Paper Prison

Paper Prison

Case Study By

May 2013–August 2014

Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust
Project Title
Paper Prison
  • Executive creative director, North America: Chris Campbell
  • Executive creative director, New York and San Francisco: Craig Stout
  • Creative director: Forest Young
  • Design director: Ross Clugston
  • Design principal: Matt van Leeuwen
  • Art director: Kristin Labahn-Childs
  • Designer: Matt King
  • Design intern: Annalisa van den Bergh

The world knows Nelson Mandela. But for the Mandela Poster Project, we wanted to move beyond his legacy and share his unbreakable spirit. For us, celebrating Mandela’s life meant experiencing it—even if only for a moment. To that end, we created a poster that unfolds to create a space roughly the size of Mandela’s cell at Robben Island prison. At first glance, our poster simply read, “He illuminated the world from an 8-foot cell,” but there was more to the message. The poster was not one page but many, designed to unfold to an eight-by-seven-foot rectangle.

We took our posters to an international stage and unfolded these pieces around the world. We watched as visitors stepped inside, and felt not only the confinement of the 18 years Mandela spent there, but the spirit that helped him emerge on the other side. We hope our project will do its small part in shaping a better world: inspiring people to come together, speak up, and challenge the injustices they see, both big and small.


The Mandela Poster Project invited artists from all over the world to honor Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday through the design of a poster. The size of the poster was the project’s only constraint, so the participating designers had the freedom to celebrate Mandela in their own way. From the submissions, 95 would be chosen—one for each year of Mandela’s life—to be part of an exhibit that would tour the world before being auctioned to benefit the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust. After Mandela’s untimely passing, the project took on greater significance and the team regrouped to design a commemorative artifact.

The challenge: use an A2 poster to capture the legacy of a man who changed the world. Our team sought to transcend the traditional definition of a poster and transform an ephemeral printed sheet into an experience. The required dimensions couldn’t begin to embody the spirit of Nelson Mandela; however, when we started to think about dimensions, it sparked an idea.

Our poster would highlight the dimensional constraints of the greatest injustice Mandela suffered—the years he spent in a prison cell. We would go beyond showing and telling this story, and instead invite exhibit visitors into the experience.



He illuminated the world from an 8-foot cell


A street view of the unfolded poster


The pieces were unfolded in city centers around the world


Visitors stepped inside to experience the confinement of Mandela’s cell


The bright yellow paper represents Mandela’s illuminating spirit


An overview of the Paper Prison project


The Mandela Poster Project aims to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s contribution to humanity by creating a series of posters as a fundraiser for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust’s efforts to establish a dedicated children’s hospital in Johannesburg. More than 700 posters from designers in more than 70 countries were submitted.

All designers had the same project goals in mind and design requirements in place. Through the creation of Paper Prison, we were able to satisfy the constraints of the submission and honor Mandela’s lifelong feat through a simple yet immersive experience.


Development budget: Pro bono
This project is: Neither a retainer nor an in-house, ongoing monitoring relationship
Production/execution budget: Pro bono
Source of funding: Funded internally


We understood the limits of the printed medium, and worked in tandem with an integrated social media campaign. Our approach served to broadcast and document the poster’s engagement with the public and spur dialogue about Mandela in omni-channel forums.

Thus, we created Paper Prison: a timely, shareable experience that invited people to be a part of Nelson Mandela’s profound legacy.


Our research focused primarily on the deployment of the posters. In order to garner public attention and encourage pedestrian interaction, our goal was to unfold these pieces around the world in densely populated city centers. We researched cities that had public squares with a high degree of pedestrian foot-traffic in order to maximize exposure and interaction.

These findings were integral to our design strategy. These cities would serve as media epicenters with the potential for great exposure and impact. Targeting mobile-first users, we encouraged visitors to step inside and experience not only Mandela’s 18 years of imprisonment in his Robben Island cell, but the indomitable spirit that carried him through.


In hopes of commemorating Mandela’s life, our objective was to maximize visibility and impact through simple yet strategic design. With the design and budgetary constraints in mind, we created 20 shareable posters.

Our poster read, “He illuminated the world from an 8-foot cell,” in black sans serif font on a bright yellow background. This message fit within the size constraints set forth for the project, but the experience of our poster did not end there. This one page was designed to be unfolded to form an eight-by-seven-foot rectangle—almost the exact size of Mandela’s cell at Robben Island, where he served the majority of his 27-year sentence—that could then be placed on the ground, allowing people to interact with the space. The contrast of black to yellow was designed to transport viewers into Mandela’s darkness during those years, illuminated only by his enduring optimism and spirit.


We were successful in creating an integrated campaign that utilized social media to broaden audience engagement and we were honored to have it chosen to be part of the exhibit.

In June 2014, we were awarded a Gold Lion award in Design at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. In April 2015, the Art Directors Club awarded us Best in Show (Design) as well as a Gold award. In May 2015, The One Club awarded us a One Show Gold Pencil. These humbling moments of recognition continue to allow us to celebrate Mandela with the world.

Recognition from these awards resulted in thousands of impressions, helping us carry on Mandela’s legacy far beyond his untimely passing. In digital media impressions alone, 488,300 individuals were exposed to the Paper Prison project. Through Interbrand’s digital cross-promotion, this reach extended to an additional 117,100 followers who were able to engage with work on our website, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, and Twitter feed. Our website posting alone received 8,709 unique views since its initial posting. The post is still live and continues to garner attention.

The influence of Paper Prison has been unparalleled—from 20 posters to a global campaign. Paper Prison was an integrated effort allowing word of mouth and media pickups to create a swell of attention that mirrored that of a broadcast television spot. We hope to continue to spread impact through the simplicity that is Paper Prison.

Additional Information

“This [Paper Prison] was an excellent strategic idea applied through design that is so simple it’s genius.”—Alisa Wolfson, Transform Magazine

“I cannot emphasize enough what an incredible accomplishment it is for Interbrand to win a Cannes Lions Gold. Not only has the project earned Interbrand a spotlight on the global stage, but it has also honored a man who changed the world for the better and inspired us all with his courageous spirit.”—Jez Frampton, Interbrand

Juror Comments

“Although its power and simplicity struck me immediately, upon viewing this piece I found myself wanting something more. More history. More reference to the limitations of the space. More visibility into Mandela’s impact. A better understanding of how his time was spent and how he achieved such amazing things from these confines. The poster’s greatest success is not in the shock of the size of the cell, but in its ability to spark immediate reflection—forcing us to reevaluate perceived boundaries, excuses, or inconveniences that cause us each to lose focus on our own purpose.” Sara Frisk

“I appreciate the dynamic between the simplicity and understatedness of this approach and the power of the message. There’s something very universal and approachable about the concept and execution that I find compelling and memorable.” Alia Hassan

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