The Bedroom

Youth culture gets played out in lots of different environments. On the streets and online, of course. But let's not forget the bedroom - a time-honoured safe space for experimentation, in which to let your identity take shape. These images are from a recent wave of our UK Tribes work for Channel 4. We can learn a lot from the codes and sentiment embedded in the images and items on display. Big thanks to all contributors...

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“I love all things 1950s, be it the pin ups of the era, the culture of the time, the clothing, the make up. And Audrey Hepburn is an ever-lasting lovely.” – Meg, 18


“I love free romantic blockbuster DVDs. I collect them. My room is full of them. I don’t know – is that weird?” – Rachel, 23


My wall is made up of my favourite people and my favourite memories. You put different things on your wall than you share on social media.” – Cait, 16


“€So when I’m playing my guitar I’m looking at these posters of bands and musicians. Seeking inspiration, I guess.” – Jordan, 18


“There’s a mixture of photos, tickets and stickers behind me. All to do with bands. Each has a specific memory attached to it. The Smiths and Morrissey feature most.” – Amber, 18


“My room is a build up of life! Everything I’ve collected is on display – well, mostly loose bits of paper I’ve ripped from magazines or found at the bottom of a bag.” – Sofia, 19


“There are a few massive influences here. I adore anything Oriental, as you can see. Ballet shoes – I danced ballet and modern from age five to 15. It was a major part of my upbringing.”€ – Laura, 22


“I collect things: candles, make up, cameras, perfumes, rocks! And I spend a lot of time outside taking photos, so my cameras really represent me.” – Olivia, 17


“My room is a calming place. I am also tidy, very organised. Technology has to take centre stage.” – Ian, 17


“I love my skis and I also try to incorporate art into my room. I’m aiming for an eclectic mix of furniture: Ikea, antique, thrift, anything that catches my eye.” – Olivia, 17


You can read more about the Channel 4 UK Tribes project here.




When I Used To Be A Planner

Our Amsterdam-side strategic initiatives director, Lydia Jones, is a planner no more. Oh, hold on, she's more a planner now than ever. Think we'd best let her explain...

When I first uttered those fateful words, ‘when I used to be a planner’, in my second week at Crowd DNA, I had a little moment. Am I really not a planner anymore? After eight years in advertising with that job title, it felt weird to relinquish it. But with three months now at Crowd getting stuck in all over the place – from toothbrushes to cheese – I realise I’m might be more of a planner now than I was at any ad agency.

Gone are the days when agencies had in-house research departments with a team dedicated to moderating groups, setting up surveys, doing your desk research, and running TGI reports. Gone too are the days when every project had two months of planning time, where planners shut themselves away in a room and stroked their beards, noodling over the precise articulation of a proposition. These days, you’re lucky if you get two weeks. So planners now have to do their own research and mostly that means turning to their trusty friend Google. Trouble is, everyone else also has access to the same free but never-the-right-markets, never-the-right-target, or perfect-but-from-2005, reports that you do. So a planner ends up making do and extrapolating, ie, ‘making shit up’. Many planners are highly skilled at Making Shit Up. They have to be. I know I was. My strategies were a thing of beauty!

In my ad career, I’ve worked at many different agencies: direct, digital, above the line, old school, new school, old dinosaur, and shiny new start up, And apart from a handful of groups, a couple of surveys, and a few hastily put together vox pops for pitches, I never did any primary research. Never. In eight years. Most of the time, I didn’t even have access to proper secondary research (Mintel subscriptions were cut along with the free fruit). So it’s no wonder most planners nowadays are expert storytellers and deck crafters, but pretty terrible when it comes to talking to real people.

That’s partly the reason why I joined Crowd. To actually do some proper primary research, a skill I should’ve been well versed in by now. But secondly, I joined Crowd because they get those challenges faced by agencies today. They work fast, they tell stories, and they don’t make planners wade through hundreds of terribly ugly powerpoint charts. And they’re nice.

We are an agencies’ research department. We are their planners. Bonus being they don’t have to fork out for breakfast for us every day.

Big + Beautiful Data

Here's a data oriented double act, with associate director Claire Moon on author/broadcaster Tim Harford's Google Firestarters presentation, and Eric Shapiro, our creative delivery knowledge leader, reviewing David McCandless' talk at a Guardian Live event. Let's go...

In the first of our two reports, author, broadcaster and FT columnist Tim Harford gave two TED-style talks – one titled ‘Big Mistakes With Big Data’ and the second on ‘How To Tell The Future’. Here’s four relevant insights from his presentations.

  1. Data can’t always speak for itself

At first glance, big data promises to render traditional methods of sampling obsolete (because we now have the data for ‘n=all’), and does away with the need for theories and hypotheses because we can simply ‘listen’ to the data by running algorithms to analyse it.

However, the rise and fall of Google Flu Trends – the poster child for big data – highlights the importance of ‘old-fashioned, boring lessons around how we behave with data’ and the enduring importance of human intelligence at all stages of analysis.

Despite working well at the start, the success rate of the predictions made by Google Flu Trends began to fall spectacularly – and because Google didn’t have a theory for why it worked in the first place, it was impossible to work out why it had gone wrong.

  1. The importance of being human

Despite calling himself a huge fan of big data, Tim advocated human intuition over computer learning and algorithms, and explained why speaking to ‘n=all that matter’ is still a far better approach than attempting to listen to ‘n=all’.

As the volume of ‘found data’ increases, big data is becoming increasingly good at telling us what is happening and identifying correlations, but it can’t tell you why it’s happening and if a correlation actually represents causation – you still need to speak to real humans for that!

  1. Be self-critical

Tim’s final lesson was around prediction, and the importance of being open minded. He spoke at length about a research programme set up by psychologist Philip Tetlock that aggregated a large number (20,000) of quantifiable forecasts made by a broad variety of people. Through this experiment, Tetlock found that the success of predictions lie in correcting biases, working in teams, and in practicing ‘actively open-minded thinking’.

In short, the best way to ensure accuracy when carrying out research and looking to the future is to continually challenge what you find and be prepared to change your mind when new information arises.

  1. Research isn’t always about finding answers

During the Q&A session after Tim’s talks, he was asked about his work for the Scenario Planning division at Shell. Tim’s description of it as ‘science fiction’ got a few laughs, but his point was a serious one – research shouldn’t always be about finding answers. Instead, research should be about stimulating thinking.

(If you want a more detailed account of the event and Tim’s talks, check out Neil Perkin’s great write-up here)


In the second of our reports, we heard Mr Information Is Beautiful (more commonly known as David McCandless) discuss his new book Knowledge Is Beautiful, where he spoke not only of the art of data visualisation, but more deeply on the dividing line between ‘data’ and ‘knowledge’.

Psychology tells us seven pieces of knowledge is about the most information a person can hold, so here’s three things to remember from David’s speech to add to the four from Tim’s.

Knowledge is joined up data

Bored with drawing up immaculate and fascinating data representations, McCandless sought to understand and illustrate knowledge in his new book. He came to the realisation that single data sets only tell you so much. If you want to find something new and genuinely interesting, you need to join up different banks of data to paint a clearer representation. For example, if you want to know who’s top dog, you need to look at a huge range of factors, including vet records, dog genealogies and popularity to reach your goal. It’s the same with insights. To find something new, you need to join up different data types and studies, and view them as one.

3/4 of our brain is vision

Astonishingly, three quarters of our neurons are dedicated to the visual system. We’re incredibly sensitive to beautiful things, but we’re equally aware of ugly things. Even more fascinatingly, we have trust in the former, and are suspicious of the latter. It’s why we describe companies with older or more simple websites as ‘dodgy’, and equally why we forgive glamorous celebrities for just about anything (nice corn rows, Justin…). This means no matter how great, relevant, or life changing a piece of knowledge is, we won’t trust it unless it’s packaged in something beautiful that earns our trust. Equally, we need to be conscious of not presenting something incorrect beautifully, encouraging the wrong sort of knowledge – which means data integrity still matters.

Up wide, crash zoom, to the side

Finally, we learned how in order to extract the best information from data, you need to examine it from all angles. That means looking at the whole picture, exploring the tiny details within, and changing the angle of approach. Take the world of cash crops. From afar, wheat is the most planted, sugar cane the most fecund and most popular, and cannabis yields the highest revenue. That last one’s interesting, no? Well, if we zoom in, you can see that cannabis generates £47,660,000 per square kilometer. And if we look at it from another angle, we see in a state where cannabis is now legal, Colorado, that it reels in more tax revenue than Alcohol. The insight? Cannabis is more lucrative than you might have thought.

Rather than point you towards the illegal drug trade, we reckon this is a lesson in analysis: specifically the importance of using frameworks to view data through different lenses and extract the best and most interesting bits.

(You can see more of David’s beautiful works here, and he’d probably want this blog to link to the Amazon page for his new book – we’ll acquiesce and do this here.)

Stars Of YouTube

What's in the DNA of a YouTube superstar? What's the tipping point from speaking to your mum and mates to having roughly the population of Belgium following your every move? And who are the names lurking behind the cross-over likes of Zoella and PewDiePie?

We’ve been exploring all of this and more for a number of clients recently, pinpointing the developing trends driving the notion of the ‘niche superstar’. The strategic thinking of course stays under wraps, but here’s a vid that casts some clear light on this exciting, ever changing, very social world…

Generations X, Y, Z

How do you summarise a generation in 90 seconds? In the name of producing powerful, thought provoking stimulus material for events, workshops and suchlike, that's the challenge we set ourselves...

We wanted to pull apart the differences between Generations X, Y and Z in a clear and simple fashion; in a manner which acts as a springboard for lively conversation, sharp strategic thinking and, ultimately, genuine action. Ok, yes, we’ve had to generalise in places. And generational experiences are of course bound to vary based on personal circumstances (location, upbringing, personal interests etc). But nonetheless we’re very pleased with what we’ve cooked up. We hope you like too.

Generation X (born: 1966-1976)

Generation Y (born: 1977-1994)

Generation Z (born: 1995-)

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Gay Talese's 1966 Esquire feature, 'Frank Sinatra Has A Cold', is one of the greatest studies of celebrity ever. With insight and innovation in mind, Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell explains that it also demonstrates the power of observation over interview...

‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ ranks as a defining piece in so-called new journalism; a painstakingly detailed, powerful and fascinating under-the-skin read. It was, however, a state of affairs forced on Talese through Sinatra – recoiling at soon being 50; experiencing a number of career pressures; indeed suffering from a cold – refusing to talk to him. Celeb gawking aside, it serves equally as a prime example of the benefits of observation over interview (or, in ‘…Has A Cold”s case, in observation alongside only questioning those on the periphery of the scene, rather than the target ‘audience’).

Ethnographic-style reporting, next to visual documentation, brings a richness and a discursiveness to stories that regimented interviews don’t always allow for. Vitally, the broader cultural context becomes clearer and, often, less anticipated and potentially more advantageous ground gets to be covered – something that it can be a struggle to achieve when there’s a lengthy set of highly granular questions to crunch through in a discussion guide.

We’re not prescribing project method designs that are devoid of interviews in all work (sometimes highly granular questions really do need answering through very direct interviewing) – rather to highlight that, when well considered, there can be rigour and process in observation, too. And returning more particularly to the example of ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’, while skilled ethnographers practice observation as a matter of course, exploring the journalist skill-set as well opens the doors to bringing better reporting techniques and a storytelling mentality to ethnography.

It’s this blending of social science and journalism – ethnography with a more potent sense of interpretation – that’s particularly pertinent to how we work at Crowd DNA. Better thinking, being agile, ensuring impact – we like to think that we cover off all three of our guiding principles via this type of primary method.

Gay Talese’s story for Esquire begins as per below. Click the link thereafter to read the full piece

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening, except now in this private club in Beverly Hills he seemed even more distant, staring out through the smoke and semidarkness into a large room beyond the bar where dozens of young couples sat huddled around small tables or twisted in the center of the floor to the clamorous clang of folk-rock music blaring from the stereo. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra’s four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday.

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Ideas for ideas

How do you get to great ideas? Crowd DNA's creative delivery knowledge leader, Eric Shapiro, shares some pointers from a recently attended talk which, among other things, referenced Spandau Ballet, Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and Manchester's Hulme Crescents estate - and yet all made complete sense...

Hugh Garry has one of the more enviable jobs in media. The ex-BBC producer runs Storythings, an agency that helps clients find new ways to tell their stories, mainly through digital media. Recently, he helped Crowd favourite Gruff Rhys develop an app to complement his new book and aided MOMA in New York in improving their online video offering. Hugh’s job involves consistently coming up with great ideas. In the most recent of the increasingly Crowd DNA-blogged Shoreditch House lectures, he turned his attention to this very topic and advised on a few ways of helping us think more creatively and to come up with great ideas more frequently.

Ideas are a complex blend of serendipity, facilitating the connection of disparate experiences, and opening your eyes to the world around you. The most challenging element of Hugh’s talk involved grasping the concept of allocating time to facilitate these processes. Staring out of windows more often was recommended, as was going on long walks and, perhaps more extremely, taking a year’s creative sabbatical away from the office. Good ideas can’t be forced to happen, but there’s things we can do to increase the odds.

Initially, this strikes as very luxurious. It’s a lovely idea to leave the office and go for a walk around, but sometimes stuff needs to get done, right? Well, yes and no. Good ideas hold water, therefore taking the initial time to come up with something solid will save time in the long run. Furthermore, it’s great ideas that keep agencies like ours relevant and worth their salt.

Why the picture of Spandau Ballet? Among a whirlwind of colourfully diverse cultural reference points, Hugh pointed to them as a case in point when it comes to losing the effortless and the serendipitous, and instead forcing the issue; thus gravitating from just about the coolest thing on his radar as an 11 year old, to bland pop filler by his mid teens.

Nobody wants to end up like ‘Heart Like A Sky’-era Spandau Ballet. So maybe I’ll get out of the office for the lunch break after all.