Crowd DNA’s Julie Bréthous went to the Whitechapel Gallery to see how the Guerrilla Girls used research to challenge European museums and give a louder voice to women and non-western artists...

For their latest show, ‘Guerrilla Girls: Is It Even Worse In Europe?’, the Whitechapel Gallery invited the American activists to share their re-evaluation of diversity in European art institutions, 30 years after their first campaign. I was curious to discover how research could be used as a thought-provoking method within the art world to offer different perspectives on gender and racial diversity.

The Guerrilla Girls were founded in 1985, following MoMA’s ‘International Survey Of Painting And Sculpture’ (1984). Aimed at offering a comprehensive overview of the world’s best artists of the time, the exhibition failed to present a diverse portrait of the art world, only showing white artists – 90% of whom were men. A group of female artists quickly realised that, to expose the issue and shake up opinions, they’d have to find a new and unique approach. Using the language of their time – advertising – the now masked girls developed a strong visual identity, relying on outrageous statements, a dose of dry wit, and cold hard statistics.

“If you can make people laugh, you have a hook in their brain. And once you’re there, you have an opportunity to change their minds” – Guerrilla Girls for The Art Assignment

1985, Guerrilla Girls
1985, Guerrilla Girls

Owning the public space by stamping their findings and complaints all over the city walls, the Girls fought their battles in a true guerrilla style, aiming at the general public, artists, art institutions and investors. Not afraid to call out decision-makers, they fiercely denounced museum curators and their tendency to be dictated to by a handful of art buyers, whose vision of art remained limited to their own tastes.

In 1986, the anonymous group members were invited to speak in Europe. They came back with an implacable statement:

It's Even Worse In Europe, 1986, Guerrilla Girls
It's Even Worse In Europe, 1986, Guerrilla Girls

Twenty years of impromptu activism later, the Guerrilla Girls asked: is it (still) even worse in Europe?

Trying to determine whether museums are today presenting a ‘diverse history of contemporary art or the history of money and power’, the Girls sent out a questionnaire to 383 museums and kunsthalles in Europe.

Researchers know there’s no such thing as a perfect sample, and the Guerrilla Girls were soon to find this out… the hard way. Only one out for four institutions responded – a statement in itself on their reluctance to address the issue. Their answers have been on display at the Whitechapel Gallery since last November and the collection has achieved its objective by showing how the art world continues to be dominated by money, rather than cultural accuracy.

2016, Guerrilla Girls
2016, Guerrilla Girls

Even better, they’ve opened new avenues by showing that some institutions have managed to offer refreshing perspectives on art history, like Rotterdam’s Witte De With. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence now seeks to redress this imbalance by working with the Girls on how to include more female artists within their permanent collections. Uffizi director Eike Schmidt asks: ‘Where did this all start and how did this evolve? I think we are overdue and ready to put great female artists of the past back on view.’

‘Guerrilla Girls: Is It Even Worse In Europe?’ is at the Whitechapel Gallery until March 5

Part of GenderShift, a series exploring how identity is changing in modern times


Voice activation is set to become a dominant interface between ourselves and brands and experiences. Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell gathers up notes from our recent work in the field, exploring the barriers to overcome and the opportunities ahead…

It isn’t so much a new thing, but voice activation – or voice computing – is certainly a fast gaining momentum thing. We know this because of the sales and media coverage of devices like Amazon Echo. But, as a business, we also know this as it’s a topic we’ve been asked to explore in several client briefs recently (that’s not something that would have happened much over a year ago).

Clearly there’s a huge opportunity here to create more frictionless and empathetic experiences – particularly in-home, at-work and in-(smart)car. Many of the experts we’ve been speaking to see it as a paradigm shift, something as revolutionary to our relationship with digital utility and entertainment as the rapid advancement of our mobiles was five to ten years ago.

As with most innovations of this kind, there’s a certain clunky-ness to it in its formative stages. Barriers stand in the way of true adoption. Recent data suggests 69% of Alexa’s 7,000 skills either have no reviews or just one review – this implies very low levels of adoption. Of those who enable a voice app on Google Assistant or Alexa, only three-per-cent are still active the week after. Moreover, we’re still to ascertain what kind of relationship we really want with a voice assistant – should it have a name; a gender; where does voice activation intersect with mood recognition and a deeper understanding of what’s on our mind?

Google Home
Google Home

Plenty of challenges, then. But the experts we’ve met believe that, once good use cases become popularised and eulogised, once the recognition process takes the necessary and inevitable steps forward, voice activation will gather pace quickly. They’ve spoken to us about how crazy it will soon look to be swiping away at a mobile. How we need to start comprehending the notion of invisible apps and invisible actions – the invisible interface, ultimately. That we should be ‘viewing’ voice computing as the next great platform.

What’s in it for media and for brands? A lot of our interviewees have spoken about untapping latent intent – all of the new things we will do, or things we currently do but will now do more abundantly – if we don’t have to reach for our phones, and if the cognitive load is reduced. The opportunity is there, they enthuse, for media and brands to be with us more often and more relevantly; to work towards seamless narratives that flow across devices and day parts.

So Nike tell us to ‘Just Do It’, and McDonald’s affirm ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, but how will they deliver against these messages on this emergent interface? Also fascinating is how a lot of the heavily used marketing maxims of recent times – the requisite for brands to have an authentic voice of their own; the need for brands to have a two-way conversation with consumers – will suddenly take on new and more direct meaning in the age of voice activation. Lots to think about – even more to talk about.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…



Crowd DNA's head of insight and innovation, Matilda Andersson, will be speaking about the importance of visual culture for brands at a free webinar in February...

Here at Crowd we believe that understanding visual culture is essential for getting to grips with consumer culture.

On February 27, head of insight and innovation, Matilda Andersson, shares our thinking when she presents ‘A picture paints: understanding visual culture’ at Atlantic Monday, a Festival Of NewMR webinar.

“Visual language is such an important part of how people express themselves today,” she says. “Brands need to understand this new online aesthetic to remain relevant to consumers.”

Other webinar speakers include Greta Baisch and Yini Guo from Facebook, discussing using platform data to study emerging digital, mobile and social rituals.

It should be a great session. Sign up here.

Child’s Play

Hot on the heels of awesome work on a couple of seriously weighty kids and families project (one very global, one getting into the nitty-gritty of need-states), Crowd DNA’s Berny McManus shares thoughts on best practice...

Nothing stands still with kids and families. For as many years as Crowd DNA have been researching them, we’re continually surprised by how they evolve in line with cultural influences, societal expectations and technological developments. We’ve become pretty adept at getting to the heart of what makes kids and parents tick, so we thought that we’d put a spotlight on a few of things learnt along the way.

Being authentic is key – don’t try to be ‘one of them’

As a former primary school teacher, I’ve seen many people (myself included) fall into this trap. Despite the fact that we’ve all been children, we lose touch with what it’s like to actually be a kid. We forget how we like to be spoken to by adults. So here’s a quick reminder: kids, especially tweens, really don’t like it when you try to be ‘one of them’. It usually results in one (or more) of the following: confusion, mockery, loss of respect, eye-rolling or – worst case scenario for a researcher – they just tune you out. Focus on being you; they will respect you so much more for that.

Help them express themselves

Kids have fantastic imaginations but they understand and communicate in different ways to us. Some decipher the world by reading, while others digest more information via images or sounds. It’s so important to give them a number of ways to engage and communicate with us. We run sessions that include drawing, role play, using apps on tablets – the list goes on. Our research with kids throughout the years has shown that characters from books, TV programmes and games play a huge part in helping the youngest ones practice relationships and experiences in a safe environment through play. Role-play is an easy way for kids to express themselves, so we’re big fans of working this into our projects. We actually recommend this as a strategy to content producers who we work with; albeit for slightly different reasons. We’ve found kids imaginative play to be a great litmus test for how successful a piece of content, TV, book or game is going to be. If they adopt them in their role play, then the characters are likely to be influential and liked. Ultimately, if you want to unlock their innermost thoughts, then you have to be prepared to use an array of strategies. The results can be thought-provoking; the kids enjoy it – and we get to spend working hours pretending to be spacemen/cowboys/the Prime Minister.

From my perspective

Unsurprisingly, it’s kids’ subconscious behaviours that can be the most revealing, especially when it comes to uncovering their real motivations or emotions. We’re strong fans of using GoPros to evidence their behaviours and actions. They allow us to completely immerse ourselves in their world and of course see the world through their eyes. (It’s also often startling seeing things from their ‘perspective'; adults are giants and the supermarket is still a wall of treats and distractions).

Give them ownership

It’s also important to give kids ownership of the session. There are a number of ways to achieve this. The younger children can be given mini-jobs to do such as, ‘You’re responsible for giving everyone a sticker’; while slightly older kids see value in being the declared ‘expert’ on a particular topic (I’ve had many walk-through demonstrations of Minecraft and I’ve learnt something every time!). My favourite is co-creation as an approach. I’ve seen some very insightful outputs from short sessions, such as the conceptualisation of a new gaming app within an hour… and this was with eight year olds. Giving kids ownership of the session makes them feel valued and results in a far more engaged and enthusiastic participants.

From co-creation to GoPro footage, working with kids is always fascinating. Give them the right tools to express their thoughts and creativity, and the insights are pure magic. We’ll be running one of our Rise breakfast events on the subject of kids research shortly – stay tuned.

Rise In Amsterdam

Images, videos, emojis and GIFS galore, as we present our Rise 'A Picture Paints...' work at our Amsterdam HQ...

Here’s Judith Lieftink in our Amsterdam office, with the latest run through of our ‘A Picture Paints…’ presentation on the significance of visual research to get to culturally sound results; and on a host of analysis techniques to help you get there. If you’d like us to pop by your office to present this work, do shout.

...a thousand words 'n' all that, as we get set for a breakfast session at Crowd DNA Amsterdam. Find out more here and get in touch if you'd like to attend...

Date: June 30, 2016

Time: 8.15-9am

Location: Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Get set for our Rise breakfast session on June 30. Titled ‘A Picture Paints…’, we’ll be taking a look at how visual platforms and new ways of analysing images help us gain a deeper understanding of consumer culture. More photos were produced in the past year than ever before in history, and images, videos, emojis and GIFS are becoming the cornerstone of language, changing the way we process, navigate and think about the world. In this session, Judith Lieftink and Andy Crysell will discuss how best to go about using social platforms and visual analysis to make sense of it all, and ultimately how brands can create impact from visual insights.

This is perfect for those who are looking for a more immersive way to understand consumer culture, those with an interest in visual vocab… and those who want more from qual work than just what people say with words. It’ll be colourful, instructive and to the point. After all, we’ll all need some time for scoffing pastries, coffee and juice, too.

If you’d like to come along, get in touch with our Amsterdam office director Judith Lieftink

As Others See Us

Crowd DNA associate director Jake Goretzki went to ‘Strange And Familiar’ at the Barbican Art Gallery – and thought about research…

Last week I went to the Barbican Art Gallery to see their exhibition, ‘Strange And Familiar – Britain as Revealed by International Photographers’. My first job after graduation was as a Russian interpreter for the Barbican’s ‘Diaghilev And The Ballet Russes’ exhibition. Going back there is always ‘strange and familiar’ for me.

This superb exhibition is curated by the much-loved photographer Martin Parr, himself something of a ‘national treasure’ and an affectionate observer of the British in everyday life – in all their squinting, sunburned, seaside ice cream-eating social awkwardness. Its inviting prospectus: to help us, as the Robert Burns line goes, ‘to see ourselves as others see us’.

The show brings together the work of a parade of foreign photographers who’ve photographed the UK from the 1930s to the present day, including greats like Gary Winogrand and Henri Cartier Bresson. Much of what they capture is, frankly, already strange and familiar – ‘the (high definition) past is a foreign country’, as we know. So, behold, pre-war ‘Daily Worker’ Britain; Swinging Britain and onetime Industrial Britain in the midst of post-War collapse – not a warehouse conversion in sight.

As the exhibits approach the more recognisable present, they do fine work of helping us to see ourselves today and show us how the stranger’s eye can reveal truths that the ‘local’ eye overlooks as too pedestrian and unremarkable. I love the Dutch photographer Hans Van Der Meer’s panoramic pictures of Sunday league football matches in rural northern settings. They feel like 21st century Breughels, but also reveal what a peculiar ritual football can appear – tired blokes with paunches in polyester, penned into a small rectangle (rather than up yonder in the hills where you’d surely prefer to roam).

The Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom is another bearer of wry insight: his clusters of colour photographs of ordinary people in everyday streets wearing very similar clothes resembles a Pinterest board or a visual analysis session in progress. They make an amusing (if slightly easy) point about our uniformity and conformism. (My touchy attempt to ‘de-strange’ that would be to argue that there are only so many clothes shops on a high street and it’s not really so remarkable that neighbours end up dressing alike).

Why does all this matter to a researcher? Because looking for the ‘strange in the familiar’ is precisely what we should strive to do in our work – to closely and patiently look at unconsidered, automatic behaviour and conventions and try to spot the colour, the patterns and the odd wrinkles in a superficially plain picture. That’s how you notice, for example, how the colleague who buys ‘sharing bags’ of chocolate out of imagined altruism (that’s me) doesn’t end up sharing them (the ‘sharing’ fallacy is a brilliant permission-trigger uncovered by good, close observation of familiar office life).

Be warned though: the stranger’s eye has its risks – which is why you can’t forfeit the local eye. As a stranger, you risk taking away a misconstrued, stereotypical view of a place or its people. My most memorable example of this kind of misconstruing was the solemn article of faith floating around a project I worked on years ago that held that ‘Russians don’t do nicotine therapy, as they think nicotine can kill horses’. It originated in a piece of shrill 1950s Soviet advertising that warned citizens that ‘nicotine from 100 cigarettes can kill a horse!’. In reality, it’s only remembered as a joke and as an ironic tut-tut to your smoker friends (‘Guys, you’re killing lots of horses here – please open a window’). The ‘strangers’ in this tale missed that truth.

Happily, the Barbican’s exhibition artfully avoids such garbling: these photographer-strangers truly ‘get’ the UK – snapping refreshingly few umbrellas, double deckers and Beefeaters. In fact, I only saw one instance that made me sigh and think ‘Oh, you dopey tourist’.

The exhibition is a reminder to researchers of the need to consider bias and motive when it comes to photographs in general. Sure, we all do this with powerful Magnum shots and when we suspect we’re being handed propaganda – but we probably do it less with the humble smartphone pics and Whatsapp images sent to us by consumers. When we wade through images and conduct visual analysis, we ought to be alert to the behavioural biases that might influence what photographs are sent to us and how they’re taken. Suppose you contract a consumer in a remote land to take photos of their everyday life. When they send you pictures of ‘The Plaza of the Motherland’ and ‘papa in national costume’, this may mean that they are terrifically patriotic – but it may also simply mean they’re doing what they think ‘These European guys from this weird company who want me to show what our country is’ would want.

Lastly ‘Strange And Familiar’ made me realise that seeking the ‘strange in the familiar’ has become a global hobby, played out in our Instagram and Snapchat lives. With our cameras always to hand, we are frenziedly ‘spotting’, noticing incongruities and pitching our visual wit on the daily commute and in the lunch hour. The saturated-pink-against-slate of a child’s bubble gum in Raymond Depardon’s raw 1980s Glasgow studies now looks like a cute Aviary filter. The Japanese photographer Shinro Ohtake’s 1970s picture of Esso petrol pumps – a piece of unlikely Americana in a British setting – now just looks like something an Instagrammer would post on Tuesday afternoon at a bus stop. What was once strange has now become very familiar.

Beyond Words

Crowd DNA senior consultant Laura Warby looks back on our super fun, highly insightful recent session on visual analysis techniques...

What do you get when you cross a commercial semiotician with an academic visual researcher? The answer is a brilliantly well-rounded view on the latest developments in cultural visual analysis. And that’s exactly what the team here at Crowd got to experience recently in a half-day workshop on the topic.

With the unfaltering rise of visual language all around us, it’s becoming increasingly important to unpick and untangle this new vocabulary in order to make sense of the world. More and more of our clients are realising the value of exploring this incredibly rich form of data and we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of thinking in order to deliver real insights that make a difference.

Our visual analysis workshop started with some inspiring talks from our experts. First, we heard from commercial semiotician and cultural analyst Ashley Mauritzen, who shared some of her thinking around the latest visual trends and what they mean. We saw numerous examples of the way in which visual communication reflects wider shifts in society. We saw that the brands that stay ahead of the game are those who pick up on relevant emerging trends and translate them into a visual language that speaks to their consumers.

It was then over to Jan van Duppen, an academic in the field of visual culture and analysis methods, who presented some of his fascinating work and gave us lots of ideas for new methodologies. From Jan, we learned that the social effects of an image, be that how the image is made and arranged, the social identities of the maker or the intended audience of the image, are critical elements to consider when exploring the meanings attached to visual data.

Armed with this new knowledge, we took the key learnings from our experts and, over the course of the afternoon, worked as a team to decide how best to apply them to the work we do.

The result? We created a brand new Crowd DNA visual analysis framework, taking all the best bits from our old framework and combining them with the new insights developed in our workshop. We’ve already put it into practice with great success and are looking forward to doing the same with future projects.

If you’d like to talk visual vocab and explore how visual analysis techniques can bring a new dimension to insight work in your business, drop us an email