The Crisis of Credit Visualized

“Oh great, here comes Old Man Cone again, rambling about visual essays.”

I know, I know, but I really do believe that when motion design is paired with intelligent writing, you get a brilliant form of persuasive reasoning that sticks in the mind of many contemporary viewers. Case in point: This ambitious and informative animation from Jonathan Jarvis (whose web server is apparently being pounded into oblivion at the moment).

Like most Americans, I became interested in the credit crisis when I heard the wailing cries from Wall St. back in early 2008. I knew they were harbingers of dark days, but I had no idea what the hell had happened or why.

My best introduction came in the form of a This American Life podcast, which does a great job explaining some of the trickier concepts at play. But this new animation is much more my cup of tea. I’m a visual guy. I need you to draw me a picture. Mr. Jarvis has done exactly that, helping my withered noggin create more lasting neural pathways to understanding and retention.

This is a good time to make a distinction regarding visual essay strategies: Jonathan’s animation uses a mostly iconographic approach, which is appropriate given the complexity of this subject matter. He essentially sets up a visual language, which he then layers and remixes to help us comprehend a wide range of related ideas. It works beautifully.

When your subject matter is slightly less technical and the main idea is more about persuasion, metaphoric imagery is usually the preferred tactic. For examples, see pretty much anything Simon Robson has done. Simon agonizes over which metaphor will extend his message, rather than simply illustrate it. He’s as interested in aesthetic and emotional impact as he is clarity.

Jonathan’s animation was completed as part of his thesis for the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design.

Thanks to Chino for the initial tip, and Jarratt for the nudge.

Tags: ,

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.


Simon Robson

This is absolutely brilliant!!! I’m so glad Jonathon chose to use straightforward iconic visual language for his piece, because as Justin said, the concepts are intricate and complex and a more ambiguous style would not have explained things so well. I have kept abreast of the whole crises, but i feel that I’ve been really educated by watching this, it’s made things much clearer. I’m sure some commentators will say that parts of the argument are missing, or that some elements are over simplified. But i feel this piece gives a great bare bones under-standing of what’s going on. I’m really happy that Jonathin chose motion-graphics animation to execute his piece. On an educational level, he has advanced this medium no end. Fantastic!


Its like a motion graphics version of Addendum. Killer job man! The animations help tell the story well.


Great piece! I too downloaded the This American Life podcast to get an understanding of all this, and I had a somewhat clear idea of what’s going on. This piece definitely helped create a visual map that, paired with the other info I already have, has given me a fuller understanding of this mess we’re in.

It also creates a strong argument to the power of motion design. Just think if they played this on CNN or whatever news network. More everyday people will actually learn something rather than being confused by experts, analysts, and commentators that speak to a smaller portion of the educated population.


brilliant and infuriating. please, someone, introduce this guy to the Obama administration, or hook him up with his own network news show… collateralized debt obligation? credit default swap? bullshit terms for simple greed.

and the narrator is amazing…”the family buys a BIG house… and makes them ALL RICH” ha.


I really like how this focuses on the bigger concept while leaving out all the arbitruary number data, names, and dates that usually start to confuse people (me). The simple bold style helps make the communication clear.


This is great! I only groaned a few times at the generalizations and detours into the weeds. That’s saying something considering how hard it is to tell this story.

Now we need one of these to explain what’s going on with the banks and the government now, which means picking it up where this leaves off. And one to talk about what happens to individual homeowners now, which means Michael Moore-style doc-making. Paging next term’s Art Center final termers….

Comments are closed.