Archive for March, 2008

Environmental damage a modern day sin


Amy Esser writes:

In recent years the noise around environmental sustainability has increased, and society mostly now acknowledges its part in damaging the planet. Despite this, we are not yet seeing significant changes in behaviour to reverse the damage and help preserve our planet for the future.

Sadly it seems that even the prospect of environmental Armageddon is not enough to prompt real action or even divert our moral compasses. If we as individuals are lacking motivation and desire to make the changes ourselves then who needs to take the lead? Perhaps sensing that faith could make a difference, the Vatican announced earlier this month that environmental pollution and damage is a modern day sin.

Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, said – in language that was largely misunderstood in the (non-Catholic) English media – that priests must take account of “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalisation”. Whereas sin in the past was thought of as being an individual matter, it now has “social resonance”.

Bishop Girotti told L’Osservatore Romano,

“You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbour’s wife, but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments, or allowing genetic manipulations which alter DNA or compromise embryos”.

The effect of this interpretation will take time to manifest itself. Perhaps it is more interesting to see the re-emergence of old authorities in response to more turbulent times.

Image source:,,30200-1308679,00.html

28 March 2008 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Questions of class

Sumeria’s social classes

Andrew Curry writes:

Times feature writer Penny Wark interviewed HCHLV director Michelle Harrison for a two part article the paper published last week (here and here) on the idea of class in modern Britain. Michelle also chairs the Institute for Insight in the Public Services, a public sector think-tank which is a co-venture between HCHLV and BMRB. Penny Wark’s starting point was to challenge the notion that “we’re all middle-class now” – Michelle suggested that notions of class had fragmented into shards defined by a complex mix of values, taste, education and consumption patterns:

“There are lots of middle-income people and there are plenty of highly educated people who are socially middle-class. But lots of these people now can’t afford their own homes, or can’t afford to live where they would like to live. So one of the characteristics of class has been eroded.

“Society is becoming more complex as sub-groups emerge where the old values of the classes and the identity badges have got mixed up. There are the educated middle classes who can’t afford the big-ticket items that they would have had a generation ago – and, rather than what they own or whether they live in a big house, it’s now the everyday consumer choices they make that are characteristic of where people see themselves from a class point of view. They express their values and attitudes in what they buy at the supermarket, especially with green and ethical choices. And their taste comes out in where they holiday, what they read. And there is another group, the people who don’t have the education associated with the middle classes, but who do have money.”

The picture above is from the blog From Baghdad to New York, and an intriguing post there on social class in ancient Sumeria.

26 March 2008 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

A dog’s breakfast?


Alastair Morton writes:

In recent years cookery shows have picked up and amplified a wide range of consumer trends, from Gary Rhodes’ rock-chef rebelliousness of the mid ’90s to the apparent ‘authenticity’ of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares providing, at times, gripping viewing.

This thought was brought home to me by Delia’s latest offering – more a case of ‘How to Cheat at Tapping into Trends’ than a food heaven. The premise is clearly to help out the ‘time-starved’ consumer, but there’s more than a pinch of ‘community connections’ with both family and tribal (Norwich City FC) references, topped off last week by a good slug of Catholicism to tap into the search for meaning. And let’s not forget about ‘health and wellness’ – tinned food as nutritious as its fresh counterpart? Well, I could go on.

I know that different trends play out in different ways for different people, and that Delia’s trying to stand out in a crowded market where there’s also a significant movement towards ethical food and slow food, with Hugh and Jamie’s respective chicken liberation fronts leading the charge. But beyond the fact that not all trends pull in the same direction, Delia’s approach comes unstuck, at least for me, because I think the joy in cooking is in the dream of what you’re going to create, from start to finish, and not just opening the relevant cans or defrosting the right pellets.

Image courtesy of

25 March 2008 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

Barbie knows no bounds

Barbie Cereal

Sarah Davies writes:

On a recent visit to the US I was stopped in my tracks by an enormous pile of Barbie branded cereal boxes, on offer at 2 for $5. I was so mesmerised by this spectacle that I felt compelled to purchase a box. To the disappointment of my two daughters, I didn’t buy the cereal as a gift to add to their burgeoning collection of Barbie merchandise, but rather as an example of what can only be described as irresponsible marketing to children.

Does a brand like Kellogg’s need to go to such lengths to sell its products? Close inspection of the box reveals a long list of additives and general ‘nutritional’ profile of the product. The pieces of ‘cereal’ and marshmallow bits look more like sweets than breakfast food.

In an age where childhood obesity and diabetes are on the increase, it seems hard to justify using Barbie to encourage children to eat such things for breakfast. But on second thoughts, perhaps this is all a storm in a teacup? Reassuringly, on the back of pack, Barbie is able to share her ‘fab tips’ with children, telling them to “Live active” and “Keep it green”. So that’s alright, then. But it’s hard to tell which brand is being damaged more by this co-marketing venture.

Barbie Cereal Back of pack

19 March 2008 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Time to think


Josh Hunt writes:

As researchers, we are beholden to consumers in many ways, not least their willingness to expend time and effort to talk to us about how and what they think about things. Given that we are frequently reminded that consumers are time-poor, less and less willing to give personal information to strange people and keen to maintain privacy, one might think that nobody would ever take part in any research.

Yet I was struck in a recent project both by how willing people were to spend an hour and a half talking candidly about their plans for the future to a total stranger, and that in many cases people were delighted (and even grateful) to have had the opportunity to reflect on and consider the direction of their lives.

While I am not espousing some grim research-as-therapy model, I think we sometimes underestimate how much people like talking about themselves, how rare it is to have access to a non-judgmental listener, and how little the ‘time-starved’ spend sitting back and thinking. Perhaps research, for some people, is a way getting back some of that much-valued time.

Image with thanks to Polder

18 March 2008 at 9:47 am 2 comments

Usability and simplicity

Andrew Curry writes:

Our former colleague Chad Wollen, who has spent the last few years working for digital media companies, sent me a cartoon by Eric Burke that’s being going the rounds in the digital community:

Simplicity by Eric Burke

Judging by the response to the original post, it’s clearly struck a nerve among designers and programmers, even provoking some discussion about the purpose of jokes.

What’s interesting, reading the comments, is that people are taking a somewhat ‘binary’ view of simplicity (it’s either ‘good’ or ‘bad’). As John Maeda reminds us in his Laws of Simplicity, it’s a bit more complicated than that. One of the ‘laws’ of simplicity, he suggests, is to ‘reduce’, for example by removing functionality – the Apple and Google trick. But he also reminds us that simplicity often requires knowledge on the part of the user, that “simplicity and complexity need each other” – and that “some things can never be made simple”. The design skill is knowing what can be, and why.

17 March 2008 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

Eating the planet

Photo by Peter Menzel, The Hungry Planet

Trevor Harvey writes:

I contributed to an event run by one of our food retail clients this week, and one of the other speakers showed some pictures from Hungry Planet, a photo-essay (“30 families, 24 countries, 600 meals”) about who eats what around the world.

Time magazine did a selection of the families, with some data on their food budgets and their favourite meals, and there’s also a audio feature from the US National Public Radio show All Things Considered with an associated web page which has the full weekly food shops from four of the 30 families (Darfur, Gemany, the USA, and China).

Looking through the pictures, it seems as if – with the obvious exception of the very poor – that those with more money for their food budgets are likely to have worse nutrition, at least judging by the amount of processed foods on display. They have less fresh food and an awful lot more packaging. In contrast, those with smaller budgets tend to have favourite family meals (the richer families talk about ‘favourite foods’ – processed again – rather than favourite meals). At risk of romanticising, the poorer families also seem to be smiling a lot more.

One of the trends we’re noticing at the moment is that the proportion of income spent on food is going up, for the first time in three decades. This is partly because basic prices are going up. Although it’s a complex story, it’s possible to imagine that a combination of price increases, the pursuit of wellbeing, and a desire for the more authentic might mean that the more affluent will start shifting their food budgets to more natural foodstuffs – with the health benefits that would follow.

The photo above by Peter Menzel, taken from The Hungry Planet, shows the Melander family, from Bargteheide, Germany, with a week’s worth of food.

14 March 2008 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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