It Gets Worse

An interactive publication about the hidden tragedies of North Korea.

This publication connects to a computer via USB, and allows the reader to access further information by pressing conductive touch points embedded within.

Idea Progression

Challenging myself was the goal of this project from the outset. Creating an output that reflected a combination of expertise and skills I had built up over my degree and career to that point. The brief was simple — create any outcome that is centred around the theme of Misinformation.

Through my research I had come across an array of advertisements that had been altered for the Middle East market, covering ‘overly sexual imagery’. This resulted in badly photoshopped clothing, with a pool model being replaced with a beach ball. It made me want to further explore censorship in other non Western countries. The original plan was to document censorship throughout the Middle East, China, Russia and of course North Korea.

Due to time constraints, I had to make a decision of where to prioritise focus. This resulted in deciding to focus exclusively on North Korea. Through this prioritisation process, I was also exploring different mediums, and how to combine digital and print. Elektrobiblioteka, designed by Polish designer Waldek Wegrzyn provided an epiphany on how to achieve this. Unlike Wegrzyn where he used a book to navigate a website by page turns, I was going to utilise touch.

Under the pump

I had fourteen weeks from the initial concept to have the publication ready to display. I strived to self produce as much of the publication as much as I could manage. This included researching and writing almost 14,000 original words, designing the layout, typesetting, screen printing the conductive buttons, binding the pages, and creating 14 accompanying animations.

I worked closely with Dr. Indae Hwang to complete the circuitry, coding and Touch Designer aspects of the publication. The cover had to be custom made to accommodate an Arduino board, and wiring. I engaged Whites Law Bindery to create the cover solution I provided.

Getting close to losing it

The process of creating It Gets Worse was incredibly stressful, and expensive. The project would have made a lot more sense as an honours project, where I could have spent more time developing it. The timeframe was extremely tight to create something this ambitious, even without having other projects to complete simultaneously. Problems continued to crop up. The production of the cover was delayed, and upon pickup the spot uv was missing on the front.

It was difficult getting time in the screen printing lab, as they had closed for the end of year break. The pages needed to rebound multiple times as the sensors were not responding properly. Three hours before our graduate show opening, the book was only just working with one touch point still unresponsive.

Due to the cost of materials and the deadline fast approaching, I hadn’t been able to test with the conductive paint as much as I would have liked. The paint was water-based, and like most exhibition openings there were drinks. As a result, wet hands smudged the conductive paint in the book. Upon collection of the publication after it had been on display for two weeks, it was no longer working at all.

Silver lining

This publication gave me infinite panic attacks, yet it also gave me a solid direction in the sort of design I want to do. It is undoubtedly one of the main reasons I secured my role at Sandpit, where I’m doing this kind of work in the digital and tactile space full time.

The interest in North Korea has also persisted. I visited Korea the following year and made sure to include a visit the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) where the North and South Korea border lies. Never have I had another project so profoundly effect my life and career, so far.

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