How our ‘helpful’ technology is getting in the way.
Getting the tube every morning is a monotonous experience, so any small change to the routine is discernible. An increase of signs (as above) posted near ticket barriers, warning against ‘Card Clash’, has caught the eye recently.
Card Clash occurs when commuters tap in using their Oyster card but also have a contactless credit card in the same wallet or sleeve. It can result in punters paying extra, confusing the machines and causing queues to build up, especially in rush hour, when time means money and the platforms are crowded. It is not a new issue, but for TFL it is an increasing concern with the rising prevalence of contactless cards.
This prompts several questions about our reliance on helpful technology.
Technology, conventional wisdom presumes, makes our lives easier and run more smoothly. TFL’s Oyster card system is a great example of excellent service design which does this (even if the technology’s hastening of ticket office closure has been met with industrial action). Contactless card payments and transport apps, whether CityMapper or Hailo, do the same.
We carry more and more of this technology on our bodies at all times. Oyster cards, smartphones (connected to sensor-enabled thermostats like Hive and Nest), FitBit and FuelBand, contactless credit cards and building or key fobs. We carry so much that it can become a physical and financial hindrance, as with Card Clash. People can be put out of pocket from this, but there is a larger issue at play here.
Many of these services which we now keep so close to ourselves in fact come under the domain of fundamental, infrastructural utilities and sectors. These are absolutely necessary to the fabric of a society. For FitBit or FuelBand, read Health, for Oyster read Transport, for Nest read Energy and so on. Much of this is held together by smartphones, for which we would traditionally have read Telecommunications, even if all-pervasive software has disrupted how we conceive of communication.
It is debatable whether this is a positive social phenomenon, with our tacit acceptance of the transferal of responsibility to individuals from institutions on issues like health, energy savings, and public transport. Is it helpful to have your thermostat in your hands at all times? Or, as suggested recently on this blog, is mobile ‘on point’ better than ‘always on’? The technical ingenuity of a remotely-controlled washing machine is not in doubt; rather, could we not be spending our time doing something that has a bit more meaning?
However, that people seem so willing “to take control”, as the rhetoric goes, of these aspects of their lives reflects a loss of faith in our institutions. This surely presents an opportunity for brands in these fundamental areas of people’s lives to do something uniquely positive and helpful, not exploitative and cynical.
We should shoulder some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be duped into taking on the work of companies and institutions under the glistening veneer of technological progress. Rising fares, bills and unconnected, frustrating customer service whenever anything goes wrong do not suggest at progress or empowerment.
Health, communication, transport and energy are vital to people’s lives. Brands who take responsibility and pride in this over anything else stand to build something quite remarkable for themselves and for the people who rely on them. Three starting points could be:
1) True customer-centricity (e.g. flexible billing structures which adapt according to usage)
2) Implementing effective two-way services which allows for inevitable errors in the system and doesn’t leave customers stranded twice
3) A focus, where relevant, on the real and collective benefits which technology can bring on a structural level, not the clandestine transferal of accountability to the individual customer
There are many great initiatives and features companies have created which harness the benefits that emerging technology can bring. Some may even bring happiness to millions of people. However, whilst they remain predicated on shifting the work to the customer, the concern of people living in a utility-seeking, always-on and individualistic environment persists.
Dan Gavshon Brady is a strategist at Wolff Olins London, you can follow him @DanGB88
The ‘Let’s Move Active Schools’ brand launches today
The new ‘Let’s Move Active Schools' brand just launched at an incredible event in Chicago. Over 6,500 kids, plus parents, teachers and inspirational public figures and athletes, will join Michelle Obama for a day of active fun on their feet. Wolff Olins is thrilled to have contributed to this important initiative by partnering with Nike to design the brand for Let’s Move Active Schools.
As we become more reliant on technology and machines, we do less and less each day. In just two generations, physical activity has dropped 32% in the US, leading to rising levels of obesity, made worse by diets increasingly full of processed food. But the issue isn’t about being in shape – it’s about staying alive. For the first time ever, kids are expected to live 5 years less than their parents.
It’s time for change, and some people are leading the charge.
When she came to the White House in 2008, Mrs. Obama made it her mission to fight obesity and ”change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition”. In 2010 she created a campaign called ‘Let’s Move’ to spread her impact wider. In 2012, Nike and a number of concerned parties put together a report called 'Designed to Move' - highlighting the inactivity problem and the positive impact of physical activity. Now, Nike and Let’s Move are joining forces to take the First Lady’s mission into every playground and campus cafeteria: launching ‘Let’s Move Active Schools’.
Energizing a generation
We were asked to help prepare the ‘Let’s Move’ brand for its next step. The key to success was tapping into kids’ psyche – they’re the ones that need to embrace and get motivated by the brand. The target audience is 8-12 year olds, so we worked hard to avoid being ‘child-like’ and focused on being ‘kid-powered’. Not teaching them, but getting them excited to take part.
This is a brand that’s about doing it together. So kids don’t feel being healthy is a chore, or something they have to toil away at on their own, we needed to show a healthy life can be simple and fun. It’s dodging past your buddies on the court, chasing each other to the school gate, mixing it up on the kitchen surface, running, dribbling, stirring, chewing, swerving, bouncing, chopping, high-fiving. We captured that energy in the brand, creating something that can be broken into parts, played with, and joined up to represent a school, a community, a country.
A nation on the move
The ‘Let’s Move’ campaign has already started to have significant impact on health legislation – leading to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010; and on attitudes – by 2012 80% Americans acknowledge that childhood obesity is a serious problem. Now, it has the opportunity to energize kids to ‘Eat Right. Get Going’ everyday, in schools.
Visit letsmoveschools.org to learn more. On Twitter, follow @FLOTUS and @LetsMove for live updates from the national tour and join the conversation using the hashtag #LetsMoveTour.
By 2030 there will be twice as many people in the UK living with cancer as there are today. (That’s four million people living with a cancer diagnosis, in case you were wondering. When you add in their family and friends, that’s a big number of people affected.) Strange as it sounds this is good news. We’re living longer as a population, and many people who would previously have died from cancer are now able to live with the disease. This is in no small part due to the pioneering research and treatments made possible by Cancer Research UK.
The bad news is that it presents the NHS, among others, with a huge challenge: in the face of flatlining health and social-care budgets, how on earth will all these people be supported?
Part of the answer to this is you and me. The burden on the NHS will be eased by treating more people at home but this in turn will squeeze social services, so in the end it will come down to more of us helping each other. To do this, we all need to be comfortable talking about cancer – not only because it increases the chances of early diagnosis but also because it helps those living with the disease cope better.
Cancer will be part of the everyday lives of millions of British households, so how do we minimise the fear and remove the mystery? How do we enable ordinary people to talk about cancer and seek help?
Like Harry Potter’s arch nemesis, cancer was once the disease that must not be named. The ‘big C’. This is a taboo which we were acutely aware of when we worked with Macmillan Cancer Support on their repositioning and rebrand in 2006. It’s a taboo which I feel Macmillan have gone some way to dispelling.
But of course it’s also a collective effort, which is why I was excited about the opportunity presented by Cancer Research UK’s rebranding. And it’s why I’m kind of disappointed now. Because their new logo is – a big C. And not just a big C, but one which to the untrained eye seems made up of cells coming together.
Apparently Cancer Research UK’s previous identity created the perception that the charity was ‘too clinical’ and ‘too scientific’. I’m not entirely sure that the new logo solves this problem. But of course the logo is only a small part of the jigsaw. A new, warmer tone of voice which – like Macmillan’s – focuses on the kind of language that people use in their daily lives will help enormously. And focusing on the heroes underneath the lab-coats is a smart move to add humanity to Cancer Research UK’s public face.
But what about how it all comes to life? I’d love to see how Cancer Research UK are going to engage new supporters and develop stronger relationships with current ones beyond the obvious leaflets, posters and mugs we’ve seen so far.
What are the digital, interactive, experiential dimensions of the brand? How does it behave differently now? To get beyond the ‘big C’ they have to think big and find new, innovative, inspiring ways to get people involved. And most importantly – to help people living with cancer today and in 2030 – they have to find a way to raise money and support without reinforcing our fear of the ‘big C’.
Let’s not go back, let’s talk cancer. Let’s say Voldemort and strike back.
Last year, we worked with Oxfam on the identity for their new campaign, GROW. The campaign is about positive ideas for feeding all 7 billion of us, without using up all the earth’s resources. Here’s something that’s been happening in Tanzania…
Few deserve a shout out more today than our friend and partner Hayat Sindi, founder of the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity (i2 institute), who was just named to Newsweek/Daily Beast’s list of 150 Women Who Shake The World.
Raised in Saudi Arabia, Sindi convinced her family to let her study abroad in London in 1991. She excelled in school and became one of world’s leading biotechnologists. She co-founded Diagnostics For All, a new medical diagnostic technique which uses small, affordable paper strips and a drop of blood or saliva to diagnose liver disease, and down the line could potentially help in diagnosing AIDS.
Wolff Olins and PopTech collaborated with Sindi last Fall to develop the brand and identity around her newest project, the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity. The institute is focused on encouraging entrepreneurship in the Arab community amidst an unemployment rate of over 40%. In Sindi’s words, her mission is to “create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and social innovation for scientists, technologists and engineers in the Middle East and beyond.”
We love the Good For Nothing crew. So when an email went round asking for people to take part in one of their Creative Riots to find a way to raise £1 million in 50 days for the East Africa famine crisis we were more than happy to pitch in. Ambitious? Yes. A bit mad? Yes. Impossible? No.
It’s a funny concept when you really think about it.
Isn’t all food from a farm?
Isn’t all food consumed at a table?
Well no, not really… and no, not always.
In fact, a whole lot of the food we eat these days is created in a lab and consumed in a car – if we’re being really honest, a lot of it is designed in a lab specifically to be consumed in a car. Fast food is as American as… well, fast food. The concept itself was born in America, it was raised and continues to thrive in America and has now become one of our most powerful and influential global exports.Fast food has fundamentally shaped the landscape of the United States and the world – quite literally and figuratively (pun intended).
Technology changes lives, and sometimes quite literally, sustains lives. But that awe-inspiring ability can be its greatest enemy. People, amazingly, often take a stand against things like advanced fertility treatment, artificial organs (an artificial heart transplant patient broke new ground this week in being able to leave hospital, go home and begin living an independent life) or stem cell therapy. There is a quite common view, that we will not let technology’s ability exceed our own. Two thousand years of a human centric world is built on this notion.
Also in this category of technologies too clever by half, is GMO technology. GM foods – Frankenstein foods – are often assumed to be insecticide or herbicide resistant crops and are frowned upon (this seems less right in a world still so challenged by famine). But GMO properties extend far beyond this – offering massive nutritional advantage. Purple tomatoes can carry a much heavier load of the good things that vegetables give us – health promoting anthocyanins. Golden Rice fights vitamin A deficiency and therefore the malnutrition that causes blindness. Other GM benefits can include significant reduction in carbon used for food production and the production of alternative energy sources for fuels and pharmaceuticals. We’re looking at hardier food, potentially better for us, able to fight disease and produce biofuels. The difference these technologies can make to vast parts of the world challenged by hostile environmental conditions is enormous.
Whilst it’s difficult to talk about GM in one lump - they, and their effects are too diverse (and there is no doubt, given their power, that they need to be deployed carefully) - there is much to suggest the need for a new climate of opinion. As long as the public don’t support research in this area, it will remain in the hands of private companies who can pursue opportunistic, sometime monopolistic intentions. We have to stop shooting ourselves, and the people who need help, in the proverbial foot. We have to bring GM into the mainstream – to serve public interests, not such commercial agendas. That means that it has to become something people feel much more positive talking about.
The biggest source of general resistance to GMO seems to be the idea that it is not ‘natural’. And yet our bodies moved beyond natural a long time ago – we continually consume all kinds of additives and drugs, apply a wealth of lotions, breathe in polluted air and literally shape our bodies and minds to physical technologies all around us. Natural is a fantasy. Ironic then, that one of the possibilities of GM technology could be to get plants and crops back to their original traits – to undo the muddying of plant and crop varieties which has happened already as a result of centuries of farmers’ cross breeding to create stronger, tastier, prettier variants which suit prevailing tastes.
The idea of ‘natural’ is holding us back and potentially depriving people of life-saving improvements to how we live. This is exactly the kind of issue that companies like Wolff Olins need to get their teeth into. How can we ensure that a one-sided story doesn’t take over, and that technologies with so much potential aren’t ruled out wholesale? It’s our role as a brand consultancy to keep looking at difficult issues with fresh eyes, in order to ensure that the pervading opinion does not shape our reality for the worse.
If you want to know what is going to shape the way we live more than any other factor – look no further than food. As food gets scarcer, prices go up, and players in the food chain start getting very rich very fast. More importantly, they will exercise enormous control over the resources that we all rely on – literally – for our survival.
Depending on how you count we all have spent progressively less of our disposable income on food (for the UK 30% in the 50s, 17% in the 80s, less than 10% today) and correspondingly more on housing (10% in the 80s, 20% today).Yet now bread, vegetables, eggs, cereals, milk, cheese are all rising in price faster than they have ever done before. So is fuel. Meanwhile real incomes are in decline.
My hunch is we’ll have to spend significantly more on food from now on. Because we simply won’t have a choice. The question is what’s going to give in return?
I think they’d have to go a lot further though to win me back. What’s required probably involves more than a bit of transparency over calories.
It’s still chicken in a bucket. It’s not health food so why dress it up as if it might be? Maybe the unashamed honesty of Burger King’s Pizza Burger is a more honest, more authentic approach. 2500 calories. In a bun. Eat it if you dare.