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The Most Depressing Project We’ve Ever Had the Honor of Working on

Sometimes we get to work on projects with some pretty tough subject matter. And we're always grateful for an opportunity to help shine a light on these difficult facts.


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So. What do you know about North Korean Gulags? Perhaps you’re like us before we started on this project. We knew absolutely nothing. I mean, that North Korea had prison camps was not surprising to me, but gulags? That’s sort an old-fashioned Russian thing, isn’t it? No. And one in every 185 people in North Korea is a political prisoner. Which is a really astonishing statistic. Whole families are swallowed into this terrible system of imprisonment. Sometimes we get to work on projects with some pretty tough subject matter. While it’s never easy we always grateful for an opportunity to help shine a light on these difficult facts.

Paragon was approached by the Bush Institute to work on an infographic to draw attention to a report they had written on  these somewhat hidden North Korean Prison Camps. Previously we had done two motion graphic videos with them, one on Post 9/11 Veterans and another on the positive impact Immigrants have on the US Economy.

Like these other projects, the North Korean piece accompanies a longer study, and hopefully, even if it didn’t get people to read the full piece, will get the important information across. This is really where the infographic shines – a lot of information presented in a dense, yet compelling medium.

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We started out with an overview of the report, which uses data compiled by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and the UN Commission of Inquiry, and a list of bulleted facts and quotes to incorporate.

With subject matter like this, and we’ve had some other projects with similarly sensitive subject matter, Drew is always right on the edge, trying to find that balance between getting people to really look at something uncomfortable and respond in a way that is positive, but not making it so wrenching that they look away altogether.

“A lot of it kept me up at night,” he commented when we were discussing the piece. “The facts are so powerful, that you want to do a visual for each one, but at the same time you don’t want to because you don’t want to draw all those things.”

The image research alone was pretty unsettling.

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These are just the few images we feel comfortable showing you.)

From there, he went old school, with some pen sketches, just a really helpful way to visualize the information in the early stages and work out how to best represent everything our client wants to convey.

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I find Drew’s drawing style to be really clean and pretty minimal. There’s an economy to it. I remember watching him working on something once and just really understanding for the first time why I can’t draw, I just don’t see things the way he does. But yeah, it’s unfussy, and in this piece, it was even more so than usual. Which I thought really informed the narrative – fragmented, broken figures, negative space, absence, lines slashing through images.

Color is a very powerful tool (sidebar: actually, color and how we see it is an awfully interesting thing, and is not actually completely understood. Neuroscientist Mark Changizi has a theory that our ability to see in color evolved to help us recognize emotion in others) but I digress. Drew used military, drab tones to help support the seriousness of the subject matter, and the result I think adds to the unsettling feeling the piece gives.

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But enough words now – you can view the entire piece here.


Dive Deeper (if you dare)

I was out driving this last Saturday and caught this piece on Snap Judgement about a family’s North Korean experience. It just crushed my heart. If you have 15 minutes and you’re a glutton for emotional punishment …

Alison Christie

Alison Christie

With a Major in witty comebacks and a Minor in motherhood, Ali is all about the words and has been sharing them liberally with all and sundry for years. Oh! The stories she could tell, but for those million dollar non-disclosure contracts she has signed. Moving swiftly on.

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