Author Archives: John Gibbard

+40 days later

Forty one days since the fire at Queens Close and I am much closer to being back to normal. I thought it would be of some interest to those that know me or at least had been following what happened there to learn a little more about what one has to do in the aftermath of such events and, with the benefit of hindsight, what lessons can be learned to mollify the effect of this kind of rare event in future.

The first few days
In the days immediately after the fire much of my focus was around reducing the forthcoming costs and cutting off as many unnecessary expenses and distractions as possible. Online orders were cancelled, energy, internet and other bills suspended and notified. I took a few days off work (too few, on reflection) and mentally walked through the flat putting together lists of possessions I might want immediately replaced and the most important items I would like to recover from the flat.

I also had to extract my car.

Both keys were in the flat, BMW wouldn’t issue new ones without documents (which were in the flat) and my car insurer (Aviva) were a little bit useless … they didn’t take any notes during my call to them and made no contact with the loss adjusters or insurers at the property on my behalf. In the end, the builders retrieved my keys and drove the car out. There seems to be no helpful protocol from BMW to issue new keys given, for example, a police statement of my ID and the circumstance. It was V5 and passport or nothing.

The sheer volume of water that had come down through the properties and into the underground carpark meant that it was covered in concrete dust and stagnant water marks. I desperately need to wash it and remove the corrosive material but all my detailing equipment remains in the property.

The property needed to be made safe, roof timbers and an leathal unsupported gable needed to be removed. This took a couple of weeks, and eventually my landlady was allowed in and retrieved hard drives, laptops and other valuables and gave me an update on the condition of the flat.

After a month
During this time I pinged around Surrey and Kent and tried to continue to hold down a job and parenting. I bought a small selection of clothes and secured tenancy at a new flat in August. I received some incredibly generous financial support from collections by friends at both Spark44 and Dare.

To-ing and fro-ing with building management, the on-site builders securing the property for the insurers and residents continued and eventually access was arranged last week (a month after the fire) at a cost of £120+ VAT* to be accompanied in to the building for 1 hour. A single hour, it turns out, to retrieve the entire contents of a 3 bedroom flat. My 70+ parents, brother and Jo turned up to help along with the builder chaperone and between three cars and a stack of storage boxes we extracted 90% of it into a storage unit during a hot and unpleasant afternoon.

* of course I’m livid about this charge which I consider to be onerous but as an uninsured tennant it’s just another price to pay for a poor decision there.

Going back to QC after 5 weeks was emotionally tough. It was a wonderful flat and a good community there. I’d quite quickly fallen in love with the view over Esher Green and the space so different from modern developments with tiny rooms, open plan kitchen diners (eugh) and clip-on balconies and so to see it so-marred by fire and water damage was distressing. My flat wasn’t substantially affected by the fire itself but the water damage was more significant than i had anticipated, exacerbated by the 5 weeks of stagnant damp.

Mould was almost everywhere, with black spores crawling over the walls. A wardrobe where I kept everything but my main clothes was soaked through. I pulled out armfulls of drenched and rancid running kit, Uni rowing kit, shoes covered in spores. I found the pile of books, cards and keepsakes from my son which I was hopeful had avoided flames all soaked and stuck together instead. His infant handwriting now disappeared like invisible ink. Books from my childhood saved to read to him in the coming years all contorted and wretched from the water which had saved so much else.

In the lounge, a solid wood mid-century unit was damp to the touch, pools of water stood on top of it. Thankfully the drawers and shelves inside were dry and a sanctuary for the tech containing my precious photos. Bizarrely, the orchids I had spent weeks trying diligently not to kill had survived perfectly happy in the humid atmosphere, although a rose I’d nursed back to vigorous life during lockdown didn’t make it. In the hall cupboard, another place I’d assumed would be perfectly fine, I found a sentimental (and expensive!) canvas holdall riddled with mildew and all-but unsalvageable alongside brand new running gear with the stench of a long-forgotten gym towel. Earlier in the year I’d edited my collection of running event medals and t-shirts down to the most important, of course these were right there in the same compromised cupboard.

Watching my Dad frantically cascade belongings in to boxes that I’d spent hours organising into need drawers and shelves brought in to focus how much things needed to change and quickly. I’ve resolved to continue my plans to slim down possessions. I can’t rationalise a single argument for having more ‘stuff’. I want fewer things all round, a simpler life.

It’s been a bit of a joke over the years that I have such a small wardrobe of day-to-day clothes, but simply buying three identical t-shirts and a new pair of identical jeans was a genuine bonus. I want to adopt the same approach to the rest of my belongings.

The days ahead
While my nomadic life and the generosity of family continues, by the start of August I should be in a new place in Esher. I might even be back commuting to the office by mid-month. Between now and then I am slowly going through possessions in storage, washing clothes (again, and again … mildew and mould are incredibly odorous and persistent). I’m replacing the wrecked stuff and consolidating the rest.

I’ll also try and track down the post that’s not been delivered for 5 weeks. Royal Mail (common to almost every other service provider) have no information on their site about what to do in the event of a catastrophe at your address. Also, try proving your ID and address without a current address and with all your ID out of your possession for weeks…

I’ll be doing several things differently and i would recommend to anyone, subsequent to my experience.

Contents insurance. A no-brainer. It wasn’t for financial reasons that I didn’t have contents insurance, I’d ‘saved’ just £16 a month by not having it for two years, but my reasoning in no-way made up for what would have been so much more helpful if i’d have just handed the entire mess and the problem over to a claims team.

Fire resistant boxes and storage. There are a number of very good value fire resistant storage boxes available and I will be using several of these in future to store the sentimental and essential paper and tech items you’d be distraught to lose. You can buy fire resistant document wallets too. They’re not infallible (800 C for 30 minutes) but they’d have given me much more comfort and certainly would have protected the pieces from my son and various backup drives and documents. Keeping originals in these with copies in day-to-day filing makes sense.

Cloud storage. Having devices that backup to devices is great when you want to reinstall with everything around you. It’s good when you lose one device, but in a fire or flood and the circumstance where you lose multiple devices in one go, that’s not viable. I’ll be backing up all my photos to the cloud in future and having physical back-ups as a fallback against Cloud failures and for short-term restores.

Grab bag. I left the flat with just the clothes i was wearing, a coat, phone and (lol) my flat keys. I’m going to buy a small dry bag and prepare a grab bag to contain, as a minimum, a spare set of car keys, charger and cable, a day’s clothes, toiletries, spare cash card (and card reader!), glasses, ID and … running gear. Leaving this in an obvious place to take under similar circumstances would have made those first hours and days much easier. More extensive lists of contents are recommended but my experience suggests a more lean selection.

Passwords. without giving too much away, I wasn’t able to use many of my accounts without the devices I usually used. I only had a work phone on me with no saved passwords in the keychain and with many accounts using 2-factor security which texted codes to a phone I didn’t have. I was locked out of plenty of essential accounts I needed in the days after the fire. If you use password and security management, think ahead to what would happen if the device you carry most often doesn’t contain all you need to log back in to the essential services.

Perhaps this helps someone down the line. I can’t say I have much helpful advice for removing mildew or smoke damage, there are better places online for that sort of thing. But as an update for those interested, perhaps this suffices.

To everyone that has been in touch, thank you so much. The practical support and gifts mean an awful lot but the words did too.

John.

You never think it’ll happen to you.


The first thing I remember, and probably now always will, was the sound of commotion outside. Lockdown’s been a strange old time during which I spend long periods of time getting very familiar with the views outside my window. The people in the park, the general public strolling about and, of course, the delivery drivers buzzing in to the residential block like bees alighting for moments on a flower.

At first I thought it was a delivery driver or something like that so, mid conference call with my boss and colleague, I glanced out the window to see a police car and, rather obviously smoke. Instincts took over, I explained I had to go, it looked like fire and just went to the door. Opened it, heard more commotion and saw my neigbours scuttling about and returned to grab my coat and my phone. Experience from drills at work reminded me you get cold quickly. And that was it, once I saw the policeman bawling at the foot of the stairs for us all to leave I figured it wasn’t going to be an ‘out and in’.

I won’t retrace the whole afternoon. It’s clear in my mind and will forever be so, but I can only describe it as being like watching a loading bar progress across the screen as I watched fire track left to right across the building in front of me. The accompanying soundtrack of clattering tiles, in place for 90 years cascading from the roof and the wails of residents around me watching their lives consumed in front of them with flames positively roaring upwards is so visceral and painful to recall. Selfishly I can remember inwardly imploring the seemingly sclerotic crews to protect ‘my bit’, douse it with the gallons required to prevent my life going the way of the inferno.

After a while, I just couldn’t watch. Residents of Wolsley Road and surrounding streets offered teas and umbrellas, police took details down and I was advised to take shelter in a church hall. So much of this year has reminded us of the quaint traditions and mechanics of local government response, volunteers and the kindly communit, I hadn’t expected to find myself reliant on the goodwill of a Methodist church kitchen on a Wednesday afternoon.

For the third time I gave details to Surrey police, to Elmbridge council officers and sat red-eyed with the people I’d pass on my way to the bins, make small talk within the stairwells or nod at as I steered my car out of the garage. Before long the unbearable lack of sight ot the progress of the fire meant I had to get out and go and stand on the green and watch as more ladders and platforms went up, the rain petered out and the wind seemed to be doing its damnedest to expedite fire. I became resigned to a ‘total loss’, and turned to head away to fortunately get a pick-up from my brother and a bag of clothes.

A week later and I have somewhere to stay, somewhere that still means a huge amount to me. I have my family support and I have made slow, pathetic steps to get some clothes and belongings together. I did lots of ‘easy’ stuff. Cancelled my internet and utilities, sorted my rent payments, ordered new cards. It took several pestering calls to get Surrey Police to update me, and when they did it lacked empathy or any real value. I tried to get a salvage company to take on my case and manage the retrieval from the building, but they didn’t want to know. Even Zen internet, who get top marks for customer service on any review you care to mention, felt the need to charge me a cancellation fee and Bulb energy (another 5 star performer apparently) cooly messaged me back to question whether I could help them get their gas and electric meters back. Royal Mail took 1hr to answer my call and confessed to having no protocol or information online about what happens to your post when their postie finds the letterbox charred. And if you want it redirected, yep, you’ll pay for that too, not even a 2 month ‘freebie’ to sort you out after a fire or flood. I’ve been very very surprised at how little script or process exists to handle people who have suddenly, dramatically lost absolutely everything.

I didn’t have contents insurance. There are reasons for this, they’re not great, but I had reasoned with myself that I could ‘afford’ a total loss, and perhaps I can, but dear god it would have been so much better to have had someone to hand the colossal mess over to and have them manage it. As it stands, every single purchase hurts and reminds me how bloody unnecessary it is: “I already have a perfectly decent razor!” “I didn’t need another pair of those jeans” “I’d only just bought a new pack of xyz”. Mind you, even having car insurance hasn’t been helpful for retrieving a car that’s currently buried in an underground carpark with keys irretrievable from a structurally unsound location and with all identification documentation presumably perished.

Has C19 made it worse? Yes, it probably has. I can’t just repair to a cottage by the sea or up on the fells for a few weeks to pick up the pieces. I can’t happily scoot about on trains to take up the hospitality of friends. I can’t sit in a café and disappear with a magazine or a book. But it’s also helped in the small ways, such as the fact that I could get a new machine fully restored from work within days and online deliveries are remarkably easy when you’re at home full time.

Many of you know I run and running should be my crutch but sadly I turned my ankle last month (theraband presumably lost to the fire…) and rehab was slow already. A lack of shoes and kit (brand new unworn Saysky kit lost to the fire…) doesn’t help either. But what does is the memory of the long distances I’ve completed and the fortitude required. I spoke to my MD last week and other running friends and drew the comparisons of the dark moments when even one more step feels impossible, pointless and futile given the distance ahead. But you take that step, maybe slower but you do. Each step builds and you make forward momentum. In this unwanted interregnum it feels much like grief, waves of it come and go and the funeral is yet to come. I have moments of acceptance, moments of dismissive optimism and then spells of profound sadness and anxiety.

It will be several weeks before the building is made safe and we can even contemplate returning for salvage. In any event I shall likely never return to the place as a resident, that chapter has closed and I so loved the building and the setting. I’m sure I’ll return to the topic in the weeks to come – it makes a change for the blog eh? But in the meantime, I entreat and implore you: Get contents insurance.

EDIT: What happened next? 40+ Days Later

A National Arboretum for the Victims of Covid19

An image of a  mature woodland with the sun breaking through pine tress

The loss of life attributable to Covid19 is astonishing, taken even in the United Kingdom as of May 22nd 2020 the death toll in hospitals alone exceeds 36,000 [source: Gov.uk]. It is unwise to talk about the exactness of these figures, the level of ‘excess mortality’ and so on, at this stage this is an indication that since the first death was recorded in the UK, there are a tens of thousands of families who have lost a loved one, friends and colleagues who are mourning. 

Comparisons with seasonal infections are facile and unhelpful, this is by any measure an extraordinary sombre international crisis. In the midst of the pandemic with only glimmers of hope, it is easy to assume this would never be forgotten, it will always be a keenly-felt loss. The immediacy of the event will pass, of course, and with increasing distance from the daily press briefings, the front-page photographs, ascending graphs and the echoing claps, the salience of the losses will fade. In some ways this is longed-for. We all want to be through the finish line (as if such a thing will exist) the pandemic consigned to a historical account of 2020. 

Naturally, this does not erase its permanent effect on many of us and most emphatically on those that have or will experience the death of a loved one. To this end, I have proposed that we remember them in a time-honoured and sustainable way. I propose the creation or extension of a national living memorial, through the establishment of an arboretum (def: a collection of trees) or National Forest. 

Each victim, howsoever defined, would be marked with a native species tree, their plot identified precisely with GPS and registered. These plots could be augmented with a digital map where, with agreement from relatives, they could be enriched with a photograph and their name

The practicalities
The National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire have preemptively issued a statement concerning their position, based on their existing criterion for the memorial to be related to “those [that] have suffered or made sacrifices for others”, and as such:

[the criterion] would mean we could not accept a memorial for those who have lost their lives to this terrible disease, it is our belief that the service and sacrifice of our NHS and our key workers could be recognised with a memorial within our grounds. We would therefore welcome an application from an association/ charitable body or government department with funds to create and maintain (in perpetuity) a memorial for this special cohort of people at the Arboretum.

Though this perhaps rules out the use of the existing site, it seems feasible nevertheless to consider a unique and new forest is planted. Based on the density of planting around 2000 trees per hectare, this would equate to an area of about 0.2 sq/km for 40,000 trees. A full square km of land would accommodate significantly more trees (assuming one plants several for each victim to account for possible loss/thinning) and the associated paths, landscaping and site infrastructure. All these figures are napkin calculations but serve to demonstrate that the proposal need not demand a vast parcel of land. Although getting well ahead of myself, it strikes me that a site somewhere in the geographical centre of the UK would feel appropriately accessible. For an example of how brilliantly this can be executed, one need only look at Glenn Howells Architects’ work to support the existing National Arboretum and in that spirit, an open competition from landscape architects and designers seems entirely appropriate.

Photo Credit: Rob Parrish

Whilst this may have readers nodding along in agreement, I hope it does, I am at a loss as to how to move the idea beyond my own musings.

Petitions

My original petition was rejected by the Government portal due to similarity with existing petitions (which didn’t exist at the time I submitted it!) so although we can sign these..

  • Commission a Memorial Plaque to honour and remember UK victims of the Covid-19 [ Petition ]
  • A memorial for NHS, care, allied professionals, who die as a result of COVID:19 [ Petition ]

.. the specifics of the living memorial are not specified and one is specific to key workers.

I and others remain unconvinced about the efficacy of other non-government petition platforms which can so-easily be dismissed (evidence, slightly more positive evidence) and therefore I’m unsure of the next move. It strikes me that support from the public, organisations, press, media and public figures should be gathered and if this gains momentum then gathering this through Change.org or similar.

Any advice, support or direction is gratefully appreciated, like, share, retweet and re-post with energy, please.

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The crystal ball of behaviour prediction is looking in the wrong direction.

SHARED_EXPERIENCE

This morning I read another breathless piece from a consultancy. An agency with clever people who were confidently asserting that post-COVID we’re all going to be behaving differently, permanently, that the world from our recent past is gone and we need to embrace new behaviours.

It’s madness. So I made this*.

The red line represents how long we’ve lived with COVID (and it’s about 4 times thicker just so it’s visible). For simplicity, I’ve plotted four generations, the most immediate influence on our lives and a significant shared accumulation of behaviours and experience; but preceding that there are about 200,000 years of human existence that converge on today. We know a huge amount about how that evolutionary experience defines the way we live, that is which should inform how we behave in the near future, not a reflexive pivot around a thin red line.

So let’s tone down the hyperbole, we’ll be behaving in the same predictable ways and evolving at just the same pace this time next year. Those insight/agency crystal balls would do much better to look to the past than prophesying.

* Note, not actual birth/death dates 🙂

How can we sustain the lockdown? Perspectives from psychology, sport and communications.

I suspect I am not alone in experiencing some cognitive dissonance about personal sensations of peace, solitude and even enjoyment during the pandemic. Running outside at twilight brings an eerie sense of quiet as my local town reverts to the village it was 100 years ago; cats and foxes amble along tranquil traffic-free roads, the stacked Heathrow landing slots are quiet and the groups of social drinkers and restaurant clientele are nowhere to be seen. The initial sense of eerieness I felt in the early days of lockdown has progressed into a melancholy that this pastoral scene will eventually fade in coming weeks, reverting to all those things about modern life I don’t miss today: noise, crowds, traffic, pollution.

Here, in leafy Surrey under warm spring skies or sat at my ‘WFH’ desk, the morbid reality of ice-rink morgues, bruised and fatigued nurses, patients clinging on to gasps of breath and businesses facing utter devastation comes and goes in waves through screens and radio broadcasts.

My previous posts have looked at the behavioural science that has initiated the change in our way of life, in this post I want to explore how this change can be sustained, inspired in-part from that sense of mindfulness that amplified the salience of the sharply positive emotions I felt being out and about in a time of lockdown.

I made contact with several friends, former colleagues and acquaintances who spend a great deal of their time thinking about human behaviour, albeit from different perspectives and contexts. I wanted to know what, in their opinion, would help us sustain and adhere to the onerous conditions of lockdown: sclerotic food delivery, family and educational obligations, financial worries and the ever-present anxiety of living through a pandemic? I reproduce their thoughts here with genuine thanks.


Stefano Augello is a strategist at Business Integration Partners and began by exploring whether our perceptions of the post-lockdown experience are the principal driver:

“Many say that “life will never be the same” and that we’ll emerge changed. From their perspective, seeing this as an opportunity to rethink our world makes the lockdown, not just worthwhile, but also a convenient period to start imagining and taking steps towards that new world.” … before countering that this approach is questionable, a short-lived idealistic vision and that longer-term we won’t see fundamental change “I believe that, at least in the UK, while there may be significant changes in specific areas, overall we’ll revert to our usual life…. as we like to deal with traumatic events by pretending that they never happened in the first place”. To some extent, it’s convenient for us to compartmentalise this event as a Black Swan, though as Cennyd points out in his piece, this event was both predictable and predicted. Mark Ritson in Marketing Week took a similar view to Stefano, drawing on theological and philosophy and I found myself agreeing that “Consumers are miserable explainers of their … behaviour and even more hopeless at predicting what they will do in the future.”

What this means, Stefano insists is that “I don’t think we should invite people to endure the lockdown with an eye to the promised land that awaits us on the other side.” and he gives us four suggestions instead:

1 – Make the danger real: The invisibility of the virus needs to be made more visible and the low-probability of serious illness to the individual needs to be converted to a high probability of society being deeply affected but pulling people out of egocentric mindsets. Stefano praises the efforts of those who have made strangers’ deaths visible and personal. They are all of us.

2 – The majority are shown to be complying: Another case of ‘visibility’ and something I addressed previously, by reiterating the majority’s compliance we normalise it. Stefano suggests going so far as to suppress stories of disobedience, something our tabloid media would find particularly challenging.

3 – Good news, every day: We crave progress and despite the immediate future predicted to be bleak, we have the opportunity to use other countries to peek beyond the horizon, not to use them as a competitive comparison. Seek out the progress being made and present it as a clear prediction of where we’re headed.

4 – An end in sight: Much certainty is currently absent, building on (3) although we cannot place a finish line on our route, we can begin to identify what we need to do to reach that finish line. Providing the public with clarity on the process will help to soften the fixation on the outcome.

To pick up on the theme of uncertainty I wanted to share April Vellacott’s thoughts.

 

April Vellacott, Behavioural Consulting Lead, Cowry Consulting and co-author of ‘Ripple: The big effects of small behaviour changes in business‘.

Social distancing is a catch-all term that refers to standing apart when out and about as well as the broader requirement to spend the majority of time at home. April observes: “What’s interesting about … staying at home – is that it’s almost the absence of doing something. So, in essence, it’s a bit like waiting, and the psychology of waiting gives us some suggestions for how we can make lockdown behaviour sustainable.” Adding to the calls for more certainty, April continues “If we know how long we’ll be waiting for, we’re happier to wait for longer. If we’re told that we’ll have a 2-hour wait to see the doctor, this feels better than being told ‘you’ll be seen soon’. Whilst nobody can yet predict how long the lockdown will be needed for .. the Government might be better to give a longer-term expected period, rather than continually topping up every 3 weeks.”

Drawing parallels with other waiting scenarios, it’s apparent that a shared wait is more bearable, “If we’re waiting with other people, we’re happier to wait than if we were on our own. If we’re going to be on lockdown for a long time, it will help if we make the experience social – ‘we’re all in it together’ rather than ‘you’re alone in your flat for months’. This also makes it feel fairer – and a fair wait feels less long than an unfair wait.” Defining that ‘fairness’ is something we’ll return to later as others address the moral imperative of the situation.

Ultimately, April believes the government’s role here is clear: “If we know why we’re waiting, we’re happier to wait. Having a reason for the waiting makes the wait feel shorter than when it’s not been explained. This means that regular updates – as the Government is doing with its daily press briefings – should give clear reasons for the duration of the lockdown.”
Mark Bell, Partner at Globant

Taking us back to our evolutionary past, Mark explored the programming hard-wired into us as a survivalist species: “something we as many animals are programmed to do is to quickly adapt to our changing environment to ensure survival. Whether that is changing seasons, working abroad or finding yourself in isolation.” … “I do hypothesise that if we reach out to a wider audience whether you are living alone or in a jam-packed squashed family environment that you have learnt to be social, roam and have freedom in your way.” Mark also believes that many of us will look back on the crises with a kind of nostalgia “[we will return to our old lives] with a … nostalgia of coping with the horrendous Coronavirus of spring 2019 and how we all pulled through together.”

These broad perspectives on the in-built survivalism we have got me thinking and I wanted to dig into the techniques we might be deploying a bit further. I’d personally drawn repeatedly on the analogies of running ultra distances. As endurance runners we’re often recommended to switch between association and disassociation strategies: thinking in detail about every step you’re taking, focusing in on your breathing vs. thinking about people you love, places you’d like to be or the food and drink you’d love. When I ran Race to the Stones in the summer of 2019 I couldn’t think about the 100k distance, I focussed instead on each 10k checkpoint. I contacted Dr Josephine Perry for her take.

 

Dr Josephine Perry, Chartered Sport Psychologist and author of Performance in Mind.

“To personally sustain difficult challenges in sport, we often focus on two areas: increasing motivation and reducing [the] perception of effort. [I] see the challenges COVID19 brings us in a similar way.”

“We need to increase our motivation to get through and rise to the challenge. One of my favourite theories of motivation (yes, I know, I need a life) is called Self-Determination Theory. It says to be truly motivated to do something we need three pillars in place; To feel a sense of belonging to the community in which we want to excel, to feel competent at what we are trying to do and to have [the] autonomy to choose our current and future activities.”

“We have new communities springing up where people are reaching out to others online and building volunteering which should enhance motivation. But we may also be feeling that we lack the autonomy to make our own choices when we are restricted by the government as to what we can do outside. Then, depending on our situation, we will feel either competent to step up to the challenge (good mental health, able to work from home in a secure job, feeling fit and well so able to shop for essentials) or not (if we have lost income, are self-isolating or already suffered with depression or anxiety). To increase our motivation for the challenge we need to look in each of the three pillars, see where we are weak and work on strengthening the elements within them.”

Dr Perry adds that motivation will take us some way but the effort to achieve and sustain these conditions needs to be made easier: “The more something feels hard work and like lots of effort the harder it is to push ourselves through it. In sport we reduce [the] perception of effort through activities like training hard, using caffeine or playing mind games with ourselves. In real life, we can use something called ACE (Achieve, Connect, Enjoy).”

Achieve: Make sure each day we achieve something. Doesn’t matter how big or small but achieving something helps release our reward chemical in our brain giving us a feel-good feeling.

Connect: We need to connect with others. So connecting in some way with someone outside of your household (chatting on a WhatsApp group, FaceTiming someone, joining a Zoom class) to feel like you are staying in touch with the world.

Enjoy: We need to do something each day we enjoy. Can be a little thing or something huge but it needs to be there in our lives to help us relax and to feel some purpose.”

This cognitive behavioural therapy approach struck a chord, it seemed – like so much good psychology – tangible common sense.

 

Dr Martin Yelling, endurance sports consultant, coach and architect of children’s movement and mental health project, Stormbreak.

Like several people I’ve spoken to, Martin is unconvinced by the immediate high-volume low-effort interventions: “What frustrates me is the influx of short-termism solutions. Quickly thought out ’solutions’ to help people towards temporary change that will be forgotten about when they return to normality. An opportunity here is to try and see through the cloudiness of the current ‘have a go at everything’ and something might stick.” For someone that naturally wrinkles their nose at the 1st January resolutions pile on, I concur as he continues: “It .. feels like the worlds worst attempt at motivating people for a ‘New year new you’ I think there is a place for immediacy and quick fix but … we should also consider the broader implications of this. Sustainable behaviour change is realised when people feel empowered by the change, have a sense of ownership of the change, when it’s meaningful, purposeful and fulfilling”.

The clarity of the lens through which we’re having to view the full range of our personal life, our work and our hobbies provide us with a unique opportunity, Martin says: “people have been forced to look at some areas of their life they currently operate in (e.g. running) and see how they respond when they cannot do that in the way they are accustomed to / expect to. … how [do] these people respond? Can they rise to the challenge of difference … do they resist and try and keep doing what they were always doing?” I think we’ve all observed something similar like this happening and, as others have already identified above, the behaviours we are suggesting are changing might not be changing that dramatically, in Martin’s words “.. maybe no long-lasting change has taken place. It’s just a sticking plaster short term solution.”

Reflecting on Martin and Josie’s words I was reminded of how I have stuck to a routine. My alarm continues to go off at 05:30 as it did as a commuter. I have the same morning and evening rituals as before. Routine and normality have helped buffer against the highly abnormal elements of my life, it’s a protective personal responsibility I have taken naturally.

Individual responsibilities for rising to these challenges are one thing, we can think carefully about how we might respond, but we’re not the only actors. Other respondents took on the role authorities might need to play and how they can use applied behavioural science accordingly.

 

John Owen, Behavioural Scientist and founder of The Decision Practice.

Following my question, John took up the challenge and comprehensively covered the topic in his blog post. His observations focus on the effect of ‘spillovers’, actions we take after the adoption of new or target behaviours. These spillovers can have positive, reinforcing effects or negative contradictory ones. He reminds us of a typical ‘permitting’ spillover response: “I might start going to the gym again, and then feel so pleased with my efforts that I treat myself to a flat white and a slice of cake” and contrasts this with the ‘promoting’ response “I might instead feel such a surge of healthy goodness from my gym session that I want to maintain that feeling, by ordering a whey protein breakfast blast and a pot of green tea.” John suggests, (from Thogerson, 1999) that a principal determinant of which spillovers take place is “the degree to which I am committed, at a moral level, to the consequences of my target behaviour.”

In the COVID19 pandemic, we can take social distancing as the target behaviour. The consequences are known: viral spread, healthcare systems overwhelmed, lives saved or lost. As Stefano mentioned above, the distance from personal action to these (very real) consequences is part of the problem for most people. John describes the observation of social distancing as something some people are doing “grudgingly, out of obligation, but without truly feeling the need, or comprehending the terrible impact they could have on others if they broke the rules.” in these circumstances, the likelihood of ‘permitting spillovers’ increases, particularly as time goes by and they feel they’ve put enough ‘good behaviour’ credit in the bank. Might we draw an inverse relationship of a sense of virtuousness with a decline in willpower?

Well, all is not lost, the moral purpose has a profoundly positive effect too with ‘promoting spillovers’. John observes the 750k people signing up to the NHS volunteer scheme amongst others that shows “[moral purpose from our COVID19 actions] make it more likely that they will subsequently feel the urge to do more to mitigate the crisis.” So how might governments fuel the promoters while dousing the permitters? It’s no surprise that as former ‘ad people’ John and I see communication as a vital response, and it’s something we’ve already seen in action. Appealing to ‘hearts and minds’, as John says “emphasise the moral argument at every opportunity” and the theme here continues “this needs to be sustained over the long term. The communication challenge will be to strike the right balance between the repetition of key phrases and messages on the one hand and, on the other, refreshing the core argument with new and engaging angles”.

Whilst Stefano advocated the suppression of the finger-wagging at disobedient behaviour, John takes a different perspective to preserve the foundations of this critical moral argument: “Moral arguments cannot be successfully made if the messenger is shown to be hypocritical.” and in this case, calling out the behaviour of Catherine Calderwood, Scottish Chief Medical Officer (CMO) when she repeatedly flouted her own office’s advice is essential. In her actions travelling to her holiday home, the CMO highlighted a significant issue: the high-risk ‘pemitters’ seem able to side-step the moral argument. The defence here is to continue to amplify the much higher percentage of adherent behaviour amongst the herd. wonderfully a society-initiated response is having exactly this effect according to John: “a nationwide ritual such as the applause for NHS workers every Thursday evening is so powerful. This isn’t an argument being made by those in power, which I can avoid or find reasons to dismiss, but an action being taken by my neighbours, who will notice and quite possibly judge me if I don’t join in, and whose noise I certainly can’t ignore. Even if I don’t agree with them, I can’t help but register that their moral position is the norm.”

This is something I can entirely relate to, on an essential journey last week I found myself on the road at 8 pm as the clap sounded out. I enthusiastically beeped my car horn and felt a profound and moving sense of satisfaction and togetherness as for 2 minutes through residential streets in the twilight we were all applauding the same positive sentiment. Physiologically this released dopamine, the pleasure centre of the brain was getting a fix and of course, I’ll want more of the same. Can we get addicted to being this virtuous? Not such a bad thing for a while is it? Even if, as John suggests, clapping itself might not be enough over time and so we’ll be looking to communities to encourage variety: carer claps, essential workers, one-week claps, the next pots and pans.

I think we’d all rather see these ‘descriptive norms’ emphasising the positive behaviours than the low-effort shaming of ‘injunctive norms’ (after Cialdini, 2003) that are so typical of the material that a vigilante social media and tabloid press incorrectly assume has a disciplining effect.

 

I was delighted with the enthusiasm with which everyone I spoke to had considered the significant challenges of sustained behaviour change in this circumstance. It was apparent that the responsibility of this is a shared one, firstly with individual motivation pushing up against the pragmatic realism of feeding ourselves, keeping money coming in and staying physically and mentally well. Then secondly the governmental responsibility of maintaining the higher purpose, communicating effectively, keeping us safe and unburdening us of some of those practical complexities.

I’d close by adding that I feel we mustn’t lose sight of the significant positives that the crisis has brought to many (sadly not all) of our lives: the children’s bathtimes we no longer miss thanks to rail or road delays, the meals we’re now sharing, talents we’re discovering, hobbies, passions and people we’d forgotten about. The footpaths, and neighbourhoods we’re seeing in new lights, the delight at technophobic relatives appearing in video calls. People are generally good, predominantly egocentric but acting as conditional co-operators in the best interest of society. I think you’ll have seen from my contributors that we’d all agree these are the stories we need to tell.

My sincere thanks to John, April, Martin, Josie, Stefano and Mark for their contributions.

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We can do more than one thing. Creativity can help with both parts of the COVID19 brief, and each is valid.

For this post, I wanted to address a train of thought which has been prevalent in the creative and marketing spheres as the world tackles the pandemic. This is a sector that loves to critique itself, everyone has an opinion and, of course, that means I have one too.

I tend to believe that most people are good. Consequently, when I see our industry’s immediate response I err on the side of assuming altruistic, positive intention. The immediate response was, in many cases to produce ‘social distancing’ riffs of brand assets: McDonald’s’ separated golden arches, the Olympic and Audi rings underwent similar treatment and so on. This was easy, repeatable. Evan Nicole Brown in Fast Company witheringly referred to this as equivalent to the vacuous well-intentioned ‘thoughts and prayers‘, others likened it to the virtue-signalling trope of changing a social media avatar, some might say simple opportunism.

But this misses the point. Changing your avatar when a terrorist event happens is an ex post facto acknowledgement of sympathy, changing it to a rainbow signals a commitment and solidarity with LGBQT+ rights. We can debate the worth of those actions at another time, others already have done. The fact that brands have done this in the past (Mercedes Movember 3-point star anyone?) meant there was precedent, it was easy to sign-off and reproduce. But it wasn’t worthless. In the COVID19 instance the logo split is instructional, perhaps derivatively so, but it’s an acknowledgement of the steps we all need to take to stay apart; it might not be original, but communicatively speaking it’s actually doing a job. It’s also only part of the story.

Because, while social distancing is dealing with the preventative part of the pandemic (flattening the curve), the other element is the tangible action that brands and organisations are undertaking to improve our ability to respond to the healthcare crisis. In this instance we have seen equally derivative responses: huge amounts of 3D printing hacks to produce protective equipment or make it easier to use. Repetition here is inherently valuable! More is indeed more. Bring on the bucket loads of brewers and distillers making hand-sanitiser, the optimised venturi valves or retrofit respiration aids to Decathlon scuba masks. We’ve seen creativity in digital environments that support frontline health workers with food delivery, symptom tracking, transport and mental wellbeing. I was delighted to see Welsh denim manufacturer Hiut start making scrubs.

There’s no reason that all of these approaches cannot co-exist, and when pontificating columnists and the quick-fingered Twitterati hammer out their (equally derivative) shut-downs of the latest ‘lazy’ work: “It’s a pandemic, not a brief” sighed Anselmo Ramos (1k likes)  that’s when we snuff out the little flames of applied creativity that might just have made a difference. Of course, one logo separation looks the same as another but added together when everyone’s saying the same thing is the message diluted and ignored or is it normalised, does it make us all accept that spending time distanced and apart is the right and normal way to behave right now? I’d say it does, and that’s a good thing. There are other ways to communicate the same point: Volvo for example, if it still sounds like it came from your brand, so much the better.

Finally, there’s an important element in this approach that concerns accountability. Responding with even a low-level logo change does assert that the brand understands and cares. Anything which the organisation then fails to do or runs counter to that is damaging and perhaps this is the point others have tried to make. If you separate your logo and do literally nothing else or make your employees or customers suffer by your actions and policies then more fool you. Equally, brands don’t absolve themselves of the need to edit and interrogate the value of their work, many should have asked themselves whether emailing their customers to tell them that their employees were ‘washing their hands and had sufficient space between them in the factory and might you like 10% off stock’, was likely to be a welcome reassurance or simply an opportunity to unsubscribe (as they’d forgotten to when the GDPR emails went around).

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There are two briefs to respond to. Why is only brief 2 considered worthwhile?

 

I’d return to Mr. Ramos and others and say there is a brief. A brief with two objectives:

  •  Flatten the curve (the ‘easy’ one) that we behavioural scientists have picked,
  • Increase the healthcare capacity (the harder one) that’s demanding we do all we can to add improve the efficiency of medical interventions and protect the healthcare frontline workers.

On the second part, Ryan Wallman and Tom Goodwin seemed to suggest that ‘marketing people, ad people’ lacked the intellectual heft or credibility to tackle these problems (“our understanding is always facile“), particularly if they were approaching this from the naivety of youth (<27) .

I profoundly disagree.

One really does not need to be an epidemiologist to produce work that responds to either the problems so clearly defined in those two distinct parts above, and I really don’t think I’ve seen a single brand or marketeer try and solve the problem at a virological level.

There is also room to have fun and interventions and creativity might not seem so obvious as solutions to the brief but can be strongly connected. I’ll return to this perhaps in my next blog as we address the implications of lockdowns and restrictions that last a prolonged period of time and we find ourselves struggling to sustain the momentum and need other ways to maintain that downward pressure on the curve.

Aside from the irascible and cynical commentary on the first salvos of marketing’s response to COVID19 there has nevertheless been some helpful and measured guidance. Renata Mittnacht and Carly Gibson of Ogilvy NY produced a simple checklist and accompanying social media guide which certainly helped us at Spark44 edit responses to the pandemic for our client, Jaguar Land Rover. This guide reminds us to think carefully about tone, opportunism, the contribution to panic or anxiety, the assumptions we might be making and the impact of behaviours we might be encouraging. Of course, it also encourages us to ensure the brands we work with are contributing in a meaningful way through their wider Corporate Social Responsibility remit. It’s this sort of constructive filter we need to apply.

Please, even if you’re allergic to unoriginality, dial down the crit and allow some of the wildly-sown creative seeds to take root (help thin them out by all means) but we really need to be tackling this en masse because I’ve already illustrated above, we’re seeing some truly inspirational piece of design, coding, science, engineering and psychology being unleashed on the vicious virus.

When Matt Kandela concluded  that as creatives our final response shouldn’t be “well, perhaps we change our logo?” I found myself answering that of course, it shouldn’t be, but if that’s where you choose to start your part of the response, that’s ok too.

Put that light out. Get out of the park. Lessons from the behavioural science of 1939-45.

light-out

British wartime posters warned of the consequence of disobedience

Depending on your level of cynicism or perhaps your workload, we’re either in the middle of a boom in behavioural science or we’re over-playing our hand. My personal opinion is that it is no more or less than it has ever been; perspective will emerge over time but, evidentially, it has been behavioural interventions that have had the most significant impact in these opening battles with COVID19, not least because currently there is neither a vaccine nor a cure.

Historical perspective is something I thought I’d share today to perhaps point out some interesting parallels with how society is both encouraged and legislatively required to behave under threat.

In 1939 the journalist Mea Allan described London’s descent into darkness thus:

“I stood on the footway of Hungerford bridge across the Thames watching the lights of London go out. The whole great town was lit up like a fairyland, in a dazzle that reached into the sky, and then one by one, as a switch was pulled, each area went dark, the dazzle becoming a patchwork of lights being snuffed out here and there until a last one remained, and it too went out. What was left us was more than just wartime blackout, it was a fearful portent of what war was to be. We had not thought that we would have to fight in darkness, or that light would be our enemy.”

On the 1st September, two days before war was declared, the nation was expected to extinguish lights after dark, to prevent the Luftwaffe from identifying areas of human population or movement which would allow them to target their ordnance. The nation lived under these regulations for 5 years, 7 months and 22 days. Although it had been tested briefly during zeppelin raids in 1915, the blackout this time was not simply a dimming of light, it was comprehensive, vital.

The blackout was also not simply a request, it was an instruction, asserted in law and policed by air raid precautions (ARP) wardens. Guidance was provided and the public was readied for this change with rehearsals during 1938. By the autumn of 1939 streetlights were extinguished, curtains were lined and thickened (and were not to be washed, less they thinned), cardboard and paint applied to windows. Even cars and pushbike lights were shuttered downwards.

Living in near-total darkness outside wasn’t easy. Overnight houses, factories and pubs would become suffocatingly stale and stuffy, raising and removing coverings were tedious. Traffic accidents soared, crime experienced an uptick. Again, the resourceful public responded by daubing kerbs, street furniture, railings and even cattle with white paint and the government played their part by lowering speed limits and beginning the marking of roads with white paint. Interventions even extended to advising pedestrians to walk with a newspaper, white handkerchief or leave their shirttails exposed.

For the most part, the public adhered to these conditions – it was quite apparent that disobedience could result in the clear and present danger of a bomb being dispatched over your house. If the fear of a bomb was insufficient or apparently remote, fines and court appearances gave it more immediate salience.

 

During the 2020 pandemic, society is facing a similarly disorientating and debilitating curtailment of primal need. This time it’s not light, it’s movement, social contact and space that is under restriction. Restrictions that are not from sunset to sunrise but all day long. It’s important to state here that I draw this comparison not to assert one being worse than the other, simply to contextualise the manner in which a society’s behavioural norms are first changed instantly and then must be sustained over a considerable period.

In the opening period of the pandemic response from the British government, there were a series of interventions aimed at slowing the transmission of this highly contagious virus. The public was urged to ‘self-isolate’ if showing symptoms, to ‘social distance’ and to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. On the latter at least guidance was provided. In these interventions it could be argued that the guidance was particularly individualised, focussing on what we as one person could and should do. A direction, perhaps, that simplicity in messaging is important. However, a subtle tweak then occurred as observers noted that ‘self-isolate’ and ‘social distance’ although helpful in the epidemiological context, was tinged with negativity and thus harder to sustain longer-term (which would be required as the modelling had indicated) as they ran counter to our primal wiring to be sociable beings. This tonal change resulted in ‘stay at home’, essentially being the same advice but reframed in the more pastoral and parochial sense of being amongst familiar surroundings and implying that staying with the family group was ok. The advice to ‘self-isolate’ remained but was now specified to individuals displaying the symptoms of COVID19 not as a general preventative measure. With ‘social distancing’ the next iteration attempted to reframe this challenging behavioural change.

The advice to ‘stay at home’ was augmented with two additional parts. ‘Protect the NHS’ and ‘Save Lives’ Rhetorically this is clearly from the same communications school as ‘Get Brexit Done’, ‘See it. Say it. Sort it’ and adheres to many of the rules of good writing we know from the advertising and creative industries. Clearly, the rule of three is deployed once more, but to borrow also from Ogilvy:

  • Write the way you talk…. ‘Stay at home
  • Use short words … yep.
  • No jargon … ‘self isolate
  • Make it crystal clear
  • If you want action, don’t [just] write, tell … and this is being told, a lot

So, linguistically, it’s on the money. It’s apparent too that it’s a behavioural tweak: behaviours that were self-protecting (‘don’t let the Germans bomb my house … but maybe they’ll miss?) become societal protection. Although you might not feel personally at threat by COVID19, your individual actions are for the greater good.

In ‘Protect the NHS’ the government has identified and leveraged the quasi-religious devotion to the NHS, almost universal amongst the British public. For ‘NHS’ read ‘country’ and here, although the nation is not under unique attack, global as this pandemic is by definition, the NHS becomes both a literal organisation to protect – if we protect our health service from being overwhelmed it will function effectively – and metaphorical representation of Britishness. The coda to ‘save lives’ becomes almost incidental but its plurality is important. We, collectively are saving multiple lives with our behaviour, this is not simply self-preservation, it’s a collective responsibility to save the lives of other people even if you personally do not feel vulnerable.

Aside: The Government has iterated the messaging graphics used to decorate the lectern, optimising the televisual clarity and neutralising the implied party-political colouring.

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Iterations of the Coronavirus briefing lectern graphics.

To add to this central message, further advice highlighted the protective responsibility: as over 70s and the immunocompromised were at higher risk, they were required to stay indoors and have no physical contact for shopping or other reasons. The most obvious negative interpretation of this is the profound isolation and anxiety this would cause. Consequently, this was framed as ‘shielding’. A more intimate, protective tone that shifted the obligation away from those being shielded, unburdening them with the responsibility the rest of us should bear to keep them safe.


So, the message was out and we were, in the most part, adhering. Availability and negativity biases went to work amongst the press as the disobedience was highlighted: It’s far easier to show a handful of people sunbathing in parks or gathering for illicit parties than it is to photograph the millions upon millions of people doing exactly as they were advised. It’s human nature to point the finger at the black sheep amongst us and I am under no doubt whatsoever that if social media had been present during WW2 that the great British public would have been passionate in shaming their neighbours. Indeed, of course, they did such that “careless talk, [and behaviours], costs lives”.

Shaming was seen in authority too and to return to 1939-45, eventually the ARP’s admonishing ‘put that light out’ began to symbolise a certain jobsworth pedantry, most obviously through ‘Dad’s Army‘, and the truth is that it was an instruction that was rarely needed, so effective was the societal pressure. Warden Hodges found his modern-day companions in Derbyshire Police, so memorably excoriated by Lord Sumption for their drone surveillance of socially-distanced dog-walkers.

It may be that I have over-egged this particular historical comparison and inferred too much with too little knowledge. Hindsight will, as is so painfully true in all the interventions we are witnessing to today, be the judge.

Perhaps the easiest way to summarise this is to say that it’s the individual threat which kicks us into action, whether that by an invisible virus or an airborne bomb, but it is the collective responsibility and societal pressure that will ensure we sustain it.

Online queues, is there a better way?

traffic-about-to-crash

Source: Queue-it, technology currently shuttering Ocado and others in the UK.

The seed for this thought came from Robert Hall (of Foolproof) and I must caveat that I have limited knowledge of the development of load balancing and traffic management in this scenario so am prepared to be roundly schooled by those that do (paging Ross Peat). With that understood, my approach for FMCG delivery services is as follows:

Allow customers into your online store. The pinch point is the allocation of delivery slots, customers understand that this is a problem which needs to be sorted through a fair algorithm that balances the logistical complexity with needs-management for the vulnerable. So we can manage that expectation and support them with at least part of their intent. Unlike a physical store, there is no obvious reason to curtail the capacity for browsing and making product selection choices. Currently, the retailers are holding people at the door, keeping the virtual shutters down and telling them their checkout queues are too busy. They can’t even come in the door to see what products are on the shelves.

So, to correct this, allow customers into the store where they can be permitted to browse the inventory, select the items and quantities they desire (with predictions of availability based on the stock levels and completed purchase patterns) and then join the queue for a delivery slot. In this instance, some endowment effect is at work and the abandonment of their delivery is disincentivised.

This is where it gets complicated, my first thought was that the slot-wait should be a ‘ring back’ style queue where you’re contacted by email or text when slots are opened up and so the wait happens in the background without you having to attend to it in an open window. However, this would create a batch demand where traffic would flood in as tranches of slots are released. Then I thought perhaps customers could select a series of preferences for slots (a set of five preferred dates and times) and the system accounts for this demand and attempts to predict and balance the slot allocation, providing a trackable progress indicator to the customer.

Or perhaps something even more complex: an approach where essential items are batched for earlier delivery (fresh bread, milk, eggs, paracetamol, hygiene products) where items you’re prepared to wait for (laundry products, low-volume ambient lines) are held back at a lower priority. Consistent with this could be the creation of ‘essentials bundles’ which groups common essential items into a repeatable and pre-packaged SKU that could be delivered more efficiently than 0000s of unique baskets.

The data obtained from customers creating these (ahem) ‘hanging baskets’ can be used to help the retailers plan their sophisticated supply chains and delivery logistics. From a user experience perspective, I’m particularly keen that we find a way to open the shutters and not insist everyone waits outside the store only to be frustrated and disappointed at all steps of the journey once they’re in.

Over to you in the comments.

[this post originally appeared on LinkedIn 30 March 2020]

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This was UX, part I.

An infinity loop showing the customer journey of someone buying a cinema ticket and watching a film.

Cinema Experience Loop.

This is the first of an occasional series of explorations into my previous work. I’ll stay light on the reasons only to say that I’ve been clearing out some paperwork and rather than hang on to old documents I thought I’d scan them, creating a digital record (portfolio?) and have the opportunity to explore them in public.

First up is this hand-illustrated experience loop that looks at the ways in which we come to think about buying a cinema ticket and watching a film. Full disclosure this is a commissioned illustration based on my original sketches. I’d love to be that neat but, for a pitch, it needed a draughtsman’s hand.

So, we start on the left side with a motivation trigger. What makes a prospective cinema-goer interested? We imply that a decision to watch something has already been made and this circle investigates the processes being made to identify why the customer chooses this particular cinema (brand). The early phase of influence is all about holding on to a customer that could easily flip to a different venue or decide not to go at all if there is friction in the process of determining a match between film, scheduling and the booking experience. This period, from a creative perspective, opened up lots of discussion around what the on-site and off-site experiences are and how they increase motivation or add friction. How does, for example, the role of review sites like Rotten Tomatoes or, frankly, Google, impact on the linear nature of this flow. How might the (ahem) cadence of this part of the process change depending on whether you’re looking for the next few hours or in the next week?

We looked at the impact of losing a prospect at this point. How might we encourage them back into the decision and consideration phase? We might think about creative ways to re-target and the requirement to have a technical solution in place that identifies those people that are dropping out of the process.

By contrast, the process of attending the cinema is explored on the right-hand side. This is where we looked to add a little friction, slow it down and engage the customer to embed a brand experience that is memorable. Creatively we wanted to introduce ideas around the venue arrival, recognition of the customer at point-of-sale and the personalisation of the foyer experience. How might we influence that crucial ‘take your seats’ phase, where your sense of anticipation is at its peak and where you’re most receptive to the little moments of delight that make the brand stand out?

The film itself is the green section, not much we can do here. This was largely out of our brand’s control. They could deliver exceptional sound and visuals – technology and seating design that was a cut above, but this was out of the purview of our pitch. At the end of the film, the opportunity to embed a great memory is significant. Kahneman talks of the effect of a crashing cymbal at the end of an orchestral score and this is the analogous moment, in more candid terms: don’t fuck it up. To this end we had the opportunity to discuss the rating or review of the experience on exit and the supporting of advocacy, finding creative ways to build on that classic behaviour of walking out of the cinema excitedly chattering about what you’ve just seen – how could this, for example, be broadcast more immediately so that it might influence people in the decision phase?

Finally, there’s a period of reflection. A little later than that foyer exit, perhaps in the day or so after the event where the brand has an opportunity to deepen the memory and connection of the experience with reward, follow-up and loyalty options that potentially build on the momentum and retain the cinema goer within the brand’s orbit such that any future decision to view is even more likely to result in a return to our client’s site and location.

As an exercise, this was a classic customer journey analysis and was the result of deep, intensive thinking and research during a pitch. It’s the tip of a strategic iceberg and was visually the framework which we used to introduce and anchor the creative ideas we presented. It was a demonstration to our client that we thought about the role of loyalty, of the critical touchpoints and potential leaks. We could highlight the interventions we had designed: exceptionally easy booking and film discovery, a personalised welcome and pre-booked refreshments, an effortless review-and-share interaction.

I’m sure it can be critiqued and holes identified. It’s pitch material and therefore hardly the most intensively researched and finessed work – not like you might do with a multi-year client, but I’m proud of what it allowed us to present and the manner in which it demonstrates that UX can borrow from service design principles to add essential context to the flows, screens and interactions we design and present.

Get in the comments on the blog/LinkedIn and let me know what you think. More of this sort of thing soon come.

 

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User Experience Lessons from the collapse of Wonga

Applied behavioural psychology in the world of User Experience (UX) occasionally strays into conversations about ethics. As persuasionists, is it right that we design interactions that part people with their money ever-more effectively? Most of us can robustly defend this work as part of a layered approach to the natural consumer behaviour of mature economies. There are, naturally, products and services many of us feel uncomfortable supporting with our work. Personally, two of my red lines are gambling and payday loans.

It will not surprise you then to know I did not mourn the news that Wonga is in significant financial difficulty. The previously-feted company saw itself as a technology provider first and financial service provided second – much has been made of their skill in the former that led to success in the latter.

Wonga is a powerful example of the deployment of many pieces of behavioural design, working together. Firstly, marketing to vulnerable segments, then underplaying the interest rates, using infantile creative that trivialised moderation, and their addictive user interface was just one part of that. That interface meant reduced friction, making it unbelievably easy for the distressed consumer to request instant cash.

Consider how their approach mapped to the EAST framework for behaviour change:

  • Their homepage sliders simply asked “how much cash do you want?” and “how long do you want it for” appealing to our avarice instinct. (easy, attractive)
  • They highlighted that you could have the cash in minutes. (timely)
  • They used design emphasis to steer you away from the true cost and toward the application buttons (attractive)
  • They used examples of people like you benefitting from their service. (social)

They let you see what you could get and then applied insufficient background checks, which meant that, in most cases, you got what you asked for. This played to two very damaging real-world situations: the ability to re-float a betting habit, and payday panic (running out of cash before salaries or benefits are paid). In neither of those examples would anyone suggest that issuing 5,000% APR loans would help and that the situation would not sufficiently improve by the next cycle that said obscenely high-interest loan would not actually deepen the problem. Thus Wonga’s irresponsible lending criteria (discussed at length in a brilliantly detailed tear-down by Dominic Lindley) was married to the very worst example of addictive interface design.

Mourning the inevitable demise of Wonga is not something Martin Lewis is keen on either, and in his comments on the subject he also raises the observation that a national financial illiteracy had a role in providing the fertile conditions for irresponsible lending to take hold. It’s a very worthwhile point and important also to remember that this applies as much to the ignorance of saving and investing as it does to the lure of easy credit.

In that regard whilst I take no pleasure in the possibility that good people will be made redundant from the UX and design teams at Wonga, I would suggest that they promote themselves to the investment industry. Much has been achieved in making microsaving and investing more effortless through technology, product design and marketing, but there is always more that can be done. It might be a far-fetched scenario but if the suggestible young professional can be duly coerced into upping their pension contributions after a heavy night on the tiles whilst watching late night TV then perhaps those skills won’t be wasted.