Archive for May, 2009

Just the ticket


Andrew Curry writes:

It’s always a pleasure to see good design, especially in unexpected places. This was the ticket I got when I played a round of crazy golf at Puckpool Park on the Isle of Wight last weekend. Less paper, less hassle, less waste. And quite a good size for a bookmark afterwards.

29 May 2009 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

How liveable are your streets?

mexico city - scott peterman

Anouk van den Eijnde writes:

The majority of the world’s 6.5 billion residents now live in cities – cities that are often overpopulated, congested and hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. Take Mexico City, for example, with a population of more than 20 million people: it suffers from pollution, traffic, water shortage and a high crime rate. The once attractive public spaces are now deemed by local residents to be too dangerous to spend time in. The mayor is slowly tackling these issues by revitalizing its historic centre, improving public transport and dealing with its acute water shortage. But what do residents really want from their cities?

Caracas-based architects Brillembourg and Klumpner, founders of the Urban Think Tank, are consulting local residents and community groups in an attempt to find sustainable solutions to the city’s ever-exploding population. Their focus is on the growing ‘informal cities’ where four out of its six million inhabitants are squatting the hillsides in self-built constructions. One of their initiatives is a cable car system connecting the valley to Caracas’ public transport system. Their site has an engaging video about their work.

Taking a leaf out of the ‘livable streets’ initiative – which encourages people to re-imagine how their cities would be if they were healthier and more sustainable – the American magazine GOOD asked people to do just that, and redesign their streets to make them more ‘livable’. The task was to take a photo of a street or intersection you know and hate, then use Photoshop or other image software to make the changes you wanted to see. Green spaces, bike lanes, street art, playgrounds, exercise machines – it could be anything. The winners, though mostly North American, demonstrate the value of visions in making change, and there’s also a whole gallery of entries.

Another example of involving people in urban design is Fix My Street, a UK website from the team at mySociety that allows people to report local problems like vandalism, broken lights and litter. You can simply type in the postcode online (or on your i-phone), find the location on the map and type in the problem. Comments are then sent directly to the local council on the users’ behalf. Who better to influence the design and maintenance of neighbourhoods than its local residents?

27 May 2009 at 12:46 pm 1 comment

Some good things we’ve seen #2

kettlechipsCompiled by Tom Ding

Passed around the office lately were:

  • A comparison of the news-to-death ratios of Swine Flu and Tubercolosis by Hans Rosling, adding an interesting perspective to Alex’s earlier post. Guess what: lots more people die of TB, but it hardly gets any news coverage.
  • Naturally 7 wowing the crowd with some full-on beatboxing, in whch they impersonate a small orchestra, a video from this year’s TED conference.
  • A great little insight on depictions of the future in advertising, still strangely trapped in some old-fashioned futures borrowed from the 1970s.
  • The idea bounty, where creative sorts can sell ideas straight to brands. Although, as our IT Manager pointed out, the terms and conditions make for scary reading, and might just be enough to make you think twice about offering your best ideas.
  • And finally, is it co-creation? is it mass customisation? is it an inventive way of improving the margins on crisps even further? The picture at the top of the post top might offer some clues. Whichever it is, the new Create-a-chip Kit from Kettle Chips is only available in the US at the moment, so we’ll have to leave that piece of research to our American colleagues.

Tuck in!

22 May 2009 at 9:26 am Leave a comment

When saying sorry doesn’t work


Andrew Curry writes:
Suddenly, ‘sorry’ seems to be the easiest word, at least in London. Quite apart from politicians saying sorry, eventually, about their expenses, we’ve had Marks and Spencers saying sorry for charging more for bigger bras, and (as Andy Stubbings has mentioned here) the London Evening Standard saying sorry in an extensive poster campaign for, well, for pretty much everything.

It’s true that the Standard’s branding is discreet and it’s mostly done by typography, but it seems as if the paper is saying sorry for being complacent, predictable, negative, and out of touch among other things.

As ad campaigns go, it has the merit of getting them talked about (as this post demonstrates) although for this non-reader the Standard was always a smug evening paper which pandered to the prejudices of its core audience in the commuter belt.

Indeed the whole campaign, prompted by the arrival of new Russian owner and new editor, feels like they’ve done some focus groups with lapsed readers and slapped the findings straight on to the billboards. (Which saves the inconvenience of a debrief, I guess).

Will any of these work? I think the M&S apology will – it’s a simple issue with a simple remedy. I’m sceptical about the other two. In the face of their respective declining markets, both paper and politicians will find that saying sorry isn’t enough.

The picture at the top, published under a Creative Commons licence, was taken by renaissancechambers, whose photostream is here.

14 May 2009 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Old and unimproved

Andy Stubbings writes:

Pessimism is an often underrated emotion. In this dismal economic climate, brands like Schweppes (with their series of woodcut style print ads that send up British political figures) and even the Evening Standard (with their “Sorry” bus and tube advertising) have sought to capitalise on consumer discontent and, most probably, a simmering resentment towards our political and economic institutions (for a wonderfully vitriolic example of this anger, see Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Big Takeover’).

However, no mainstream brands appear to have done this as explicitly as Shredded Wheat in the US. The “Progress is Overrated” print ad above is part of a campaign by cereal manufacturer Post to publicise the simple, unchanged origins of their product. As you would expect, the long-copy form and type-setting feel of the print ad are wantonly old-fashioned, conveying “back-to-basics” message (although the slapstick tone of other campaign media feels at odds with this). What is especially interesting about the copy, however, is that it namechecks waste concerns, resource shortages and the impact of climate change as evidence that we have not progressed (though curiously no mention of the financial crisis. The people who buy Shredded Wheat are mainstream American consumers, many of them mums buying for their kids. The tone of the campaign (by Ogilvy & Mather in New York) implies that research has found this attitude reasonably prevalent in the target audience, which suggests that consumer discontent may be quite widespread.

While it may be difficult for established brands like Schweppes and Shredded Wheat to reinvent themselves as the Voice of Discontent, I think there is a substantial opportunity for less well-known brands to take this on, in the way that Mountain Dew reinvented itself as the ‘slacker’ brand in the midst of the corporate greed of the 1980s. With so many brands offering similar messages of solidarity and empathy with consumers at the moment, it might be that pessimism proves a smarter and more distinctive position.

The picture is borrowed, with thanks, from Noise Between Stations.

13 May 2009 at 10:11 am 1 comment

Talking about Millennials and progress


Yannis Kavounis, the head of our Millenials Knowledge Venturing team, talks to Tom Ding

Tom: Yannis, I have been meaning to ask you about Millenials and the recession…

Yannis: Recession, anxiety, layoffs… I’m personally exhausted from all the speculation and debate around it. Let’s talk about something more uplifiting: change and our future.

Tom: Sure. But where will the change come from?

Yannis: Well, not from government and politicians. They are only trying to resolve the problem using the same tools and context that caused it. So what’s left? Us – ordinary people, and Millennials of course. Millennials are connected and aware of the power of the collective. They have the technological and creative tools to take risks. And most importantly they’re young, not jaded and realise that grassroots overhaul of our economy and values is the only way forward.

Tom: I have seen a few diffferent versions of Millennials and Generation Y, what is your definition?

Yannis: At The Futures Company we say Millennials are the cohort of people born between 1979 and 1992, or roughly those aged between 16 and 29 at the moment.

Tom: OK. So give me some examples of these new values you talk about…

Yannis: So, for instance, I love how some of us are still rooting for ownership (intellectual or physical) as a fundamental principle of our economy. Well, guess what, Millennials are teaching us that modern business models can be based on more fluid and open concepts such as access and open source. Think of a world where you don’t ‘own’ but you ‘share’ – as and when you need to. Who needs iTunes when you have Spotify?

Tom: Yes and everyone I know has started using Spotify all of a sudden. I read that they just got their millionth subscriber in the UK, around the same time that the billionth application was downloaded for the iPhone – which I guess is open development, if not true open source. But is all this generational change about technology?

Yannis: Well, hasn’t generational change always been about technology, through every stage of human evolution? The interesting thing about current technology is how Millennials are using it and the role it plays in their lives. For them, it’s the means to an end, not the end itself – it is the greatest facilitator of societal change at the moment. I see Millennials as the generation that will use technology to help us enter a new age of realisation … be that in the economy, consumerism, or through our social values.

The picture is borrowed, with thanks, from

(edit: The Futures Company definition of Millenials is those born from 1979 to 1992, not 1982 to 1992 as originally written – a typo, apologies)

7 May 2009 at 4:18 pm 1 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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