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.

 

First published in Research Live, Crowd DNA's Dr Matilda Andersson looks at the growing opportunity for cultural insight in global placemaking strategy...

Placemaking has been a known concept in academic and urban planning since the 1960s but has gained traction with private property developers, retailers, educators, mobility brands, and multinational co-working spaces in recent years. This increased spotlight on developing happier and healthier places for people to thrive poses unique opportunities for brands but also for the research industry.

Placemaking means creating places that put people and communities, their needs, vision, desires and aspirations first, before the planning and building of housing, offices, parking places and shopping centre units. Places where positive connections between community, schools, rental units, green spaces, cars, pavements and pedestrians are taken into account and built into the design of the place from the start. Jan Gehl, author of Cities For People, said: ‘First life, then spaces, then buildings – the other way around never works.’

There are two main reasons why we should be paying attention to Placemaking in 2022.

First, the commercial opportunity to offer our clients new ways of understanding and planning how to participate and make a difference to communities. A few recent examples of placemaking briefs include:

– A future-facing research programme, informing the development of an entirely new smart city being built in the desert

– Designing the communal space of student housing in order to increase the health, wellbeing and performance of students

– Keeping hold of histories and what makes a place unique while still building modern housing in a London suburb

– City branding, and identifying the key drivers to visit a particular city to help reposition the destination

– Understanding urban futures and how we will live and shop in two to three years’ time around the world

– Exploring how a ride-hailing app can offer social and safe urban mobility rather than just getting people from A to B

The second opportunity is about our research methods. To do placemaking right, there is a need for the development of more holistic, multidimensional and cross-disciplinary methodologies. Innovation in this area will ultimately help drive research approaches forward to the benefit of our clients

Here are a few principles we’ve picked up along the way, to inspire how you can plan and execute successful placemaking research:

The community knows best – build in plenty of time to talk to local participants about their needs, aspirations, desires, and visions. Placemaking relies heavily on strong community participation and buy-in from the start.

Multiple methods and touchpoints – people’s interactions in places are best researched over time; using multiple methodologies and touchpoints including real-time diaries, street safaris and in-place ethnography, alongside retrospective interviews, surveys or focus groups. Don’t be afraid to build a multi-method approach with participants to capture the full picture. Being holistic and capturing multiple touchpoints is more important than large sample sizes.

More observation, less talking – there’s a greater value in observing places and how people interact there over just asking for answers. Interview answers in isolation are likely to be over rationalised and could rely on false memory.

Immersion in real life over remote methods – always try to spend time in the place yourself, interacting with the community, having a coffee, trying to park your bike nearby, having a chat with someone on a park bench, and going native for a day. Nothing beats the real deal of you being there.

Bring in the experts – urban development, how we live, work, shop and move around cities is in flux and a lot of trends in various categories are defining what the places of the future may look like, from driverless cars to connected homes, biomimicry architecture, etc. Don’t be afraid to enrol experts in your research to help paint a picture of where the future is heading.

Don’t forget digital sources – placemaking isn’t just about physical space. We increasingly live our lives online and share our love for our neighbourhoods or favourite city destination on social media. To really understand the conversation around a place, tune in to social keywords, hashtags and geo tagging.

Semiotics matter – places themselves and objects within these spaces have meaning. The colour of a wall, the texture of a park bench, as well as the placement of advertising in a bus shelter, communicates various messages and makes us feel and interact within places in different ways. We work with our semioticians to not just understand, but also to help give recommendations for how brands can control the meaning of their interactions and impact within places.

One size does not fit all when it comes to designing research approaches that  improve people’s experiences of places. Blending of skills and methods and experimentation is recommended to help meet the demands of placemaking challenges of the future.

Placemaking briefs are now also moving beyond traditional placemaking categories to food, drinks, entertainment, homewear, alcohol and sportswear brands, who are now starting to pay attention to their role in creating places that take into account people’s health, happiness for themselves, their families and communities.

Brands’ role in placemaking is important for both product and marketing, for retaining as well as growing the customer base. Whether a brand wants to advertise, create an immersive experience, redevelop the shopping experience or open a restaurant, their role and interactions within that place is increasingly crucial for brand perception. In the future we predict that people will expect a greater emphasis on placemaking, and therefore brands that can show up and contribute in new, innovative, and people-centric ways will succeed.

City Limits has landed. This time we're looking to cities less as places to live, but as places to visit. With international travel now back on the agenda for many, destination cities, both big and small, are waking up...

Check out the full pdf here.


We’re careful right now not to label everything as post-pandemic. After all, for many the hardship goes on. But, in a way barely entertained for the last two years, actually travelling to another city is back in consideration. Meaning this felt the right time to turn the attention of City Limits – our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience – less to the places we live in and more to those we visit.

And so the Crowd DNA team have been busy making sense of the new-found appreciation of tourists that some cities are cultivating (distance makes the heart grow fonder). The refreshingly different types of relationship now forming between visitor and destination, often with sustainability as the guiding principle. Elsewhere, we follow the digital nomads to Dali, and pause to consider what Instagram and TikTok are doing to the way we explore. The home share trend gets a look over as well, as do some of the lamest places in Texas. And we send you postcards loaded with stories of traffic, pizza, cannabis, risking it all in 4x4s, and miscellaneous chocolate spreads.  

While we start planning for volume nine of City Limits, we hope you enjoy everything we’ve packed into this one. And if you’d like to hear more about our own work in areas such as tourism, travel, hospitality and placemaking, we’d love to hear from you.


Check out the full pdf here.

Crowd Labs, Crowd DNA’s training programme, has evolved over the years, supporting our team to hone their craft at delivering culturally charged commercial advantage for our amazing clients. Laura Warby explains…

One of the things we’re proud of at Crowd is our learning culture, where we celebrate curiosity, nurture open-mindedness and critical thinking. We’re lucky to have an ambitious team that embodies this mind-set, a team that takes personal and professional growth as seriously as we do. So it’s only fitting that we have a training programme – Crowd Labs – to match. 

The format of our training is varied, encompassing more formal sessions, as well as learning-on-the-job. A large proportion of it is delivered by in-house experts. Within our team there exists hundreds of years of experience across a dizzying array of skill-sets. From researchers to strategists, PhD doctors to journalists, creative storytellers to project managers and everything in between.

There’s no-one better equipped than our team to deliver our core capabilities training – they know their trade, they know Crowd, and they know our people. We don’t stop there, though. Where we think we can add an extra sprinkle of inspiration, we’ll invite external speakers to mix it up. 

As we get stuck in to 2022, we’ve already had some brilliant sessions: 

Group managing director, Matilda, kicked the year off with her Nailing Client Management training – an interactive session where she shared some words of wisdom about how to build trusted partnerships with our clients, leveraging her 10 years of experience client-side before she moved into the agency world.

MD of our APAC offices, Elyse, talked us through Getting Analysis Right – addressing tensions like ‘analysis paralysis’ when faced with huge quantities of unstructured data, and offering solutions for a more methodical, unbiased approach to making sense of it all and arriving at focused and critical strategic thinking. 

Our head of people, Alex, recently delivered a session on The Art of Giving & Receiving Feedback – an incredibly important skill-set but also one that’s difficult to get right. Too soft – you might not recognise it’s being given. Too direct – you run the risk of causing defensiveness, ultimately losing impact. Alex helped us with some practical formulas and tips and tricks to ensure it lands in the right way – be it day-to-day or via annual reviews. 

Finally, our first guest speaker of the year was author, distinguished toastmaster, communication coach and founder of Now You’re Talking, Lyn Roseaman, who ran a series of masterclasses & workshops around Presentation Skills. Having previously worked in the insight world for over 30 years, Lyn was able to tailor sessions perfectly to fit our teams’ levels and needs, giving us expert guidance and practical techniques for landing our work with greater confidence and impact. 

With a pipeline of other exciting training sessions already in the diary, we’re looking forward to continuing our strong start to Crowd Labs 2022. Our sights are set on building a best-in-class training programme that helps our team attain a unique and competitive skill-set, one that nurtures both professional and personal growth.

Beyond the metaverse hyperbole, Crowd DNA’s Freddie Mason explores how a truly accessible and inclusive digital universe could transform the lives of the differently abled…

Conversations about the metaverse are as abundant as they are confused. Increasingly grand predictions are being made about the future of (intangible) digital real estate. Soon-to-be immersive experiences will, it’s claimed, let our imaginations run wild – exploding the horizons of possibility for countless sectors. 

You’d be forgiven for finding the general futuristic vagueness of it all a little exasperating. In the metaverse’s promise of a totally disembodied life, it sometimes feels that it’s suffering from the perils of overreach. But parking the skepticism for a second, there are some very practical applications of metaverse technology that could transform the lives of the differently abled. 

It’s arguable that people living with disabilities could benefit the most from the metaverse. Amazingly, however, there’s relatively little thought being given to how this new frontier might be designed with the differently abled in mind. And there are some 1.85 billion people in the world living with disabilities, which is more than the population of China. 

What might the metaverse mean for people living with partial or complete blindness? Will this new AR reality help those with paraplegia to walk again? And do people trust the priorities of Meta and other tech giants with such sensitive issues? We need to talk about meta-accessibility… 

A Matter Of Tweaks  

Sometimes, the steps needed to make VR and AR more accessible are smaller than we might think. Eye-tracking technology is commonplace in VR headsets, for instance. But pretty much all of them use this feature to analyse the user’s eye movements. As Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has pointed out, very few have eye-tracking as an input, or a means of control. To make eye tracking an input would mean paraplegic people could navigate virtual worlds with ease. 

One small tweak, with huge implications. Not only would this mean those living with full paralysis could explore environments in ways that are simply not possible otherwise, it would also help them plan their routes IRL. Fully enabled virtual navigation for paraplegic people would mean they could familiarise themselves with a journey – its accessibility and potential hazards – before they undertake it in real life. The world would become a more manageable place. 

This fact reminds us that the obstacles standing in the way of meta-accessibility aren’t necessarily technological, but ones of imagination and cultural understanding. Asking the right questions, conducting research and cultural strategy are, in this respect, essential. They help us to consider why and for whom do we innovate. 

Learning To Walk In The metaverse 

A more speculative, but no doubt game-changing, application of VR would be in physical rehabilitation. The imaginative effort of controlling an (able-bodied) avatar stimulates neurological activity that can be used to help stroke victims regain the use of their bodies. The Walk Again Project at Duke University is using VR avatars and immersive environments, combined with complex neuroprosthetics, to do just this.  

Elon Musk weighs up the merits of placing a microchip in his brain
Elon Musk weighs up the merits of placing a microchip in his brain

The most famous innovation in this field, however, is Elon Musk’s Neuralink – a ‘brain chip startup’ that will allow paralysed people ‘to control a phone with their minds faster than someone with thumbs’, according to Musk himself. Founded in 2016, Neuralink announced in January 2022 that it was ready to start clinical trials on humans, following the successful insertion of an artificial intelligence microchip into the brain of a monkey named Pager and a pig named Gertrude. Neuralink is currently looking to hire a clinical trials director to lead this transition to the human brain, to develop technology that will, Musk claims, help quadriplegics and other people with severe spinal injuries to walk again.  

Importantly, though, this technology is evolving as a competitor to the metaverse, a platform Musk has tended to dismiss as all hype and no substance. “I don’t know if I necessarily buy into this metaverse stuff,” he remarked in an interview in December last year. Musk claims it is Neuralink, not the metaverse, that will launch the human race into a new world. This has contributed to doubt in the minds of some about the motivations behind all of this technological innovation. Are these meaningful attempts to create a truly inclusive digital future, or is this simply ‘tech-bro’ one-upmanship? 

One of the doubters is Dr Karola Kreitmair, an assistant professor of medical history and bioethics at the University Of Wisconsin. Despite ostensibly being for the benefit of the disabled, Dr Kreitmar worries about a for-profit company meddling with the complexity of the human brain. Neurolink is “unchartered territory,” she warns. Do we really want to entrust it to a company – and man – whose primary goal is commercial gain? 

This is the ethical dilemma that sits at the heart of so much debate surrounding an accessible metaverse. How close should capitalism be allowed to come to the internal workings of the mind, our fundamental sense of where we are? The answer lies not in the tech itself, but in the culture that surrounds it. It is in culture that we can find purpose, direction and meaning in what we’re able to invent.      

Blindness And VR 

We live in an intensely visual world, from which the blind are largely excluded. Every time a button disappears on our iPhone, in favour of a seamless, watertight, touchscreen feel, the powers of digital interconnectivity slip further away from the blind. Only a fraction of Netflix’s programming is set up with audio accompaniments for the visually impaired. While the metaverse, and VR more generally, promises to be multisensory, it is primarily geared up for 360 visual immersion. As it stands, blind people are to be almost entirely locked out of the metaverse revolution, should it arrive.

There are some things that could be done to avoid this eventuality. 3D audio echolocation technology is a hugely underfunded and underdeveloped immersive sensory feature, which could fully emplace blind people in new VR worlds. Haptic and touch technology is in its infancy, but would improve the experience of both the visually impaired and those with full sight. 

And what about smell? 2021 saw the launch of Hypnos Virtual, a metaverse startup that has developed Scentscape, a ‘neuroscience-based data stream of Bio-media’. Essentially, Scentscape is a library of millions of different carefully engineered scents that will be released from a ‘small fridge-sized object, to enhance any VR experience you might be having. If it sounds to you like a glorified air freshener, you’re not alone. Suffice to say – there’s still work to be done. 

Finally… 

If we’re to believe the hype, the metaverse might be the biggest revolution in digital technology since the internet, and we’re still very much at the start of the journey. In fact, we’re at precisely the moment when decisions are being made that might determine the future of digital experience for generations. Now is the moment to ensure that the differently abled are included in what tech has in store for us. The tech giants – from Meta to Musk – must involve people living with disabilities in their innovations from the very start. Their contribution will not only help build a more inclusive digital future, but improve the experience for the able bodied as well.   

The limits to an inclusive metaverse are not technological. It is the culture we build around the innovations of the metaverse that will determine its future, and whose interests it serves. 

Lila @ Crowd DNA

We're excited to start working with our new DEI learning hub...

We’re proud and excited to have launched the Lila learning hub at Crowd DNA. It’s a really nice internal education platform and resource that will help us embrace the need for greater diversity within our team, while forging an inclusive and equitable working environment. 

Over the last week, we got started on the first modules, working through the content, watching the vids and discussing our thoughts in safe and open-minded sessions.

We think that cultural insight, and the empathy it builds, can play an important role in improving society. This is something we very much want to be part of, both in terms of our internal structures and in the work we undertake with clients. But all of that said, we acknowledge that the insight and strategy fields have a seriously long way to go to be as representative as they need to be. There is much to do.

Thanks to Luzie Richt in Crowd DNA’s Amsterdam office for working so hard to get us all onboarded. Let’s do this, Lila.

We love the work we do and we're pretty lucky to get to do it. If cultural insights and strategy interests you too, applying for an internship at Crowd DNA New York is a great way to get started.

Crowd DNA’s Culture Club is a carefully designed internship program that brings rigor and quality to those seeking experience in insight and strategy.

You can get to work with our New York team across a variety of projects and learn about our four main specialisms: strategic insights (qualitative research), Crowd Signs (trends, semiotics, unstructured data), Crowd Numbers (quantitative research), Socialise (creative and editorial).

Shaped from observations, conversations and an ambition to truly meet with contemporary needs, Culture Club comes in four stages:

Culture Relevance: immersion in Crowd DNA’s training modules on what we mean by culture, how it manifests and why it matters to brands

How We Work With Culture: exploring the methods and frameworks that we use at Crowd DNA to get close to culture and then to derive strategic meaning from it

Practical Application: theory’s all good, but you learn so much from getting involved; at Culture Club you’ll get to work (in a meaningful fashion) on a number of projects, and at various point along the timeline

Culture Wrap: we don’t just wave you away with a thank you card. Concluding the program, there’s a coaching session with a senior member of the Crowd DNA team, including recommendations on next steps, what to learn more about etc. We want you to leave us primed and excited for what’s next.

In fact, we don’t necessarily want you to leave us. We offer permanent roles to circa 25% of those who come on board for an internship at Crowd DNA. And even when we’re not able to offer this, the vast majority of those who spend time with us end up someplace very exciting, in fields such as insight, advertising, media and beyond.

No intern is left just making coffee at Crowd DNA. We encourage cultural curiosity and the opportunity to experience myriad aspects of our work. Importantly, we also hope to imprint on those who join us, the importance of adaptability (one of our values is Everything Is Changing, after all) in the future workplace.

Our internships are paid $25/hour, 30 hours per week and we’re committed to offering an inclusive and exciting place to work.

How To Apply…

We’re not asking for resumes and we absolutely do not require you to come to Culture Club armed with a college degree (though they’re of course good, too!), nor to be the loudest person in the room. But we do expect to see evidence that, in your own way, you have an active interest in culture and brands, and where they intersect (we can teach you the insight and strategy bits). 

If interested, please submit an application via this form and we’ll pick up on the conversation from there.

Here’s some feedback from some of our former Culture Club recruits

“On my first day of Culture Club, I was out on the streets interviewing young athletes. It’s a real crash course in the world of insight and strategy, and Crowd is the sort of place where you can put your hand up for anything and get involved. As someone who had a real interest in culture, but no idea of what sort of career that could give me, Culture Club was a great launchpad – and I’m still here 14 months later!”

“I discovered Crowd when I was studying for my masters. I wanted a career change after working in education management and I thought that insight would be ideal for me. I like meeting new people, exploring ideas and being creative. But to get into a new industry, I knew I would need experience (both for my CV and for myself), so I thought an internship was a good way to go. On my first day at the Hoxton Square office, everyone was friendly, open and super smart. I got stuck in and started working with some huge brands from the get-go. In my first month, I worked on an online community, conducted interviews and even went on fieldwork. I was completely trusted, and that’s what I liked about the internship: I wasn’t treated like an intern at all. I was part of the team. Now that I’m a consultant, I take a lead role on projects for major clients, receive regular training and feel supported in all areas of my progression. Interning at Crowd was a great choice for me at a crucial turning point in my career.”

“I wasn’t made to feel like an intern at all during my internship at Crowd, I felt a lot of trust from the other team members and got stuck into lots of different tasks from day one. Everyone is really nice and supportive and there’s a great team spirit.”

“Interning at Crowd was a really fun and rewarding experience. Over the course of the internship, I was able to try out loads of different skills, from vox pops to qualitative and quantitative analysis. I gained hands-on experience of the different research methods and how they inform cultural strategy. After my internship, I moved into the Crowd Numbers team as an executive.”