National Debt EXPLAINED.

Communicating the causes and effects of governmental borrowing through motion graphics.


for CMU Communication Design Studio



4 weeks


This is an individual project.


Concept Mapping


After Effect


The Challenge

Explain the US National Debt in an engaging and easy-to-grasp communication format.


The Outcome

A 4-minute introductory video about the basic structure the US National Debt and the upcoming challenges in paying out social security to the baby boomers.



The Process

Timeline__national debt.png


Identifying Focus Area 

I started the project with an extensive research on the US national debt system. I then went through iterations of concept mapping to help me understand the key actors and relationships in the system. 


To define a focus area for the project, I crowdsourced my target audience (young adults) through social media what they wanted to know about the US national debt. Three question groups emerged:   

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Combining all research, I found social security borrowing to be a good focus area because it (1) reflected the target audience's interest, (2) could be explained without introducing too many foreign terms , and (3) would be highly relevant to tax payers in the next few years (see news here and here).



Visual Design

I kept the graphic design simple and mono-toned to allow viewers focus on the rather dense and complex processes of the national debt system.

To strengthen memory and reduce excess cognitive load, I placed relevant elements at the same locations throughout the video.

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Motion Design

Motion is used primarily to show the flow and transaction of money. To make the ebb and flow more apparent, I use color fills to indicate the presence/absence of money for tax payers and loaners.



Narration Design

Because the stock-and-flow structure of national debt did not easily translate into a linear narrative, I constructed my narration mostly in writing at first and then completed the storyboard based on smaller "packages" of narration. The storyboard also helped identify rather abrupt transitions. 

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Design Iterations

The whole design process involved numerous iterations driven by viewers' feedbacks. Here are some more significant points of improvement:


Icon Clarity

"I get lost when locations of icons changed."

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Movement Consistency

"The ebb-and-flow of money is hard to follow."  



Feedback & Next Steps

While well-received by classmates and friends, National Debt Explained has yet viewed by a larger audience. I am particularly curious about how well the viewers grasp the information and if any, where they started to get lost or confused.

Some classmates also raised concerns about certain terminology being too technical (ex. "discretionary expenses", "intragovernmental debt", etc.). It would be useful to hear from a larger audience and explore alternative terms as needed.