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visual communication practice

First World Problems



Description of idea

Describe your idea and concept of your work in relation to the festival outlines:

All three stories spoke to me in different ways, and all of these were of different personal struggles. It seemed logical for me to centre my story around something personal, and this is how I came to my concept on how debt affects young people in Brisbane.

After doing further research into how debt affects people, I found quite a bit of information on how debt is linked to mental health issues. A study conducted by Meltzer. et. al. 2010 found that, “Those in debt were twice as likely to think about suicide after controlling for sociodemographic, economic, social and lifestyle factors...” They also found that an increased sense of hopelessness towards debt created a link to anxiety and depression, and therefore the entrapment of debt can create psychological strain.

How are young people affected psychologically by debt; are they the generation targeted by credit cards? I read about the irrationality of credit card debt and discovered the poorest members of society may view them as the only viable means to obtain a loan, as they fall outside of short-term financing (Farah 2010, p. 167). Young people could fall into this category as we begin to set up our lives. I then looked further at debt in relation to self-esteem and control in young people, and found that while some people use credit cards wisely, others feel out of control and usually blame someone else (Farah 2010, p. 167).

Finally, I discovered that debt, anxiety and depression go hand in hand. In particular, “Anxiety is more common among younger adults, in part due to economic hardship experienced in young adulthood,”(Drentea 2000, p.437). I started to interview the people around me, and collected stories from people within different phases of their lives; from first time out of home to first time homeowner. What was discovered is that some people were unafraid of their debt, whilst others felt they had to hide.


Drentea, P, 2000, 'Age, debt and anxiety', Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, vol. 41, no. 4, American Sociological Association, viewed 10th March 2012, via Jstor.

Farah, M, 2010, 'The irrationality of credit card debt: examining the subconcious', Law & Psychology Review, vol. 34, viewed 10th March 2012, via ProQuest Central.

Meltzer, H, Bebbington, P, Brugha, T, Jenkins, R, McManus, S, Dennis, M, 2011, 'Personal debt and suicidal ideation', Psychological Medicine, vol. 41, Cambridge University Press, viewed 10th March 2012, via ProQuest Central.

What kind of communication approach do you use?

The communication approach that I used for this project was to interview people and create a visual based on their personal story. Some people were unafraid of their debt, whilst others felt more anxiety towards it and chose to remain anonymous. I thought that this was an important point to highlight. The way I chose to represent this visually was through metaphor; by showing how the anxiety or hopelessness created by debt enveloped them like a “black cloud.” If a person felt that they had no anxiety towards debt then their picture remained clear, whereas if someone felt strong remorse and fear then their image would become completely enveloped by this “cloud.”

If I had more time and resources available, I would like to extend this project by comparing the stories I have collected from Brisbane to another city in the world. I think that an interesting parallel could be created here, in particular with a third world city.

What are in your opinion concrete benefits to the society because of your communication?

The concrete benefits to society could be to give people in Brisbane a renewed interest in debt and young people. I think at times, society can forget how hard it is to be a student or a young worker and still pay for a normal standard of living. Although Centrelink plays a very important role in helping students through university, it is interesting to note that someone who is unemployed receives a higher income from the government, than a student does, by around $100 a fortnight. As shown by my project, young people sometimes have a hard time even paying for food and in some cases rely heavily on their parent's to pay for bills or living expenses. This in turn puts pressure on the parent's standard of living and retirement savings. In the case of young homeowners, it was discovered that in order to purchase a property they needed at least two incomes. In this example, the person chose to split the home loan with their mother, in order to get into the property market at a younger age.

The fact that it is hard to cope financially as a young person is something that most people can relate to. However, it is obvious that due to the economic crisis there has been more pressure placed on parents to help their children to survive rising costs. In some cases there has been a role reversal, with more pressure on the young adult to help their parents financially. In relation to psychological issues associated with debt, I believe that in most cases, there is a feeling of hopelessness experienced with regard to not being completely independent from parents. It is obvious as well, that anxiety and stress are experienced in the majority of these cases, whether admitted or not. These stories are not new, and have been well documented in the media. However, as these stories are personal, I hope that this format can create less disassociation between the audience and the storyteller.

What did you personally learn from creating your submitted work?

I learnt that organising people to be interviewed takes longer than expected. Originally I had 22 people express interest in being interviewed. By the end of this project I only managed to collect 9 of those stories. People who did express interest were very hard to get a hold of, and I believe that this could be because some people find it hard to admit to debt. One person who declined included a young married couple, which I think would have been an important demographic to include had I been given the opportunity.

Why is your work, GOOD communication WORK?

My work is good communication work because it aims to shorten the gap between the audience and storyteller through an interview approach. Making the stories personable means that the audience can relate more to the people.

Where and how do you intent do implement your work?

I would like to implement this work in Brisbane as an editorial or short-run zine. It would be interesting to see people's reaction to the work. If successful it could then also be sold online.

Did your intervention had an effect on other Media. If yes, describe the effect? (Has other media reported on it- how? Were you able to change other media with your work- how?)

There has been no effect on the media at this time. I would like to release this zine in the coming months.

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

The post-X generations (Y, Z) were once described by the New York Times as “No anger, no edge, no ego” which opens a lot of space for discussion. On the other hand they are payingthe heavy toll of capitalism’s fully developed “shock doctrine”.

These generations are born into debt. And that clause of the social contract is no longer written in such small print. “The first world problems” makes that print even bigger.

The problems of the perpetual debt of the third world are often hard to empathize with. As someone told me recently “No, the fact that thousands of people are dying of hunger right now doesn’t ease my problems.” But the first world problems might give me a sense of context, if not exactly ease the problems.

The most persuasive aspect of Gleeson’s work is probably the bluntness of its documentary approach. “…as these stories are personal, I hope that this format can create less disassociation between the audience and the storyteller.”

The stories vary in degrees of hopelessness, but the grim truth permeates the narratives just like the black cloud that engulfs those faces. “A study conducted by Meltzer. et. al. 2010 found that, “Those in debt were twice as likely to think about suicide.”
And thinking of suicide doesn’t seem to be the sole scar.

View other works commented by Aleksandar Maćašev  ››

This is an excellent and thorough project. It humanises the issue of debt, placing the reader in an empathetic relationship with something that is often abstracted to numbers and political jargon. The link to mental health is also a really strong conceptual starting point, and an important perspective in relationship to debt that is rarely explored. The broad range of stories were very interesting (I actually think that 9 interviews is pretty impressive, 22 probably would have been too much!) , and the writing/editing was quite readable, which can often be a challenge with random interviews.

The visual and design qualities of the publication are also very strong, with a sensitive use of typography and engaging photography. Personally, I'm not completely convinced by the overlaying of smoke on the photographs, though I understand it conceptually, I think it might be an unnecessary intervention.

Overall, from conception to execution, this is a very beautiful and powerful project. Congratulations, and I hope that you continue to get it out in your community.

View other works commented by Kevin Yuen Kit Lo  ››

This is a strong outcome for an undergraduate-level project. There is a level of accomplishment in the original research, writing, and visual narrative that reveals a real commitment to the potential of visual communication.

The climactic sequencing of the interviews illustrates the spectrum of personal consequences of financial debt and leads to evocative and potentially disturbing conclusions. The confident restraint of the design is effective, although I think the typography should have had a little more attention and craft. The one overtly aesthetic device - the incrementally obliterating black 'smoke' could have been a distracting embellishment, but it does its job as an expressive emotive metaphor.

A serious misstep I think is the publication's title 'First World Problems'. It seems to be a trivialisation of the experiences of some of the subjects and an undermining of the project's aims. Yes of course their situations may be benign relative to the extreme hardship in other parts of the world - but we can't on the one hand be expected to take seriously the notion of debt as catalyst for depression or suicide, and on the other accept that relative privilege somehow makes this less tragic. Suffering is suffering and suicide is suicide - whether you live in Brisbane's suburbs or Bombay's slums. This is aside from the fact that debt is very much more than a 'First World Problem'.

With a different title, I'd really like to see this work become an ongoing project.

View other works commented by Jason Grant  ››

Other comments

4 years, 9 months ago

thanks for the in depth feedback! much appreciated

4 years, 8 months ago

Hi Jason!

I'm wondering if you have any detailed feedback regarding the typography for this publication. I'm working on fixing up a few issues with it, and would appreciate your input.


4 years, 7 months ago

Hi Ashlea,
feel free to come into the studio and we can discuss in more depth. But in the meantime here's a just few examples of what I mean regarding the typography. Apologies to general readers - this is pretty arcane stuff.

Starting with the cover - check the kerning in the title (and as we're now only talking about typography I won't hassle you again about the actual choice of title). Then the contents page - it looks as if you've centred the page numbers which creates an awkward alignment. Also perhaps consider tabbing a consistent space between the chapter numbers and headings (the capitals of the headers lead the eye along an inconsistent vertical). The tone of the work, due largely to the type and its composition, is deliberately and appropriately very restrained, but it's also very dry - these subtle details (and others) might help increase visual engagement without loosing this tone. In the body, details like unnecessary chapter indents at the top of columns (indents cue the eye to a new para so are redundant at the beginning of a text), and narrow column width relative to font size and text length could be reconsidered. Is there something subtle you can do to the centred chapter headings to add a little typographic colour? Why this specific font? Etc.

Let me know if you want further pedantic typographic harassment.

4 years, 7 months ago

Haha! I do actually! Will take a look at those and stop by the studio. & agreed about the title, you'll be happy to hear I changed the name of it

4 years, 5 months ago

Thanks for all of your feedback! Have made some changes. The final copy is now available to download for free here --


Curators comments

This work has been commented by 3 curator(s):
Aleksandar Maćašev Kevin Yuen Kit Lo Jason Grant go to comments ›

Entry details


First World Problems


First World Problems

Concept author(s)

Ashlea Gleeson

Concept author year(s) of birth


Concept author(s) contribution

Created all of the work.



Competition category

visual communication practice

Competition subcategory


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

QCA / Bachelor of Visual Communication