Mindjam: a creative sprint for the British Red Cross

Last Friday a disparate team of researchers, behavioural science practitioners, psychologists and design thinkers came together in a creative sprint to help the charity improve the performance of its crisis response campaigns. As organiser Luke Battye put it, the day was intended to: “Fill a room with brilliant minds, give them a fast, one-day problem solving process and try to make a dent on a high impact issue for a charity.”

My motivation to attend was twofold: as well as wanting to help with a worthy cause, I was curious to see how the event would work. Co-creation even with a small group can feel like herding cats: bringing 40 wildly different people together to attack such a big goal was going to take something special.

The team composition was vital: there were 8 teams of 5, each working on a related problem. Each had a couple of UX/design thinking people and a couple of BE/psychology people. They were led by a representative from the charity who steered things towards realistic solutions – in case of deadlock they were the nominated ‘decider’.

Mindjam pic courtesy of Luke Battye & Laura Boardman - www.outdraw.co.ukThe day flowed: we had clear tasks, strict timing and strong moderation. It’s a hard balance to get right but Luke kept things focussed and welcoming. Let’s face it, the whole thing could easily have wilted and not reached any conclusions. But the day generated 200 solutions which were then whittled down to 8 thought-through prototypes (see below).

#Mindjam pic courtesy of Luke Battye & Laura Boardman - www.outdraw.co.uk

Solutions covered real world and online interventions, all of which leveraged behavioural insight. The visual summary gives you an idea: each took 10 minutes to present, so there was a lot more detail included.

Feedback from the client team at British Red Cross was great. As well as workable prototypes there was a sense of re-found perspective. The “curse of knowledge” – being so close to an issue – was lifted and the team were left enthused, ready to re-evaluate intractable problems.

Luke has produced a great write up of the event here. Kudos to him for organising.

Mindjam pic courtesy of Luke Battye

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The top 10 podcasts for researchers

The top 10 podcasts for researchersPodcasts are great.

They give me in-depth exposure to topics I wouldn’t ordinarily come into contact with, and help me to empathise with people I’d not otherwise meet. They push me out of my comfort zone.

On the commute they help me decompress a little before I get home. Audio is a medium which invites you in. In comparison TV is, well, a bit shouty.

I was prompted by a new starter to compile my top 10 podcasts for researchers. I’ve put them into 5 categories: behavioural science, business & advertising; interviews and analysis; inspiration; MR & media.

Behavioural science

Freakonomics. OK, it’s meant to be about economics, but in reality this is a hugely varied programme which starts with some data and a counter-intuitive question. The way they frame a problem and isolate the true drivers of behaviour is great food for thought for a researcher. It is not willfully contrarian but their findings are often counter intuitive. My favourites covered the gender pay gap and how medicine has developed from eminence to evidence. Indeed the latter on has some wicked experimental designs including sham procedures to isolate placebo effects.

O Behave. Ogilvy Change interview experts and authors around behaviour change. The audio quality is often poor (invest in some mics guys) but the content is pretty good. Episode 9 (Matt Watkinson talking about his new book) and 11 (Rory Sutherland Interviewing himself instead of Author Richard Shotton) were memorable.

Business & advertising

Ogilvy On. It’s new, and is wide in scope. The last one I listened to was on the future of work – covering social capital, automation (“4th industrial revolution”) how we’ll spend our time if a Universal Basic Income is introduced. Polymath brainstretcher Yuval Noah Hariri is interviewed in episode 11.

The Bottom Line. More than once I’ve been scratching my head on a brief, and Evan Davis has come to the rescue with an intelligent overview in his programme archive. The breadth is admirable: negotiation, the future of the car, casual dining restaurants, the business models of department stores, pricing even.

Interviews & analysis

Farnam Street’s Podcast: The Knowledge Project. Founded by Shane Parish, Farnam St’s goal is “master the best of what other people have already figured out.” In other words Shane will read a book, reflect, contextualise and summarise. I enjoy the blog, the podcast is more mixed. The production quality left a lot to be desired at the start. That said, the calibre of interviewees is great – try his interview with self-made billionaire Ray Dalio covering his shall we say idiosyncratic working style; or most recently tips on negotiation with Chris Voss, former FBI kidnapping negotiator entertained and informed.

Talking Politics. Right, this one is tangential, but indulge me. Anyone on a mission to explore, analyse, understand and explain the world can all learn from it. Boil it down and you have intellectual figureheads tasked with explaining the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times we are living in. I feel their pain. Models and past experience seem to count for less than an understanding of the lived experience of the non-metropolitan majority. The nuance of the arguments David Runciman and his contributors convey is masterful. I also love the way they contextualise contemporary political dilemmas, drawing historical parallels and international equivalencies. But if you’re not interested in the subject matter you’ll probably be left cold.


Future proofing. Leo Johnson and Timandra Harkness examine possible futures, holding up a mirror to the here-and-now. Cities, wealth, intimacy – their scope is broad. It’s reflective and story-led, paradoxically this makes it relaxing and thought-provoking.

A point of view.  It’s a cultural primer, a weekly reflection on a topical issue. John Grey’s astonishing the revolution of capitalism is a great place to start: “For increasing numbers of people, he says, a middle class existence is no longer even an aspiration.”

MR & media

Newsworks – the industry body who promote newspaper advertsing – have done a recent series on renowned media thinker / provocateur / irritant Marshal McLuhan. It is enjoyably ‘out there’.

Perspectives. Tech vendor VoxPopMe have curated this series with some heavyweight contributors from across MR. I’ve not listed to it yet, but my first stop will be Siamack Salari from EthOS on the risks and rewards of adopting tech in research.





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Researching UX: User Research – book review written for the AQR’s In Brief magazine, January 2018

Researching UX_User Research

This book is a pick-me-up: fresh, engaging and helpful. I opened it up after a long day in the office and found myself immediately taking notes, making myself late for dinner in the process.

Its aim is to demystify design research, signposting the reader step by step through project design, setup, fieldwork, analysis and impact. With 30 years combined experience Lang and Howell are well placed to write the book on UX.  As you’d expect from authors who spend much of their time advocating on behalf of the user the prose is scannable, with subheadings and diagrams to help you along the way. Yet nothing feels dumbed down, just concise, considered.

Lang and Howell are encouraging too: the tone is collaborative. Research for them is about making the world better. The authors acknowledge upfront that if “you are unsure – read on” and that “research is a team sport”. Other credos like “successful research is about driving design decisions through engagement, not delivering documents” and “analysis starts at the beginning” are good practice for us all. In fact I found little to disagree with, other than their unbounded zeal for the transformative power of the post-it note in the analysis process (flipcharts rule, OK?).

Having commissioned UX as a client and undertaken it as an agent, I wasn’t expecting to learn so much or find so many useful tools, models and techniques I can add to my daily practice. The sections on validity and sample design in chapter 2 are elegantly worded and useful reminder for your next proposal; you can use the exercise in chapter 8 to break your analysis deadlocks; you could even use the reporting templates in chapter 9 in the deck you are writing this moment.

Indeed, whilst young researchers at the outset of their career or those who haven’t been anywhere near UX before undoubtedly have the most to gain, the learnings are so valuable that every quallie would benefit from reading it. If anything the title undersells the book.

My overriding impression is a deep sense of shared expertise. Lang and Howell have contributed to the river of qualitative knowledge in a meaningful way. I can think of no higher compliment.


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Technology, trust and market research: opinion piece written for IMPACT magazine, January 2018


Taken from “Trust in us: can relationships between businesses and individuals be improved by new technology?” – a special report in the January 2018 edition of IMPACT magazine.


Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. More fail than succeed.

The trap we fall into is extrapolating present trends, meaning we are blindsided by the revolutionary. As Mark Earls said at conference this year “There is a natural human tendency to ‘impose linearity’ when thinking about cause and effect – A leads to B.” The reality is more complex.

Think about it. The app industry is less than 10 years old. In 2017 it is an industry worth $77 billion servicing a market of 2.3 billion smartphone users, employing over 12 million people.

No-one would have been able to predict this in 2007, and for good reason. The metaphors and analogies at our disposal at the time were blunt tools, unable to carve out a vision of this future.

Or to put it another way, you can’t paint the future with the colours of the past.

So, if you are asked in 2017 to make predictions for 2027 you would be wise to explore a range of imagined futures.

  • As an industry, the landmarks by which we get our bearings are changing. AI, machine learning & big data will push us professionally. But the brain is the best algorithm. It will be for years to come.


  • The great Bitcoin experiment may fail, but that’s beside the point. The proof of concept for blockchain technologies is a pull-and-push on the status quo. Its emergence could involve many unintended consequences. As Adam Greenfield points out in his book Radical Technologies such technologies of distributed consensus may eliminate the need for an intermediary in transactions of value; smart contracts may eliminate the need for authorities to enforce agreements; and the reduced cost of enacting binding agreements mean they can be deployed in new contexts. We may soon be living in a world where your car key stops working if don’t keep up your repayments.


  • And we forget the human in this equation – with all of our limitations, fickleness and fallibility – at our peril. Look backwards again. In 2007 Bebo was the teen’s social network of choice; in 2017 the teens I researched only talked about Instagram. Facebook occupied the middle years. You’d be brave to bet against them but our platform monopolists may ebb as well as flow. Envisage a world where Facebook’s growth ambitions are limited not by a data breach or scandal, but by the fact that teens see it as something “for old people – like mum or dad…”


New technologies will challenge our ethical boundaries. Whether we’re clients, agencies or consultants our perspective needs to be clear. Ultimately this is not about individual technologies, platforms or daily commentary of whom and what.

This is about our values. What do our organisations stand for? What principles do we abide by? How do we want to be treated as individuals? How does that carry over to our participants, customers and partners? The only prediction I make is that our integrity will be challenged on a regular basis on the road to 2027. To stand a chance of making the right decisions each and every time, our people need to know what our values are – and what they are empowered to do.  

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Neuroscience and market research: which methods are best?

In the most recent IMJR Jane Leighton from Neilsen describes a 2016 study which for the first time evaluates the respective merits of neuro tools.

imjr_which-neuroscience-methods-are-best-for-market-research.pngIn a sentence:

  • EEG has the best predictive validity;
  • Facial coding isn’t worth bothering with;
  • Like traditional methods, triangulation increases explanatory power.

For anyone who has used Eyetracking, GSR, EEG or Facial Coding this is intuitive.

EEG tends to be applied by trained specialists in a lab setting and a controlled environment. The data tends not to be interpreted by non-specialists.

Facial coding – even if you accept the “science” of micro expressions (I do not) – is often applied via webcam in home. The ultimate uncontrolled setting. The data is often interpreted by generalists.

The 2016 study is a comprehensive controlled test, testing 60 ads in 20 product categories, with over 900+ neuro participants and 22,000+ survey respondents. Their dependent variable – sales outcome – is not fully elucidated. I’m assuming this relates to an uplift in purchase intent following exposure.

My view? Adding neuro methods is about intelligent triangulation:

  • In advertising pre-testing EEG has predictive validity. Long-term memory encoding is the most effective dependent variable;
  • In retail, applied in a ‘blind’ shopping trip eyetracking adds most value in understanding real shopping behaviour and evaluating the impact of instore influences;
  • I wouldn’t bother with any of the other methods.


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Indulge in a spot of online shopping on Christmas day? You’re not alone

UK shoppers spent nearly a billion pounds online on Christmas day 2017.

It’s a reminder how much things have changed.

Those of you who can remember the advent of Sunday trading or the difficulty in getting a pint of milk on Boxing Day may sigh and feel a vague nostalgia for times gone by.

If you’re under 20 you’ve probably never known a world when you couldn’t fulfill every shopping whim within seconds.

Lots of people will be enthusiastically loading music, books and games onto just unboxed devices, others redeeming their gift cards. It’s not all naked consumerism.

Others perhaps indulging in a bit of post-gifting me-time, browsing the sales by smartphone as a substitute for hitting bricks & mortar stores. Indeed, passive tracking research undertaken last year by the7stars showed smartphone usage peaks around 9pm once the main events of the day are done and we’re all settling into the main TV event of the day.

But the main thing to reflect on is that we live an increasingly secular society. In the latest British Social Attitudes survey the majority (53%) declared themselves as having “no religion”.

When your national holidays no longer align with your beliefs, and the device in your hand has trained you that delayed gratification is an outmoded concept, why wouldn’t you do a bit of sales shopping on the 25th? This is modern Britain.

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Help! A canvass bag is following me around the internet!

I am being followed around the internet by not one, but two canvass bags.

They come to the websites I browse and interrupt me, saying weird things like:

“I know you’ve been checking me out”


“You’ve got great taste”

Help! Canvass bags are chasing me around the internet!


In this situation the average person will realise they are being retargeted by a brand they’ve browsed previously. Many will shrug, some may even find it useful if there’s a promotion included.

But come on – just because you happen upon a product online it doesn’t mean it should follow you around until you relent and buy it. As a strategy it is often crass or creepy. I’m being shouted at. No ROI metric will pick up the aggregate annoyance.

For all the huge claims about machine learning, AI and personalisation the theory is oh so different from the practice.

Think for a moment about the combined human ingenuity involved: the proprietary platform, the terrabytes of analysed data the joint client-agency exertion. Then re-read the messaging. It stuns me that the execution of this clever strategy is so poor. It’s like tripping over your shoelaces at the 26 mile point of a marathon.

Ad targeting regularly leaves much to be desired. A gem from last week on Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook marketplace ad targeting

Let’s just say I’m not a DIY-er and am I less keen on Kingston upon Hull than my proximity would suggest. What on earth are the selection variables for this ad? ‘Male’ + ‘on sale nearby’ maybe? Wow.

But look on the bright side. If this is the extent of the platform monopolists‘ computing power we can rest easy knowing the singularity isn’t happening anytime soon.

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Transitions: the sweet spot for behaviour change

I moved house in the summer. A new place, a new environment, a new commute.

Old habits were broken and new ones emerged. Briefly:

  • I don’t have a recycling bin. I stopped recycling;
  • Tesco is now on my doorstep. I no longer shop at Sainsbury’s;
  • I now have to drive to the park to go for a jog. I now run less, twice a week not three times.

My attitudes haven’t changed. I still believe in recycling, still prefer Sainos to Tesco, still prefer to run every other day.

But my behaviour has changed. The transition to a new environment molded my behaviour. Environmental cues exerted a strong influence, more so than my beliefs or preferences.

I was thinking about this when Danny Kahneman introduced “the best idea I ever heard in psychology” on this week’s Freakonomics podcast. In the 1950s Kurt Lewin posited that behaviour is held in equilibrium between driving and restraining forces.

Figure 1_Driving forces and restraints in equilibrium

For change to happen the equilibrium must be upset – the theory says you must add conditions favourable to the change or reduce restraints.

But in practice, if you want to change behaviour, rather than increase driving forces (arguments, incentives and threats), you should diminish restraining forces (barriers, incentives, environmental cues). This is unintuitive:

“A lot of things can be described as an equilibrium between driving and restraining forces. Lewin’s insight was that if you want to achieve change in behavior, there is one good way to do it and one bad way to do it. The good way to do it is by diminishing the restraining forces, not by increasing the driving forces…”

Kahneman’s advice: to design a behaviour change intervention, the strategy can be defined with the question ‘why aren’t they doing ‘it’ already?’ not ‘how can we get them to do ‘it’?’

The tactics should focus on making it easier for people to behave the way you want. This is almost always about controlling the environment e.g. putting the healthy snacks near the till or in my example, giving me a recycling bin the day I move in.

Research – of course – has a role to play. To understand restraining factors we need to look at the situation from individual’s point of view. I insist on mapping behavioural patterns (revealed preferences, environmental cues, triggers) rather than ask/answer research in this situation.

Coming back to moving house, any transition can be seen as an opportunity if you’re looking to change behaviour. Moving home, changing job, buying from a new category – all are chinks in the armour: our habit-formed behaviour breaks down and there is a chance for change. Targeting interventions here (e.g. recycling bin, auto-enrolment to pension, offering a repeat subscription) effectively remove restraints, meaning positive forces for change prevail.

Figure 2_Remove the restraints and behaviour changes

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Identity signalling

Guiseppe Peppe_The music sounds better with you

Pic: Guiseppe Peppe

I interviewed a lot of athletes in 2017. Personal trainers, coaches, instructors, and all types of participant from elite to amateur.

The role specialist kit plays in their worlds interested me.

Many of the sports involved extreme conditions: the right kit keeps you alive. I’d assumed function would be everything. Yet listening to these people, I was surprised about the subtle role brands play. Whilst function is vital (performance, fit and comfort) over time it became clear there are other things going on. Your kit signals who you are.

An obvious one: signalling to clients (what psychologists would call the outgroup). Instructors need to project a professional image to clients and brands play a role. When you’re mountainside all you have is your body, voice and reputation – and your clothing. It plays a differentiating role. Experts don’t want to wear the same gear as the “punters” or “weekend warriors. An item from a specialist brand – with identical technical capabilities to an equivalent item from another brand with a mass-market following – makes you stand apart from the people you are instructing.

Signalling to peers (what psychologists would call the ingroup). Each sport has subtle codes. A nice quote: “if you turned up with jacket with certain logos on it there would be raised eyebrows and comments… I have nothing against (BRAND X), I just wouldn’t choose to wear it to work… Status hierarchies need to be maintained as in any profession. Being given free gear by the right brands to test and review gives you the next level of bragging rights. You can always drop the “I didn’t pay for any of this” or “…these boots? They were never brought to market” line if you’re keen to impress.

Signalling to yourself. The gear tells you something about yourself, reinforcing your identity. It’s not always conscious. One example: it took me about 45 minutes to get the guided tour of the kit room in one participant’s house. There was one item at the back he didn’t mention, so I had to ask. The baggy black Outer Layer – shiny at the elbows, saggy and not quite so waterproof 10 years on – was the first specialist item he’d bought after working in an outdoor retailer for the summer. He’d coveted it, saved up for it and bought it with his staff discount. From a brand which the older more experienced peers were wearing, it was his entry to ‘the club.’ He hadn’t worn it for years: whilst its intended purpose was practical its actual purpose was emotional. A symbol, or memento.

I have two reflections.

Firstly, all of this speaks to general human experience. A glacier or mountain may mean life or death – but is still a social environment in which people seek difference and demonstrate status. Look closely at any other specialist area – fashion, music, IT, whatever – and similar things will be going on because we’re social creatures who construct our identities in relation to the context we find ourselves in. As psychologist Tony Crabbe says “We compete for status in almost every domain of our lives.” 

Secondly, our identities are more malleable than we care to admit. Brands are reference points. We internalise them. They reinforce our sense of who we are.

We perform ourselves to ourselves.

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Ad effectiveness: Les Binet / WARC webinar

Effectiveness in the digital age was hosted by Les Binet from adam&eveDDB, part of the WARC 2017 Toolkit series.

The content was so good I’ve been mulling it over for 3 months trying to work out all the implications.

Binet uses the IPA databank to understand ad effectiveness, essentially examining how 1000+ campaigns led to measurable business results. He’s spent 10 years isolating the role of creative & media so we don’t have to.

I love all this stuff as it gives you the meta level view of what works. It both confirms and develops hunches you’ve had from many years working project by project.

There’s loads of interesting stuff to go at, but for me Binet was most compelling on strategy: isolating cause and effect and the synergistic effects of media.

There are two distinct jobs for marketing

Binet framed effectiveness around two competing marketing paradigms: reach (tell everyone) and targeting (focus your efforts).

Two ways marketing works

Reach is about brand building

  • Who: the aim is to speak to all potential buyers not just those buying right now.
  • What: “Your goal is to make people feel good about you so more likely to buy when they next see you.” Brand building creative should be emotional, entertaining, memorable
  • Why: it makes firms grow (‘builds long-term equity’). Reach is biggest predictor of ad advertising effectiveness. “Marketing is a numbers game…you need to reach as many people as possible…”
  • When: It is future oriented, an investment. It’s about building up memory structures, preparing the ground. Time horizons are long. That means if you’re selling cars you should reach even those who haven’t learnt to drive yet.
  • Sales effects: slow burn. Effects are small in the short term, but they last a long time. There is a stepped effect: each exposure increases base level of sales.

Targeting is about immediate sales activation

  • Who: give those in the market for your product right now compelling reasons to buy
  • What: You’re converting: rational persuasion, offers and a response mechanism – classic BTL DM/digital approach
  • Why: immediate sales effects. These are bigger and more immediate than those seen when brand building, but also more short term and decay quicker (e.g. 6 months)
  • When: now!
  • Sales effects: large, immediate, but more short term and quicker to decay (e.g. 6 months)

Targeting only works because of reach

  • Or to put it another way reach is what makes targeting work. You need to set them up (awareness, positivity, trust etc) before you can knock them down (offer, promotion, response mechanism).

Use the right media for the right job

Think synergistically

  • The evidence shows campaigns combining mass media and digital sales activation are more effective. Synergistic cross media effects mean the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Digital gives a “kicker effect” – boosting effectiveness.

The kicker effect of digital.png

Evaluate & prioritise your budgets (aka ROI is illusory)

  • The balance between long term building and short term sales activation should be around 60/40. Getting the time-frame for evaluation wrong means you over prioritise sales activation – and end up in a self-defeating short-term cycle of neglect. This is the illusory nature of ROI.
  • It’s about the strategy, the right job using the right medium.
    • When you’re brand building people are not particularly interested in what you have to say right now – they are busy doing other things. David Golding from adam & eve DDB talks about “creating culture through campaigns that generate fame, talk-ability and memetic power.”
    • When you’re converting you’re easing the path to purchase. Programmatic interventions online are a good example: identifying, micro-targeting and influencing people just as they are about to buy.

Binet also made great points on how the network effects of digital platforms have different rules and how millennials’ media choices are slightly different.

But it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry. Go listen yourself.

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