Everything We Touch

What does an image showing all the objects a person touches in one day say about them? Crowd DNA's Essi Mikkola investigates this visual methodology...

As an insight agency, we’re always looking for new and innovative research methodologies. We came across a book called Everything We Touch: A 24-hour inventory of our lives a while ago. With this project the artist and industrial designer Paula Zuccotti seeks to answer a question: can your physical footprint tell your story?

Sharing narratives with brands who want to better understand their audiences is our job. We’re particularly interested in understanding the true behaviour and how to bridge the attitude-behaviour gap – what consumers sometimes say they do vs. what they actually do.

Inspired by Zuccotti’s revealing photos, we decided to test the methodology to see how it could be used in our future projects. For this experiment, I asked a friend (Jack, 32, east London) to photograph one by one the objects he touches most on an average day, and we made a collage out of the images.

Jack's day
Jack's day

Below, Jack reflects on how the image is a combination of reality and aspirations that might not be visible to people in his life:

“It feels quite exposing seeing my closest objects laid out like this. I think a lot of them reflect the person I would like to be – or even the person I would like to be seen to be – by the outside world. Health foods, running gear – I’m not sure my closest friends would see me as that healthy vision of ‘wellness’ (puke) that these imply – though I do try.”

Some of the objects are made by brands that I do genuinely love and would advocate – Viz, Elektron Instruments, Sunspel, Patagonia, Surrey CCC. Others are things that I feel every other 30-something middle-class idiot has – Apple products, cycling gear, Kindle, a thoughtful book about the environment that I’m struggling to finish.”

Running a quick round of semiotic and cultural analysis on our Crowd DNA team resulted in the following analysis. Health foods, choice of book and a Patagonia backpack echo an archetype of an east Londoner with a healthy, creative, conscious and liberal attitude to life. Viz and the Surrey Cricket Club booklet provide more subtle hints of a ‘geeky’ character and the type of education, we hear from our native English colleagues.

“Definitely on the edge of cool/geek (in a nice way) Why? There’s a Surrey County Cricket yearbook.”

“County cricket is for the HARDCORE – people who really, really love cricket. Add the FM radio and Viz, I’d definitely say public school.”

“The copy of Viz is the outrider here, Holmes. Very unusual for someone under 35. I’d suggest a) found it on the bus or b) definitely has older brothers.”

In order to avoid any natural bias, we’d have to shoot the task, as it’s easy for the respondent (in this case Jack) to pick objects that project a story of himself he wants others to see vs what actually exists. I also started to think how we all have different identities with our family, friends of different gender, and colleagues, and whether this could be communicated through one image. Yet another topic is what role brands play in consumer’s lives around the world, and how these choices are becoming more and more political. 

In the end, the most interesting outcome of this experiment is actually realising what kind of stimulating conversations an image of one’s personal objects can spark between the person, someone who knows them well, and a researcher. This methodology not only has the potential to reveal various dimensions of a personality, it could also add another interesting layer of analysis when applied to a global project; it would be amazing to see the juxtaposition of identities from around the world. And because the output looks great, it’s a truly engaging way of socialising insight.