Victoria released the criminal records of over 7,000 female criminals charged with a criminal offense between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. The records contained various information about the convicted individual, including religion, their native-place, the boat in which they traveled to Australia, as well as numerous other information pertaining to their crime, their punishments, or their lives. These records could only be viewed one at a time, and were not searchable. Furthermore, only a fraction of the information contained within the files themselves were made available online. A solution was needed to make viewing and analyzing these records easier.

The Brief

The brief could be broken down into two distinct requirements. Firstly, a solution was required to provide a method to display information contained within the records in an online-exhibition style format. The exhibition should focus heavily on the faces of the individual criminals, it should not emphasize their criminality, and should endeavor - to the extent possible - to humanize those contained within the records. It must be heavily visual, and be content-driven. Secondly, all information should be searchable, and accessible to those without a clear idea of what they are looking for. A successful solution should emphasize legibility, with a clear visual hierarchy. Above all else, it must emphasize content over all else.

The Solution

A greyscale palette was chosen for Vagrants & Murderesses, with the intention of visually aligning the site with the records it displayed. The time-consuming task of cropping and adjusting each individual record allowed the mugshot of each woman to be used. Mugshots are given special emphasis on the landing page, with the intention of drawing user focus onto the individual and away from their crime. Feature records use exceptionally large portraits to further draw focus onto the individual. Slightly above average text sizes, coupled with dark type on light backgrounds, ensures a high degree of legibility. Animations are often avoided so content can be further emphasized. All efforts were made to include as much information as possible, data from within the records was extracted and displayed along with the image of the record itself. A search system was developed to allow easy access to the information. Additionally, an API was created as another mechanism to access the information. The overall goal was to emphasize the content within the records in every way possible.


Client-side, Vagrants & Murderesses uses Less and React with react-router. It is written in EcmaScript 6, compiled with Gulp. It is tested with Mocha, JSDOM, Enzyme, Sinon and Chai.


Server-side, Vagrants & Murderesses is built on Node.js using the Koa framework. It uses SQLite accessed via the Sequelize.js ORM. It utilizes SQLite's virtual tables for fast searching. It is written entirely in EcmaScript 6, compiled with Babel and Gulp, and tested with Mocha, Sinon and Chai.


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