British think-tank Demos teamed up with creative agency Airside to create “The Power Gap,” a three-minute visual essay that surveys the history of power structures in Western society and posits an atlernative to the de facto oligarchies that rule most of our lives.
This is typically the sort of stuff that professors in tweed jackets deliver to a classroom full of half-sleeping pupils. Airside knew this and had to come up with a strategy that would actually hold viewers’ interest for the full animation.
The three prongs of an effective visual essay are education, persuasion and entertainment. “The Power Gap” has all three in spades. Says Airside:
The designers began work on character design, based on simple pictograms that, besides being a classic staple of information graphics, would signify the everyman nature of the data.
But it soon became obvious that while this approach would fulfill its function of explaining the various aspects of the survey, it was also quite boring. A series of voice-over explanations with some accompanying pieces of animation would be more like a pretty lecture and seemed unlikely to get its intended audience thinking about the subject for themselves.
The Right Dosage of Entertainment
One important caveat: The need to entertain an audience is inversely proportional to an audience’s interest in a given subject matter. That’s why, for example, Jonathan Jarvis’ “The Crisis of Credit Visualized,” was so successful, despite the animation being (to borrow Airside’s words) little more than “[a] series of voice-over explanations with some accompanying pieces of animation.”
Jarvis’ work was directed at a nation (perhaps a world) of people suddenly adrift in a confusing morass of financial terms. We wanted—even needed—to understand what the hell was happening, and Jarvis struck just the right level of entertainment value. Any more and we might have doubted Jarvis’ sincerity. There’s a fine line between lightness and levity, and Jarvis knew just where it draw it.
“The Power Gap,” on the other hand, is about something most people have never deeply considered, despite how pervasive and potent it is. Airside deftly used the jester’s tactic to reach its audience: humor mixed with equal parts profundity. The design and the narrative are simple enough to be swallowed on the first viewing but loaded with enough significance that fully digesting them requires time and—here’s the rub—thought.
“The Power Gap” was created for “THINK TANK: A marketplace of ideas,” an exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland, UK. Read Airside’s explanation of the creative process behind the work.