Idea Blog

PICK OF THE WEEK: Refugee Crisis (an explainer video)

Blake Harris 09.23.2015

With so much great work being done in the animation and explanation spaces, every week we like to shine a spotlight on an outstanding piece of work. This week’s selection is a gorgeous explainer video by a Munich-based design studio called Kurzgesagt about the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and Syria.

Kurzgesagt–German for “in a nutshell”–was founded in 2013 by a team of designers, journalists and musicians whose mission is to “make science look beautiful…because it is beautiful.” To this end, they create one video per month to explain things like “like evolution, time, space, global energy or our existence in this strange universe.” And this month, the studio released a 6-minute explainer highlighting the ongoing refugee crisis. Here’s the video:


1. Making Numbers More Than Numbers: Data can make a very persuasive case, but oftentimes it doesn’t make a very compelling one. That’s because numbers are hard to relate to, difficult to mentally categorize into something that can elicit emotion. The folks at Kurzgesagt are aware of this inherent challenge, and consistently come up with visually interesting and impactful ways to transform numbers into something more than an abstraction.

One strong example is with how they open the video. In rapid succession they pepper in  more and more refugees to create a sense of numerical momentum. Then they follow this up by transforming that momentum into a question: WHY? And over the next 6 minutes, that’s exactly the answer that the video sets out to deliver…

1. Opening Numbers 1 1. Opening Numbers 2 1. Opening Numbers 3 1. Opening Numbers 4

In addition to effectively setting the stage, those numbers are also then put into a geographical context when a cross-section of the visuals above are placed into a map.

1. Opening Numbers 5

2. Charts, Graphs, Etc: Although this is partially an extension of the point made above, it feels worthy to note how refreshingly Kurzgesagt varies up the charts and graphs that are used. This is an area that oftentimes can become stale in an animation–effective the first time, but tired with each use–however the varied nature (and the similar aesthetic) makes it successful here:

3. Charts 3. Charts 2 3. Charts 3 3. Charts 4

3. Contextual Complexity, Visual Simplicity: The core challenge of every explainer video is how to break down complex topics, issues and problems into something much more accessible. This video frequently does a great job of accomplishing that–and framing the narrative landscape–but using a clean, playful aesthetic. There is almost a board-game-like feel to some of the images, but the visuals are crafted in such a way that this doesn’t come off as trivializing the issue at hand. Here are some of the strongest examples:

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 12.56.30 PM2. something2. Complexity Simplified 12. Germany Press Conference


4. Memorable Imagery: This is by no means a necessity to crafting an effective explainer, but it certainly helps add a flourish that will potentially keep a message fresh in the viewer’s mind.

Here are a few favorites:

4. Memorable Imagery 4. Memorable Imagery 3 4. Memorable Imagery 4  4. Memorably Imagery 2

5) Call to Action (and Challenge): A strong finish is important, but so too is it vital that the video finishes with a next step for the viewer. What do you want him or her to do? What is the behavior desired? And, from their perspective, whether or not they’re ready to take that behavior, where can they obtain more information to help make that decision?

That’s accomplished here in the final frame:

4. Call to Action

While that objective is clearly and concisely accomplished here, one last distinction to note is that there are several instances in this video where it challenges the viewer. The issue being explained goes beyond the typical how/why and occasionally presses the viewer to take action.

Challenge the Audience

This is a bold move as it risks alienating the viewer–and certainly not the right approach for many explainer videos–but it works in this case and with this specific issue.

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