Local Love In APAC

Download a copy of our Local Love In APAC report - produced in partnership with our KIN network

Part of our KIN Connects series, Local Love In APAC is a project from our Singapore and Sydney teams that illuminates an interesting cultural tension in the region – a kind of cognitive dissonance between the inescapable desire to be citizens of the world and an innate sense of place, connection and pride in localism.

Working with contributors from KIN, our network of creators and connectors, based in China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, and Singapore, we’ve identified three emerging shifts within this new wave of Asian representation.

Shift 1: (From) Homogenised cultural ideals → (To) Remix culture

Shift 2: (From) Simplistic narratives → (To) Enriched & nuanced

Shift 3: (From) Passive consumption → (To) Cultural co-creation

Want to find out more? Download the report here: KIN Connects | Local Love In APAC to do just that.

The Practice Of Slowness

Slowing down has become a life goal for many, but also a goal that's easier said than done. Crowd DNA New York's Kara Tullman takes a long, patient look at how people are tuning into slowness, and what the outcomes are of this change in pace...

It’s no secret that there has been a rising fascination with slow culture over the last few years. Whether it be through slow food, Scandinavian ‘hygge’ culture, or the language around mindfulness, there is an evolving trend of managing a fast external world by turning inward and winding down. The benefits of a slower pace have been confirmed by health practitioners. Just take a look at the Blue Zones, where a slower pace of life is correlated with greater life expectancy.

But slowing down is easier said than done. And while people might talk the slow talk, do they walk the slow walk? 

We wanted to take a closer look at different techniques people use to integrate slowness into their lives, unpacking the ‘aha moments’ that occur as a result. Ultimately we want to consider how we can apply these learnings to our own research practices, in an industry that is, by necessity, often fast-paced. 

Let’s meet three individuals that regularly employ slow practices.

Jordan – Baking

Jordan is a New York-based millennial copywriter who (like many) found a love for baking during the pandemic, something she has continued to integrate into her life. She now bakes at least once a week and has found enjoyment in an activity in which she previously had no interest. Baking offers Jordan light stimulation where her hands are in use and her mind has space to be self-reflective. Some of her best ideas come while baking. “I feel like I have really positive phone conversations with people during or after baking because I’m still sort of in that self-reflective mentality.”

Mark – Box Breathing

Mark is an American Wall Street veteran and decorated author who practices what he calls  ‘check-ins with humanity.’ Each morning he carves out time to do a four-part breathing exercise called box breathing and check in with his body. Throughout the day when business speeds up around him, he takes a moment to slow down his internal pace and box breathe, and he’ll finish the day off with another round of it in the evening. Mark says that these moments of slowness allow him to sharpen his focus and quiet the noise around him, increasing his overall ability to achieve his daily goals.

Per – Fika

Per is a born and bred Swede who partakes in the daily ritual of fika, a collective and somewhat obligatory break for coffee and cake. “Fika is a tradition, it’s always been there. When my parents grew up, they had three collective coffee breaks during the day. It’s something that is imprinted in our culture.”  Without a formal invitation or announcement, Swedes know that there is a co-worker waiting to socialise during fika time. In addition to partaking in daily fika breaks, Per opts to make his coffee with a traditional coffee thermos, a less convenient and slower process than a modern coffee machine.

 

What are the common themes?

1. Purpose

Intentional slowness provides a directed sense of purpose. Whether it be connecting to rooted culture through traditional rituals or producing a physical product through a labour of love, these intentional slow practices induce a feeling of personal productivity and accomplishment that can be lost when things are moving quickly.

2. Permission

In each of the examples above, there is a carved block of time where the guest has given themselves permission to be slow. Jordan says of baking, “there’s no real way to rush it; you can’t speed it up or the thing won’t bake.” This regulated time for slowness opens space for self-reflection and creativity. A permissive break away from a task-based mindset sparks free-flowing thought and conversation. 

3. Prescription

Following the bullet above, intentionally slow rituals often have prescriptive rules that promote a singular focus. There is a clear starting and stopping point that bookends the slowness; measurements and time windows for baking, four counts for box breathing, and an implicit 3PM coffee and cake are rules that provide order and predictability in contrast to a rather messy day. 

4. Physical Shift

Lastly and most concretely, there is a change of space that prefaces these slow rituals, signalling to the body that it is time for a shift. Jordan sets up her kitchen to set the mood with a lit candle and French jazz, while Mark moves to a quiet space better suited for box-breathing. Per mentions the relaxed social environment of daily fika builds more intimate relationships with coworkers and makes it easier to approach them about work topics later on. Adjusting their environment induces positive realisations from a place of comfort.

 

How About Slow Research? 

 

The goal of our work as cultural strategists and researchers is to uncover insights and ‘aha’ moments for our clients. However, this can be quite challenging with the quick timelines of short-term ethnography. Even on longer-term trends projects, insights tend to be dictated by the continuous change of fast culture. What would it be to use the principles of intentional slowness to aid in our own ethnographic practices? 

1. Between project handoffs and redirection, cultural strategists can often lose sight of a project objective. Taking a moment to recognize purpose throughout the project lifecycle can help with motivation and guidance internally, while also focusing clients and participants.

2. The above study reiterates the value of ‘go-alongs’ or activity-centred ethnography. When participants focus on a singular and slow moving task, they have greater available mental space for reflection and creativity that helps us unpack deeper findings.

3. The benefits of slow practices prompts the question: can we as strategists be more intentional about fieldwork design? Perhaps including a slow activity in task assignments and asking for a video diary can help capture that natural and relaxed state.

4Physical shifts of slow practices place emphasis on the importance of meeting participants in comfortable environments for more free-flowing and natural conversation. It also reiterates the value of meeting clients and coworkers in new environments to prompt fresh ideas.

Realistically in an industry where cultural changes move at lightning speed, we won’t have time to fully immerse ourselves in the lives of participants. However, taking learnings from slow practices can help us better perform our research (and perhaps help us slow down in our personal lives as well.)

First published in Research Live, Crowd DNA CEO/founder Andy Crysell explores how you design research that embraces the complexity of DEI...

Issues of DEI (diversity, equality and inclusivity) have rightly been dominant in market research in recent times. As with all industries and professions, there is a pressing need to bring improvement to the workplace.

But for many of us, there is a further focus, and one that’s more unique to our line of work: the opportunity we have to conduct research that explores DEI for our clients. Research that can go towards creating meaningful change in how brands communicate with, and shape products and services for, those who are marginalised or excluded.

To be in a place to make a difference like this is quite a privilege; something for the industry to be proud of. But equally, it is quite a responsibility. There is much that needs considering in how we design projects and how we set expectations with clients.

In the last 12 months, we’ve been exploring DEI for clients in contexts as diverse as dance music, dating apps, gaming, sports apparel, mobility and representation in media. We’re sure we’re not alone in this sudden uptick of DEI work – nor in starting to comprehend just how much complexity there is to navigate.

We certainly haven’t got everything right. And what’s written here comes from the perspective of ‘we’re learning’, not ‘we’re experts’. But these are some of our focal points when reviewing how we design and conduct research in DEI – and indeed, much of what’s covered here is important in ensuring inclusivity in all market research, not just that which has DEI in the title of the RFP

Embrace The Complexity

Intersectionality is a term that gets bandied around quite loosely, but acknowledging that many experience overlapping and interdependent forms of discrimination is key to how brands can make changes – be that to products and experiences, or campaigns and communications – beyond the superficial.

Gender, race, identity, disability, economic status – whichever dimensions you choose to consider, there will always be others. We cannot use this complexity as an excuse to dodge the issues, to say it’s too complicated. But it does have a profound impact on how we manage DEI projects, guide our clients and avoid box ticking exercises.

Who Tells The Stories

We must check our working practices to ensure that we are relaying narratives that are true and unvarnished. That, of course, means making sure we’re hearing from the right people. But also that we’re not filtering or distorting stories through only picking the aspects that make sense to us, or that correspond with our assumptions of what the challenges are.

We also need to be aware that we’re often placing a great deal of weight on a small number of participants to speak on behalf of whole communities. You could say these points are true in all market research, but the responsibility becomes paramount with DEI work.

The other side to who’s telling the stories is who’s asking the questions. And therefore consideration to if we, as a team, are best placed to relate to the lived experiences of others, or if we should call on outside expertise from those who can better identify with the discriminatory factors we’re exploring.

Method Challenges 

All research methods have flaws, but mitigating against them is a priority in DEI work. We’ve discussed story-gathering and interpretation above, but quantitative research throws up particular issues.

Quantitative research is intrinsically about putting people in boxes, which runs about as counter to acknowledging intersectionality as is possible. Tackling this means allowing people to give breadth of experience within their answers. For example, when understanding intersectional experiences, not asking participants to reflect on just one part of their identity, but on their lived experiences as a whole.

Another area where we have encountered issues is with recruitment screeners. Preparing these to adequately address factors ranging from identity to neurodiversity isn’t yet the norm in our industry. Special measures are required in their creation for DEI projects.

All Links In The Chain

Particularly when conducting multi-market projects, we need to know the DEI stance of suppliers and partner agencies before we can credibly introduce them as a contributor to our work. To not expect differences when working with partners around the world is ill-judged.

Careful briefing of partners runs alongside this. Local context needs to be laid out and appreciated upfront – including where it might sit counter to finding the common global story that clients are often seeking. Moreover, translation – from descriptive terms used to interpretation of very personal stories – needs attention.

Safeguarding

In DEI work, the need to safeguard both participants and our project team is crucial. Projects should be set up with procedures in place for what to do if triggering language or actions are encountered. We need to avoid anyone being left uncertain what they can do, or who they should speak to, if the work is causing them concern.

Clients are as much part of this as anyone. We hope to have an equitable relationship with our clients on all projects, but here it is vital that we can have frank conversations – and raise it loudly and confidently if we feel the work is putting people at harm.

What Success Looks Like

Research is generally expected to provide tidy ‘answers’. Projects to reach agreed results. Clients make the call on if the work has been a success or not. But all of these basic principles of a buyer-seller relationship are put under pressure in the case of DEI work. Here, is success defined by the client or by those who are marginalised? Clients need to give away more power and license than they would normally expect to. Reciprocity between brand and those disempowered is essential.

All of this makes for a steep learning curve for our industry – and not to overlook, all of the refinement of project design won’t count for much unless we can bring greater diversity and inclusivity into our industry, too. But there’s also an incredible opportunity here, for us all to contribute to meaningful change. Let’s embrace it.

Exploring the tensions between local and global cultures, Crowd DNA APAC - alongside members of our KIN network - are organising a Local Love webinar Come along! All welcome...

In our work across APAC over the last four years, we’ve observed an emerging cultural tension between the desire to ‘plug in’ to the pulse of global culture, and the need to retain and celebrate local identity.

To understand this tension, the factors at play and how brands can and are responding, we turned to our KIN network across the region, and as a result we’re excited to invite you to the first instalment of our new webinar series, KIN Connects: Local Love 

The session will be presented by three of our Crowd APAC team Elyse Pigram, Ariel Malik & Caranissa Djatmiko, and they’ll be joined by guest KIN panellists Bonnie Wang and Jun Bae.

Date / Time: 27 July 2022 (Wednesday), 12:00-13:00 SGT / 14:00-15:00 AEST 

Format: Zoom Webinar – Presentation followed by Q&A with KIN 

RSVP for the webinar by emailing i.stephenson@crowddna.com and we look forward to seeing you there!

Simple is probably best, as the Crowd DNA value goes. But let’s listen to that ‘probably’ for a moment, as Freddie Mason takes a look at when ‘complicated’ could be what we’re after…

Simplicity To The Point Of Invisibility 

It’s often assumed that the hallmarks of great design (whether it be UX or product) are seamlessness and simplicity to the point of invisibility. As is often said of cinema editors, the really great designer is one that all but disappears, connecting you to your goal, story or information as if by magic.

But there are certain things that this seamlessness lacks. For users there are times when a snag, a complication, a bit of friction not only gives them something to remember, but also a chance to reflect on what they’re actually doing. Complications can even be, dare I say it, pleasurable. 

In the era of the doom scroll, the odd bit of blockage goes a long way.

The Anti-Design Aesthetic  

This graphic design aesthetic for the Dutch design studio Studio Push is known as anti-design: 

 

Studio Push
Studio Push

 

At first it feels like a scramble of text and image. The experience of reading is far from seamless. In fact, it feels unreadable, full of snags. But then you realise it isn’t. And as you start to read, you dive into each image as the text bounces through textures. The design asks you to stay a little longer, to pay more attention, and you’ll be rewarded. The effect of the design’s complicated, noisy aesthetic is a heightened engagement with the interface. And as a result, you’re more likely to remember it.

This draws our attention, then, to something frictionless, seamless design lacks – memorability. Complicated-ness resists the infinite, infinitely forgettable, homogeneity of cookie cutter websites.

 

A cookie cutter website
A cookie cutter website

 

Anti-design webpages can draw you in through their mystery and disorientation, as is the case with a glitch aesthetic site design like Studium Generale’s Take A Walk On The Wild Side. Simple mouse motions bring the chaotic glitching into coherence and clarity, as the user learns the secret rules of the page. It’s a discovery. It’s exciting.

 

Take A Walk On The Wild Side, by Studium Generale
Take A Walk On The Wild Side, by Studium Generale

 

Anti-design sites are also super original, and allow for a greater sense of brand identity to translate to the visitor.    

A Marie Kondo Kick Back

It’s no doubt that anti-design aesthetics in digital design are trendy right now, as a reaction against the dominance of slick, minimal sites that may work very, very well, but fail to challenge or surprise. It’s a trend that is reflected, too, in the joys of maximalism in domestic interiors. While we’ve seen Marie Kondo’s rigorous decluttering find immense appeal, counter trends that indulge in sheer visual cacophony are also in full swing. As with all parts of life, it sometimes feels these days, it’s the moderate middle ground that can be seen gasping for cultural air time.

 

A maximalist interior
A maximalist interior

Positive Friction

Coming back to UX design, we can see how carefully curated complicated-ness introduces frictions that result in a whole range of positives for users. In very practical instances, interfaces introducing elements that ‘get in the way’ can save us from, for example, making unwanted money transfers by mistake or forgetting to attach documents to an email. While these might not be the most thrilling things digital tech has to offer, it’s all part of a more mindful and reflective approach to tech that increased friction encourages.

Or, we can look to the way the ‘pages’ of ebooks pause momentarily when ‘turned’, mimicking that split second of contemplation afforded by their physical counterparts. Ebooks could, of course, transition between pages seamlessly, but this, in fact, would make their content or story line harder to absorb for readers. This is in line with the discoveries made by a study conducted way back in 2010, which showed that information expressed in harder to read fonts was more memorable. ‘Disfluency’ is the term used to describe the struggle associated with a difficult mental task. And it is disfluency, rather than fluency, in our interfaces that helps us learn.

Deep Satisfaction 

Ultimately, though, friction, not endless flow, is what so often gives us a deeper sense of satisfaction. The contemplative moment of turning a page, that tactile pause, is fundamental to the joy of reading a book. It is the absence of such a moment when scrolling through the heterogenous matter of social media feeds that can summon doom.

IRL, designers have been experimenting with this sort of thing for years, and with great success. Legend has it that instant cake mix packs didn’t sell until buyers were required to provide their own eggs. People needed that extra step to feel they’d made the cake. And IKEA realised many moons ago that people assembling their own furniture not only made shipping easier, but their customers happier, feeling more involved.

 

Because you add the eggs yourself
Because you add the eggs yourself

 

All this helps us to remember that a world of perfectly engineered convenience (if such a thing were even possible) would bore us to tears. I have a friend who loves to cut his facial hair with scissors, rather than an electric beard trimmer, because he enjoys the sound, and will go so far as to get up early in order to partake in this considerably trickier and time-consuming self care routine.

If I can, I will always take the bus in London (even at rush hour) rather than the tube, just to get that visceral feeling of the city. Or, it’s Edward Tenner’s (author of The Efficiency Paradoxdecision to hand grind his coffee in the morning, because there is a “slowness and deliberateness to the task that is intrinsically satisfying.”

And most recently – Netflix are planning on making people wait for episodes of their favourite shows, slowing down the binge-till-infinity trend that’s recently dominated.

Mental Health

It’s fair to say that all this sits right at the core of improved mental health. And apps in the business of helping people with this are also experimenting with positive friction. The new app imi, for example, is there to guide LGBTQ+ teens through their mental health. The app’s content can be ‘extremely heavy at times’. As a result, the guide is carefully paced, with buffers strategically placed for users to log off and reflect. This isn’t a scroll-through, ‘two min read’ thing. And thank god it’s not.

Here’s to blockages. Long may they be there for us to overcome.

 

Innovation in the healthy food and drink space is becoming more adventurous, responding to a growing desire for more complex, emotional connections to the natural world. Celine Longden-Naufal from our Crowd Signs semiotics team investigates how brands are encoding this new explorative frontier into their products...

Beyond the old oat milks and pea-based protein powders, we’re seeing a new wave of creativity and exploration in the healthy food and drink landscape, one that embraces a deeper emotional connection to the natural world. This emergent outlook is not only more playful, but also more complex, involving tantalising fusions of the ancient and innovative.

Age-old processes such as fermentation are being refreshed to create indulgent desserts. Experimental ingredients such as mushrooms and seaweed are enhancing our morning coffee. And even luxury spirits are breaking with tradition, toying with the alternative and unorthodox.  

Here, we’re taking a look at how the semiotics of this new frontier are playing out. We analyse how brands optimise these innovations to help us keep healthy, but also foster a sense of interconnectedness with nature. This, in turn, stimulates emotional and imaginative satisfaction, now part of any balanced, healthy diet. 

Mythical Escape – Isle Of Harris Distillery

Healthy foods are often portrayed as having a light touch, with ‘natural-ness’ encoded through minimal packaging design and aesthetics. Traditional ingredients are used as reminders of a cleaner, simpler time.  But, brands such as the Isle Of Harris Distillery are drawing from ancient magic and historical mystery to enhance the excitement of innovative ingredients such as algae.

The product is shown withstanding the forces of nature. It’s positioned among grass blown by strong wind, crashing waves and roaring fire, which encode power and natural invigoration in all environments. The imperfectly ridged textured bottle resembles ripples or fish scales, communicating an appreciation for all of Scotland’s marine bounty.  

The glass bottle and cork stopper connote potion bottles from childhood fairytales, and the luminescent blue of the gin itself resembles hypnotic bioluminescent algae, evoking enchantment and a magical escape. This is also communicated by the fantastical descriptions of the Scottish lands, from where the hero ingredient originates – ‘From the wind-blown seas of Luskentyre to the sweeping sands of Seilebost.’ 

Through these signals of natural mysticism and fantasy, the Isle Of Harris Distillery embeds itself within a vibrant ecological network, inviting the consumer to engage with a widened multi-species way of thinking. The brand playfully revives and integrates ancient ingredients and wisdoms to bring a sense of wonder and magic into the lives of consumers. Sometimes the way forward lies in the deep (sometimes primordial) past.

Surreal Elevation – DIRTEA 

Once a motif of earthy folk culture, the humble mushroom is having a wholesale rebrand, with fungi’s powers as a meat alternative and source of Vitamin D going mainstream. But some brands are going further. DIRTEA are using otherworldly and futuristic scapes to visualise how adaptogenic mushrooms are innovating our caffeine habits, bringing calm to our mental and spiritual states.

The warm pastel packaging and backdrops, along with levitating products, evokes surrealist, dreamscape imagery, suggesting a journey of fantastical escapism. Pristine and high-tech packaging resembles astronaut food, conveying an out-of-this-world experience. The intricacy of the mushroom’s structure also resembles the futuristic style of ultra-modern biomimetic architecture, bringing a sci-fi, almost surreal, atmosphere to the brand’s identity. Adding to this are DIRTEA’s recipes, which are named after mind-altered states – ‘Dreamweave’, ‘Supernatural’ Frappuccino, ‘Astral World’ – promising consumers a sense of elevated consciousness.

Ultimately, DIRTEA demonstrates how multi-species thinking goes beyond physical sustenance. By using signals of surrealism & dreamstates, and playing with the visual history of psychedelia, the brand positions itself as a doorway to “the beyond” – a place to gently stimulate the mind and the soul.

Contemporary Wisdom – Chantal Guillon

When we think of fermentation, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha are usually the foods that come to mind. These are simple foods that were made to last, and that have been passed down from generation to generation through ancestral wisdom. However, in the spirit of creative discovery, culinary enthusiasts are collaborating with art, science and each other to update fermentation, appealing to the growing numbers of alternative and fun-seeking consumers.

Brands such as Chantal Guillon are building on tradition, using modern fermentation processes to innovate the classic French macaron. Here, alternative processes not only benefit our bodies and environment, but is also something that stimulates our imaginations, breaking all category norms, from ingredient list to design. 

Clashing colours and fonts, from dainty and cursive to big and bold, suggest unhindered playfulness, where the lightly scattered crumbs suggest reduced restriction. Tie-dye patterns and shiny rainbow gradients connote mind-altering substances, encoding cerebral stimulation, while the seemingly un-curated product placements and bold splashes of silver on the food challenge convention.

Chantal Guillon are confronting and updating current aesthetics and behaviours, reimagining multi-species thinking as a space for exploration and discovery, one where all your senses are vitalised and boundaries are pushed. 

Lastly… 

Recent innovations in healthy food and drink and noticeable for their playfulness. Minimal and stripped-back visual languages are giving way to senses of exploration and discovery that border on the psychedelic. Simplicity is shifting to complexity, with consumers encouraged to see the food and drink they consume as part of an evolving and ultimately unknowable ecological network. Here, mystery, magic and ancient wisdom play a part, as do more contemporary trends for multispecies thinking.   

Ultimately, these brands are championing lifestyles that put people and planet on equal footing. Whether this is through flavour, texture or packaging, experimenting with the intriguing diversity of up-and-coming processes and ingredients can allow brands to transport consumers to new worlds of nutrition, which help them rethink their engagement with the natural world.

 

Working From Anywhere

At Crowd DNA, it’s possible to travel the world and still be at work. We caught up with some of our team who’ve taken advantage of our Work From Anywhere benefit, to see how it went in their far flung hide-aways…

A beach in Sicily, a caravan in the Gobi desert, a casino in Las Vegas, up a tree in Socotra – it’s all an office to us. Our Work From Anywhere benefit means Crowd DNA’s gang of intrepid adventurers and impassioned people-watchers can work for 30 days anywhere in the universe. Unsurprisingly, people have been making good use of this perk – the envy of all cultural strategists – ever since travel restrictions eased.  

 

Dan Steward – Osaka & Tokyo, Japan 

In November 2021, I was lucky enough to spend 30 days working in Japan.  I’m half Japanese and hadn’t  been to the country of my birth for almost 9 years. It was just a great opportunity to reconnect with my heritage and culture beyond simply a two week whistle-stop tour, as well as spending some quality time with family. 

And what a unique time to visit! Covid restrictions meant that only those with a Japanese passport could enter (lucky me!) and so I was treated like a local returning home, despite my rusty Japanese. The word ‘authentic’ is overused, but as a cultural experience, it’s really the only word I can think of.  When tourism is basically illegal, you cease to become a tourist, and the sheer surprise of having a (half) foreigner in the country meant people were even more welcoming than usual.

From this special time in the country, I really learnt about the contradictions of Japanese culture. They’re super curious people. And the country is very globally connected in one sense, but in another it’s very isolationist – especially culturally. I had some eye-opening moments, learning how big the world is. Like, no one in Japan has heard of the Gorillaz apparently (wut?). I marvelled, too, at how an incredibly futuristic city like Tokyo hasn’t got (as far as I could see) a single street sign. I loved how Osakan kids worship LA hip hop  – if you’re in Osaka, you’ve got to check out Orange Street.

I feel very blessed to have had such experiences at a time when our physical worlds were so restricted.   

Amy Nicholson – Sicily, Italy

May 2022, optimism’s in the air and I took off from London to  Sicily for some sun, sea and granita for my 30 days Work From Anywhere. We stayed in Modica, a small town on the south coast, and the local characters were plentiful. Like Stefano, the parking attendant who watched dutifully over our moped as we enjoyed a morning dip in the sea. And Lucas, the animated and often inebriated chef who presided over his outstanding Sicilian-Japanese fusion restaurant we stumbled upon one balmy Monday evening. Giovanni, too, the retired architect who called in every evening to check the wifi was playing ball and who couldn’t understand why a young person (like me) can’t magically tempt a perfect signal into a 17th century home.  

As for the work side of things – I was careful to carve out quite a strict work/life balance. I cherished the mornings, starting off, of course, with an espresso with the locals. I always, always took a full hour for lunch – soaking in the view and savouring the sweetness of the pomodorini. And the same goes for the evenings – I became basically religious about my granita at the close of day. I’m not going to lie – the problem was the wifi, and the relaxing environs were tainted ever so slightly by the awkward video call lags and agonising 45 minute uploads. But enough of that! 

I also may have found a new talent… Everyday we would pass the local ticket seller, who touts the tourist train that runs from morning until night throughout the town. One day, on discovering I’m from London, she became insistent that I provide the English voiceover to the new service they’re launching in nearby Noto. I of course agreed to! 

The idea that a part of me will always be playing out for other visitors discovering this area for the first time fills me with joy. 

Dave Stenton – Melbourne, Australia

Uninterrupted focus while UK colleagues slept. Occasional chats with our APAC team at mutually agreeable times. That’s how I envisaged two weeks working remotely from Melbourne. 

The reality was a little different. Three little words – Australian. Grand. Prix. 

I was staying a few blocks from Albert Park, where it takes place. The race itself is over in hours. But practice sessions, qualifying, demonstrations, exhibitions etc stretch across several days. From mid-morning till dusk there was a near-constant roar of engines, buzz of helicopters and rattling of windows. Count myself lucky, said the long-suffering locals — it was even louder before hybrid engines were introduced.  

Still, at least it’s given me something to moan about in a city that is otherwise hard to fault. Doubtless you are aware of Melbourne’s reputation for coffee. Its restaurants and wine bars deserve similar acclaim. And having endured the world’s longest lockdown the locals were making the most of them. Good luck getting in anywhere half decent without a reservation. 

Speaking of lockdowns, if, like me, you developed a serious walking habit during the pandemic, Melbourne’s great for that too. There are numerous parks, pedestrian bridges that let you criss-cross the Yarra and the picture perfect Royal Botanic Gardens. For my pre-work morning walks I alternated between the faded glamour of St Kilda and the new and shiny — and somewhat soulless — developments in Port Melbourne. Even the weather gods were on my side, Melbourne — and Victoria — having been less affected by the La Niña weather pattern that led to a cool, wet summer in NSW and southern Queensland. Over the Easter weekend — early autumn in Australia — we enjoyed temperatures in the mid-20s as we day-tripped along the Great Ocean Road.

As the roar of high performance vehicles left, a sense of freedom settled.

To be continued… 

One of our Crowd Signs film looks to the act of playing, and how its powers can be harnessed to solve a huge variety of problems...

Serious play may seem like no fun at all. But far from being kill-joys, at Crowd we’ve noticed that play is being radically reimagined. This trend taps into the importance of play as an often overlooked resource for design, urban planning, architecture, therapeutic processes, and even decolonisation. No more is the act considered merely ‘childish’ or ‘silly’. Its explorative powers are finding new cultural and social applications. Play should stay playful, but we need to get serious about what it can do.

So why’s that? 

People are beginning to regard play as something very different from ‘taking a break’. They’re realising that, when people play, their minds open up and new, unexpected connections can be made. This openness can find solutions to problems we once thought irresolvable. Play is also being recognised as something that can teach both children and adults important lessons about trust, risk, communication and innovation.

What’s next? 

We predict that play will take on an increasingly fundamental role in design, education and therapy. Its powerful unpredictability and serendipitous discoveries providing new means to understand the world around us.      

Check out the video here.