Dear Design Student: Drop the other 90%

There are 21.3 million refugees around the world (UNHCR, 2015) ; meanwhile, 22 000 children die every day because of poverty (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2015). But don’t you worry: there are thousands of young, over-enthusiastic creatives who believe that their exquisite design thinking can solve many of these problems. ‘Making a REAL difference’ has never been more ‘sexy’ and it seems that academic institutions allow the students to get hooked on their shallow definition of design for development.

Let’s start from the beginning: how come that the current design students want to make a meaningful impact in the Third World? The answer is easy: it is not just the industry we work in, it is the entire generation. 7 out of 10 millennials consider themselves social activists (TBWA/Worldwide agency et al., 2013), which certainly contradicts with their stereotypical image of narcissistic, ego-centred ‘unique-snowflakes’. However, looking at the socio-political background throughout their childhood one can clearly see where they got their inspiration from. They were the first generation to learn about Millenial Development Goals at school and they’re the ones who came across the news of Rwandan genocide while swapping TV channels. Thanks to the Internet Network, any information about any place in the World has always been within the reach of their hands. Having followed the mainstream media, who present Africa as the nest of poverty and problems, no wonder that 84% of Millennials would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities ( Marriott Rewards Credit Card Survey, 2015), and that Africa is second most popular continent to follow their ambitions (Salvesen, 2014)

Considering current design education, focusing on ‘making a positive change’, the idea of designing for the developing world is just too attractive to resist. The problem arises when the students are taught only about the positive potential of projects but remain unaware of the countless scenarios when the solution turns into a wasted investment. I remember one of my first lectures at Product Design course when we were shown One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. Hundreds of thousands of laptops were distributed to children in various developing countries to enhance their learning opportunities in both home and school environment. The project was shown as a star example of using design to create durable, low-cost, educational tool. Later I researched the project myself and found out that its’ implementation failed on many levels, mainly due to the lack of basic understanding of the socio-cultural context. “If you’re a $2-a-day family, are you really going to let your kid take the most expensive thing in the household to school every day?” commented Kevin Starr, founder of Malaga Foundation (2010). In the end, OLPC did not have any impact on the test scores in reading and math in at least four participating countries (Israel, Peru, Romania and Nepal) (Melo et al., 2013). How come we were never taught this side of the story?

“Not making a difference’’ is only one problem. Design students are not being warned that badly applied humanitarian aid project brings far more harm than not doing anything. In the 1950s and 60’s United Nations dug half a million wells in Bangladesh without testing them, and it turned out that 2 out 5 of them were contaminated with arsenic which led to one of the largest mass poisonings in human history. But the story doesn’t end here. UN’s solution was to mark the safe walls with green paint, and the poisonous ones with red paint. Villages ended up believing that because the red wells were tainted, the girls living nearby were tainted too. Many young women became unmarriageable and therefore sold by their families into prostitution (Zolli, 2013). It is a drastic example that shows how humanitarian aid can turn into completely unexpected direction. It is difficult to face the possible negative effects of the project right at its very beginning but when it comes to design for development it’s essential that the students learn how to think very critically of their own ideas, so such mistakes as the project in Bangladesh are not being repeated.

No short-term research about the developing world will be able to give enough insight to bring social innovation to the community. In my point of view, educational authorities who let students believe they can make a difference behave highly hypocritical: they are obsessed with the importance of the user-insight and sympathy tools but on the other hand they let students pursue projects about experiences that are as far as possible from their everyday life. I recently came across a project by students of Royal College of Art in London who designed a coat for refugees based on one talk with an aid worker from Doctors Without Borders (on top of that: throughout one-week design ‘hackaton’). But a single chat is not enough, and the young designers must acknowledge that international development specialists shouldn’t be their interviewees: they should be their collaborators. Per Heegens, CEO of IKEA Foundation, said that the first step in the design process of designing portable refugee shelter was contacting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “because they know a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and when you develop a product like this you want to develop it with the people who will actually use it ” (2016)

Students leave the university convinced that their limited expertise in international development and design skills are enough to address the socio-political issues of the highest complexity. The problem arises when they unintentionally transfer their adolescent, ignorant attitude into their future professional practice. According to Panthea Lee, (co-founder of social innovation firm Reboot and UNICEF advisor), the problem already exists within the current creative consultancies in an attempt to design for social innovation and developing communities. ‘’(…) a lot of design firms now going to the public sector and to NGO’s saying, ‘We’re designers, we’re here to help you!’ And they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t speak our language, you don’t know development theory, you don’t know our approach.’ ‘ ’ (2011)

It is now time to take action and change the way we teach design for development so the future design leaders don’t make the same mistakes.

So, dear design educators, YOU are in the leading position to make the young generation of creatives more responsible global thinkers. Encourage them to collaborate on long-term projects with experts in social sciences and humanitarian aid specialists. You must push your students to seek the information from the outside of their ‘knowledge comfort zone’. Show them UN online databases and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys ran by UNICEF (annual report presenting statistical data regarding life conditions, divided by country and region) and make them read every single page about the community they design for! Solid secondary research is an irreplaceable basis of any design project, and it must be done with an exquisite attention to detail when we approach scenarios from the developing world. Remind them that their university-level projects are there to expand their knowledge: not to make them responsible for ending poverty on the other continents.

But most importantly, ask your students to ‘humble-up’. Because, as Panthea Lee explains, ‘the world’s most intractable problems are deeply rooted in massive systems, while design is a discipline focused on the edges’. (2013)

Written by Anna Palgan (Email)


  • Rob Bye (2014) AfricaBike – Enabling education in Africa [photography]. Available at: (Accessed: 12 November 2016)
  • Who Wants to be a Volunteer?. (2014).South Africa: SAIH Norway, Kinge, K., Edland-Gryt, S. and Skaar M.K. (Accessed: 12 November 2016)
  • UNHCR. (2015) Figures at a Glance [infographic], Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (2015) ‘Levels & Trends in Child Mortality’, New York. Available at (Acessed 2 November 2016)
  • Amanda (2015), ‘How Millennials Travel Differently ; written on behalf of Marriott Rewards Credit Card from Chase’, A Dangerous Business Travel Blog, 19 June 2015, Available at: (Acessed 10 November 2016)
  • Salvesen, A. (2014) ‘2012 Annual Volunteer Report Evaluation’. Available at: (Accessed: 10 November 2016)
  • TBWA/Worldwide, Take Part (2013) The Future of Social Activism [infographic]. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • Starr K. (2011) Lasting impact, PopTech Conference 2011 at Camden, Maine [podcast]. Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Melo, G., Machado, A., Alfonso, M. and Viera, M. (2013) ‘Profundizando en los efectos del Plan Ceibal’, Comentarios finales, 5, p.24. Available at: (Accessed: 2 November 2016)
  • Zolli, A., (2010) Failure and its upside—a report from the 2010 PopTech conference, Available, interviewed by Marcia Stepanek for Stanford Social Innovation Review, Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Morby, A. (2016) RCA students design wearable dwelling for Syrian refugees, Available at: (Accessed: 10 November 2016)
  • Lee, P. (2011) ‘A Better World By Design: Spotlight on Panthea Lee of Reboot’, interviewed by Dave Seliger on Core77, Available at: (Accessed: 5 November 2016)
  • Lee, P. (2013) Why “Design For Development” Is Failing On Its Promise. Available at: (Accessed: 9 November 2016)


The hacker’s design process

Can the hardware hacker’s creative methods bring new insight to designers?
Generally, there is a negative stigma associated with the term ‘hacking’ due to black hat hackers hacking into private or Government servers. However, there are many forms of hacking, such as the ‘Ikea hacks ’which are the manipulation of Ikea products to adapt their functionality and ‘life hacks’ which are tasks or actions to reduce frustration of life. (Dictionary, 2016) Nevertheless, the term hacking remains a difficult concept to define as it can refer to many different practices.
One of the increasingly common trends is ‘hardware hacking’. This refers to any method of hardware modification through its electronics or by its behaviour. The physical modification of a device is generally straightforward i.e. disassembling or cutting into the device. However, when hacking electronics or when changing product behaviour or primary function, it can become complex due to ethical, legal reasons and violation of a company’s intellectual property rights.
“Hardware hacking – modifying a product to do something it was never intended to do by its original designer” (Grand, 2006)
In late 2015 Amazon introduced a more convenient way to purchase products from their store using the Amazon Dash Button. The button is designed to enable users to quickly repeat orders of products they regularly purchase. (Burgess, 2016) The device works by clicking a button which wakes up the device, connects to the Wi-Fi, orders the product from the Amazon Store and then turns off. The process is very simple and convenient for Amazon customers. But shortly after the device was introduced, other functions for this product were found. The device became instantly appealing to hardware hackers as this tiny adhesive physical trigger could be easily altered to change its function.
There are many ideas of how to change the functionality of the dash from controlling power outlets in homes to data tracking. However, every new idea for the dash is built from the same fundamental code irrespective of the function. As a result of the ‘Amazon Dash hacking,’ awareness of the hardware hacking trend increased worldwide from veteran programmers and casual hobbyist.
Hardware hackers begin by analysing existing products to find hardware exploitations. For example, a hardware hacker examined baby-tracker apps and found that they generally served a single purpose. However, as his baby’s needs kept changing, he hacked the dash and made alterations to track his baby’s data to discover patterns that would not normally be noticed. “I want a simple button that I can stick to the wall and push to records poops today but wake ups tomorrow.” (Benson, 2016) When creating the dash, the designers only concentrated on a solution to reorder products and did not consider any other use. Therefore, analysis by hardware hackers can lead to the discovery of new creative solutions to problems that the original designers did not consider or did not know existed.
As someone who has knowledge of programming and an interest in altering hardware, I purchased a dash when it became available in the UK. The motivation for my purchase was specifically to modify the dash’s primary function. After discovering and researching the Philips light ‘hack’, I repurposed my dash to turn my computer on remotely. (Dudes, 2016) Although, this modification was not as complex or innovative as some tweaks done, my dash served a function which was personal to me. I achieved the primary function alteration by using a python script and changes to the computer bios. After completing the adjustments, I realised that other ‘hardware hack’ modifications could benefit different areas of my life. I considered purchasing two devices in order to produce a stop and start or an execute and cancel functionality. I considered other functions the dash could perform to help the community e.g. a low-cost button to control multiple automated functions to open blinds and turn on lights for the physically impaired.
I believe that the concept of changing a product to solve a different problem to be interesting. When a product is disassembled, and rebuilt there is great potential for better design. Although this process may not be regarded as a typical design process, it could benefit designers as it can provide unique solutions. However, the real question should be whether designers should embrace the thought processes of hardware hackers in their design cycles?
There are various benefits of a hacker’s creative process. It encourages a free-spirited and unconventional form of thinking and proves that the repeated analysis of product exploits often reveals unexpected solutions. (Grand,2006) There are many examples of how hacker’s use their alternative thinking to find creative solutions to problems. For example, hackers created jackhammer hearing protection earmuffs which played noisy environment audio books. This solution offered better noise reduction than the commercial noise cancelling headphones and was significantly cheaper. (Hartmann, B., Doorley, S. and Klemmer, S, 2008) However, there are often negatives to the hacker’s methods and these can include ethical, legal and patent issues. Furthermore, their process only works when coupled with other creative processes, such as Double Diamond, as the hacker’s model focuses primarily on discovery, insight, opportunity and ideation. (Design Council,2016) Nevertheless, I believe hardware hackers can play an important part in the design process as they can offer a different insight into products which traditional product and software designers may not discover.
As an industrial designer, I have knowledge of various creative processes from IDEO’s HCD to the Design Council’s Double Diamond. Typically, these processes use a combination of divergent and convergent thinking. During the divergent thinking, I feel that the models do not focus sufficiently on
the existing product but rather on the investigation to find a possible solution, unlike hardware hackers whose core principal is the existing product investigation. The hardware hacker’s principle of finding and analysing product exploits often leads to the development of new functions and alternative solutions to problems. I feel designers often focus on the premise that a new product must be designed to solve a particular problem only. By comparison, hardware hackers frequently find their solutions through the alteration of an existing product.
As increasing numbers of product designers become skilled in the programming elements of design, knowledge can be gained by this method of innovation and iterative thinking to alter products in order to discover other functions and uses. I believe that designers could benefit from this different creative process, coupled with a more structured approach, that hardware hacking has to offer.
“The designer should try to break the security mechanism of those product, then fix them and try to break them again. Time should be scheduled for this iterative process during the design cycle. “(Grand, 2006)
Written by Robert Gittus (LinkedIn/Email/Medium)

[1] Hardy, A. (2015). Why has the number of teenagers taking design and technology GCSE dropped?. Available: Last accessed 1/11/16.

[2] Brown, M. (2015). Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[3]Cape UK. (2016). What’s All This About The EBACC?. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[4] The Guardian. (2011). A-level choices: the sharp contrast between private schools and comprehensives – get the data. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[5] Wellington College. (2017). College History. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[6] Sedbergh School. (2017). Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[7] Eton College . (2017). A2 Statistics- Summer 2016. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[8] Independent Schools Inspection. (2016). Independent Schools Inspection- Eton College. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.


[9] Independent Schools Inspection. (2013). Independent Schools Inspectorate- Oakham School. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.


[10] Anonymous, Personal Communications. (2016).


[11] Hattie, J et al. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Available: Last accessed 10/11/16.

[12] Cowley, J. (2013). Eton Eternal: How one school came to dominate public Life. Available: Last accessed 9/11/16.


[13] Maritime Cadets. (2016). The Field Gun. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[14] Rod Purcell. (2014). [Image]. Dressing for the occasion: Speech Day Harrow School. Available: (!/2014/05/dressing-for-occaision-speech-day.html. Last accessed 22/02/17.

Why don’t students from private schools study design?

Since design and technology stopped being a compulsory GCSE subject in 2000, there has been a decline in the number of students taking D&T at GSCE and A level, now making it one of the most unpopular subjects in secondary schools. Many schools have been cutting back provisions or removing the subject from the curriculum entirely [1]. Between 2003 and 2013 there was a 50% drop in the GCSE numbers for design and technology [2] which begs the question as to why exactly have people stopped taking design?

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc), a performance measure for schools to increase the core five academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language was introduced in 2010 as a result of rising numbers in creative, non-academic subjects. The government argued ” that many of these qualifications do not carry real weight for entry to higher education or for getting a job” [3].

According to an MP, students attending comprehensive schools are “studying low quality subjects that will prevent them gaining a place at top universities, unlike their peers at private and grammar schools” [4]. Statistically, students in private and grammar schools are less likely to take up creative subjects.

Wellington College, a private boarding school in Berkshire is one of the many schools with low design and technology numbers. In 2016, only 26 out of 179 students took design and technology at GCSE which was on a par with the number taking Greek and less than a quarter of the number taking Latin. This then drops even further in A-Level to 4 which was less than the number taking art history or Mandarin [5]. Similar numbers can be found at other independent schools with 6 A-Level entrants at Sedbergh School (out of 103) [6], 5 at Eton College [7]and none at all at Westminster School and Cheltenham Ladies College. So why are students at independent schools not studying design?

You would expect schools which charge students up to £13,000 a term to have top of the range equipment for their design department. Many of the most well known and successful independent schools state on their websites that they have well equipped workshops with facilities such as 3D printing, CNC machining and laser cutting. These are facilities that would be the envy of many schools. The quality of the teaching is also often recognised in the schools inspection reports such as the one for Oakham School – “work in art and design is exceptional” and for Eton College – “quality of product design is exceptional”. [8] [9]

I spoke to two members of the Design & Technology department at a leading independent school to see what they thought about the decline in numbers. Being a private school, they do not follow the EBacc and therefore do not have to limit students from doing creative subjects and so I was interested to see if they had seen a significant change in the number of students taking up design and technology. “Numbers taking A-level have reduced in recent years; it has been a similar pattern with a number of other schools. GCSE has been mostly stable”. [10]

I wanted to explore the possible reasons as to why their students might not be taking up D&T. As an outsider I asked whether it was viewed as academic enough but the response was that this was just “amongst a small minority who would be unlikely to take the subject in any case”. I also questioned if studying D&T would not be as impressive on university applications as other subjects and whether potential career options related to design are not seen as interesting, useful or lucrative. They agreed with my point about design not looking impressive saying that “unfortunately there is some truth in this since a small selection of universities are dismissive of design. It depends on the institution and course being applied for – a message we try to get across to our students”. However they did not completely agree that potential career options related to design are not seen as interesting or useful, suggesting that this was “not a commonly held view”. When considering the financial rewards they felt this was not a major concern “perhaps compared to a career in Law or the City/finance, but not a deciding factor to most students”.

The websites for many, if not all, of the leading independent schools highlight the large proportion of students who go on to Oxford and Cambridge University, the Russel Group of universities or to Ivy League institutions in the US. I wanted to know the extent to which students are influenced by their parents, staff, news and university requirements on the subjects they choose to study at GCSE. “Understandably, parents influence decisions to a great extent, as do tutors, house masters etc. Raising awareness of the subject in the media and national conscious can only help to realign perceptions of the subject.”

It seemed that university was always something which the students and parents potentially thought about, influencing their decisions in which GCSE options to take. For students that are rejecting design as a GCSE option, to what extent have they even begun to think about university or career options? The response was that “career choice is not the foremost issue for pupils choosing GCSEs due to the number of GCSEs they can take. Most take design because they enjoy it!”

I wanted their opinion on how design and technology could be made more attractive to students and how more students could be influenced to choose it as a subject. They suggested “there needs to be greater recognition of what the subject has to offer at all levels of society. The relevance of DT needs to be acknowledged by politicians and universities need to recognise the personal qualities evidenced through the pursuit of a thorough design exercise”.

They also referred to an article that highlighted how the nature of education has changed in recent years. There has been greater emphasis on academic achievements whereas traditionally education has been about “passing on core notions of humanity and civilisation”, “equip students to live independently” and to “participate in the life of their community”. [11]

With such a change in emphasis, it is perhaps not surprising that the number of students taking design and technology have fallen over recent years. The experience of the independent schools shows that they have not been immune from this even though they can provide the finest teaching facilities and equipment; inspection results indicate that high quality results are achieved and the evidence that those who take design are happy to have done so.

The independent schools do not follow the EBacc so this cannot be used as a reason for the low numbers enrolled in GCSE and A-Level courses. However many of the schools have very strong traditions of their students following certain career paths. Eton students have often ended up in politics [12] and many schools have strong military links such as Wellington College that still has a field gun team [13]. Many schools are proud of the contribution that their past pupils have made in the fields of sport and performing arts. It is likely that pupils and parents are aware of this and that this has an unconscious influence on their choice of GCSE and A-Level subjects, leading them to focus on subjects that are more suited to potential career paths. Whilst it may be difficult for individual schools to influence national educational policies and university recruitment procedures, a potential route towards increasing enrolment in GCSEs and A-Levels is to highlight to parents and students as early as possible what can be achieved in the department and that studying design is a route to innovation that can benefit the country economically and improve people’s lives.

Written by Emma Kennedy-Flanagan  (LinkedIn/Email)

[1] Hardy, A. (2015). Why has the number of teenagers taking design and technology GCSE dropped?. Available: Last accessed 1/11/16.

[2] Brown, M. (2015). Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[3]Cape UK. (2016). What’s All This About The EBACC?. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[4] The Guardian. (2011). A-level choices: the sharp contrast between private schools and comprehensives – get the data. Available: Last accessed 5/11/16.

[5] Wellington College. (2017). College History. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[6] Sedbergh School. (2017). Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[7] Eton College . (2017). A2 Statistics- Summer 2016. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[8] Independent Schools Inspection. (2016). Independent Schools Inspection- Eton College. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.

[9] Independent Schools Inspection. (2013). Independent Schools Inspectorate- Oakham School. Available: Last accessed 12/11/16.

[10] Anonymous, Personal Communications. (2016).

[11] Hattie, J et al. (2016). Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model. Available: Last accessed 10/11/16.

[12] Cowley, J. (2013). Eton Eternal: How one school came to dominate public Life. Available: Last accessed 9/11/16.

[13] Maritime Cadets. (2016). The Field Gun. Available: Last accessed 22/02/17.

[14] Rod Purcell. (2014). [Image]. Dressing for the occasion: Speech Day Harrow School. Available: (!/2014/05/dressing-for-occaision-speech-day.html. Last accessed 22/02/17.

The Nudging Network

We are constantly making choices, every day, all the time, the majority of which seem relatively simple and somewhat subconscious. However, as the array of choices available to us grows, we are collectively becoming worse at reaching decisions efficiently. Barry Schwartz called this “The Paradox of Choice” (Schwartz, 2005), and suggested that we are becoming progressively paralysed by an excess of choice. “With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all”, which as Schwartz explains, after making an eventual decision, we are then dissatisfied if the outcome is not what was expected, therefore “subtracting from the satisfaction you get out of the decision [originally] made” (Schwartz, 2005).

Bounded rationality, a term founded by Herbert Simon is the concept that decision making is restricted by an individual’s ability to cognitively process the presented information in a given circumstance. Therefore it is easy to become overwhelmed by data overload because we cannot process this effectively. Christopher Wickens devised a set of principles to most effectively design displays. It was suggested that to “avoid absolute judgement limits” (Wickens et al., 2004) between five and seven levels of discrimination should be used to provide enough understanding, enabling the consumer to make a decision. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky developed the theory of bounded rationality, forming insights that suggest ‘people are often not the best judges of what will serve their interests’ (Schwartz, 2014) but that institutions like the Government may be able to alter the structure of these choices to enable better choice making.

Nudging, shoving and smacking are new terms that have been coined over recent years by behavioural economists to describe methodologies that alter the way consumers react to stimuli. The Nuffield Council’s Bioethics Ladder of Intervention suggests that guiding a consumer to make certain choices begins with option reduction. The first level of restriction is nudging. If you provide the calorie count on a restaurant menu, this will encourage people to become more aware of their calorie consumption and therefore promote healthier living. The second level of restriction is shoving; this uses disincentives to make a choice less attractive. For example taxation on cigarettes could, in theory reduce their desirability, lowering the amount of people smoking. The third level of restriction is smacking; choice elimination leads to a definite result. Banning alcohol consumption in public places forcibly stops an action with fear of prosecution being the driver. Nudging pioneers like Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have developed a concept of libertarian paternalism. The words appear conflicting; libertarian is defined as a freedom of will and paternalism as an authoritative restriction of freedom. However, as explained thoroughly in Nudge and Why Nudge? Sunstein and Thalers aim is to promote the use of cognitive psychology and behavioural science to “improve peoples’ welfare by influencing their choices” (Sunstein, 2014). But will this be used as a positive ethical tool or a means of which to control and coerce consumers ‘freedom of choice’?

In a commercial context companies can take advantage of this information overload by developing socially considered solutions. Identified as choice architects, they harness and analyse the cognitive and behavioural nuances that cause the inability to decide. In doing so they can produce; systems, environments, brands and products that are seemingly more desirable. In England, within the Cabinet Office there is a specialist group named the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which aim to adapt public services to encourage “people to make better choices for themselves” (, 2016). As a government run initiative they have taken the theory of ‘soft paternalism’ to try and improve sectors like healthcare and finances to promote better decision making.

The BIT has completed numerous trials and studies using behavioural economics to underpin the methodology used. Two examples of these look at the healthcare sector, one highlighting a patient driven project and the other showing a health provider driven project. The first project undertook two randomised controlled trials to reduce the amount of patients that miss hospital appointments.  A series of SMS reminders were developed to encourage patients to attend. Three approaches were selected; Easy Call, Social Norms and Specific Costs. Easy Call outlined the simplicity of cancelling an appointment; Social Norms used a statistic to suggest that the ‘dominant social norm was to attend’ (Hallsworth et al., 2015) and Specific Costs directly advertised the cost incurred by the NHS for not attending an appointment. Each of these methods aimed to persuade the patient to attend an appointment for both their own benefit and for the benefit of the NHS. These trials saw a statistical increase in attendees. Would you consider this a guilt initiative or supportive reminder? In contrast an unrelated randomised trial was conducted with the intention to combat unnecessary prescription of antibiotics by general practitioners. GP practices that were in the top 20% prescribing rates were randomly assigned a letter. The letter stated that the targeted practice was prescribing at a higher rate than 80% of the local practices. This letter caused a reduction in the amount of antibiotics prescribed within the target practice. This Social Norm tactic worked both in a patient driven project and in the provider driven project. So does it matter whether it is a guilt initiative as long as the intentions are ethically grounded?

Behavioural intervention is a relatively new area of study that is up and coming, which has established itself worldwide with Nudging Networks in Denmark, Sweden, Europe and Australia. Nudging theory has been criticised as a manipulation of the public. Criticised for being a way of “covert coercion” (Local Government Association, 2013), using behavioural change to convince subjects to make altered decisions. With the combination of these statements intertwined with governmental power. There is an understandable question; why should we trust a government’s decision making ability rather than our own. After all, we are continually told to learn from our mistakes, not to be afraid of making them in the first place. It feels uncomfortable to be told that there are people that are analysing behaviours which are then used to guide, push, encourage and change consumer choices. So, is it manipulation or is it preventing choice disappointment?

Written by Francesca Oldfield  (LinkedIn/Email)

[1] Hallsworth, M., Berry, D., Sanders, M., Sallis, A., King, D., Vlaev, I. and Darzi, A. (2015). Correction: Stating Appointment Costs in SMS Reminders Reduces Missed Hospital Appointments: Findings from Two Randomised Controlled Trials. PLOS ONE, 10(10), p.e0141461.

[2] Local Government Association, (2013). Changing behaviours in public health. To nudge or to shove?. London: Local Government Association, p.6.

[3] Schwartz, B. (2005). The paradox of choice. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[4] Schwartz, B. (2014). Why Not Nudge? A Review of Cass Sunstein’s Why Nudge – The Psych Report. [online] The Psych Report. Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[5] Sunstein, C. (2014). Why nudge?. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, p.58.

[6] (2016). Who we are – The Behavioural Insights Team. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2016].

[7] Wickens, C., Lee, J., Liu, Y. and Gordon Becker, S. (2004). An Introduction to Human Factors Engineering. 2nd ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, p.187.

Does the Education System Make Us Grow Out of Creativity?

“At a time when it is so important for us to lead as an ‘Ideas’ nation and with the Creative Industries sector seeing unparalleled growth, it is vital that we safeguard our current position and continue to invest in our future.”

—John Mathers, CEO, Design Council.
Currently the creative sector is booming across the world, it is the second largest and fastest growing sector of the global economy. From photography to textile design to graphic communication and 3D design, these qualifications open doors to a range of careers which employ 166,000 people every year (1). In a survey of over 1,500 chief executives representing 60 countries and 33 industries, they repeatedly highlighted creativity as a deciding factor for business success (2). “CEO’s identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future,” said Frank Kern, senior vice-president of IBM Global Business Services, when announcing the findings (1).
So surely if this is the case, then Arts and Design are at the heart of the curriculum, yes? Wrong.

A recent study has revealed that ‘creativity, culture and the arts’ are being systematically removed from the education system, with dramatic falls in the number of pupils taking GCSE’s in design, drama and other craft-related subjects(3). These creative subjects are mostly seen as nice to have but not essential, especially when compared to “hard” subjects such as the sciences. Everywhere in the world, in every system, there is a hierarchy of subjects. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. The ‘arts’ was removed from the curriculum in primary education between 1998-2000 where the Education Reform Act decided that more focus should be on English and Mathematics, however this suspension was removed.

A report conducted by Ofsted in 2012 outlined that only 2 out of 5 primary schools are developing creativity through confident drawing (4). That children get off to a ‘confident start’ in terms of creativity, yet they ‘slow down’ during primary school and are no better than satisfactory entering secondary school. Ofsted Director of Education, Jean Humphrys, said “Children’s ability to appreciate and interpret what they observe, communicate what they think and feel, or make what they imagine and invent, is influenced by the quality of their art, craft and design education.” (4). Even though this education is developing, there is certainly a lot more room for improvement.
Yet in the 21st century, the world is demanding more and more graduates who can think creatively and critically. As technology develops, we will have robots to do all the basic work for us. Therefore it should be the education system’s mission to ensure that the next generation will be full of creators who will, in turn, take humanity to the next level (5).

Since 2015, the UK Department for Education has realised the importance of the ’arts’ subjects to the UK economy. They rightly believe, “arts education should be every bit as rigorous as the rest of the school curriculum”. For the next academic year they are providing £109m to support music, art and cultural education projects – an increase of £17m from last year – allowing thousands more pupils to benefit from a wide range of enriching activities (3).
However I believe investing more money into ‘the arts’ is not the only solution to try and solve the problem of stifling creativity. The education system as a whole has “planted in our students minds a picture of a perfectly, carefully drawn life” (4). Children these days are frightened of being wrong. They are more focussed on what gets the marks, stays within the guidelines, than pushing themselves to learn more and progress into the unknown.
In his TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson said that instead of growing into creativity in school, we grow out of it. During the education process, students are taught that making as mistake is bad. As Sir Ken Robinsons described it “What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong” (3). We now run large multinational companies worldwide where making a mistakes is a sin. The result of this is, that we are programming people out of their creative capacities.

Picasso once said, that all children are born artists. That the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately. Ken Robinson put it perfectly, “that we don’t grow into creativity, we in fact grow out of it, or rather, we get educated out of it” (6). I strongly feel that our curriculum in schools are defeating creativity. Students have lost their capacity of creation simply because our teaching methods don’t stimulate innovation and creativity as much as they could do.
Remember being young and wanting to scribble with pens all the time? No one told us how to use our imagination or taught us how to be creative. Being naturally creative and intrigued, we asked questions like “Why is the grass green?” and “Why is the sky blue?”

Then during the education system we learned to stop questioning the world, and that there’s normally only one right answer to each question. The “whys” we have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum. Therefore I do believe the education over the last 15 years has stifled potential creativity. Opinion is what sets us apart from robots. We as humans have the chance to believe in and imagine whatever we want, that is an attribute we should never forget and certainly not squander.
Even though education may have kicked out creativity from individuals, everyone is creative deep down in one form or another, and it is important people let their creative juices flow. This has been witnessed by the booming sales of adult colouring books last year. Adults are seeing being creative as a release from their daily regimented lifestyles. Adult colouring book sales have been voted as one of the surprises of 2015. But is it really that surprising that everyone as people, has a desire to be creative? It shouldn’t be.

Creativity is not a new attribute to learn, it comes naturally. Creativity is seeing things in new ways, breaking obstacles that stand in our way. Creativity is the art of hearing a tune that has never been played or imagining a work of art on a blank canvas. Creativity is being realised as a key attribute for contributing to success. Not only in business but individually in people. And as an ‘Ideas’ nation, the education system should be doing its upmost to keep it that way.


By Jon Cooper (LinkedIn)


Carrington, N. (2014). As the Creative Economy Thrives, Art and Design Disappears From Schools. Available: Last accessed 16th Jan 2016.
Gould, E. (2015). THINK AGAIN: CREATIVITY IS THE DRIVER FOR SUCCESS IN 2015. Available: Last accessed 20th Jan 2016.
Brown, M. (2015). Arts and culture being ‘systematically removed from UK education system’. Available: Last accessed Jan 16th 2015.
Ofsted. (2012). Too few pupils develop creativity through confident drawing. Available: Last accessed 23rd Jan 2016.
Dalile, L. (2012). How Schools Are Killing Creativity. Available: Last accessed 18th Jan 2015.
Robinson, K. (2006). Do schools kill creativity? Available: Last accessed 19th Jan 2016.

Further reading:
Robinson, K. (2007). Do Schools Kill Creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson | TED Talks. Available: Last accessed 16th Jan 2016.
Warwick Commission on the future of Cultural Value. (2015) Commission says arts & creativity is being squeezed out of schools particularly for low income families. Available: Last accessed 26rd Jan 2016.

How has the Internet Developed our Language? And is it Aiding or Hindering our Communication?

Our language is forever adapting to the advances in our society, particularly through the use of the internet. New slang is being created and our vocabulary is forever expanding to match with the fast paced developments. Now with the younger generations growing up alongside the internet, it’s easier than ever to keep up to speed with how things are changing. With the mediums of communication in the 21st century having changed to emails, texting and instant messaging then who’s to say our language shouldn’t develop alongside. With the introduction of IM came the use of emojis and from there came GIFs and now the internet culture of memes; all being used instead of words. Not only are these changes being seen online, they are transcending into our spoken language as well, but is this a bad thing?

As with any community, the internet has created its own language and slang which is slowly creeping into our everyday conversation. Though phrases such as ‘LOL’ and ‘OMG’, which were thought to have come around due to this, have in fact been around long before text messaging was invented. Except with ‘LOL’ meaning ‘Little Old Lady’ back in the 1960’s and not ‘Laugh Out Loud’ until 1989 (OED Online, 2011a,b). These Textspeak abbreviations, as coined by Professor David Crystal, actually only account for around 10% of the content of messages which is contrary to popular belief that text messaging is full of abbreviations (Crystal, 2008). However they are slowly being adapted as part of our spoken language, initially used ironically and out of annoyance and now being used as acceptable everyday words and phrases.

In 2002 Crystal counted such words and built a dictionary of Textspeak which amounted to around 500 abbreviations (Crystal, 2003). In 2004 he extended this to include terms not limited to abbreviations and came to a collection of nearly 1,500 (Kobie, 2015), if this was to be done again assessing the language we use today he predicts it would be around the 5,000 mark. Wordplay forms a huge part of the generation of new internet slang, with the introduction of social media platforms such as Twitter came new vocabulary such as ‘twitterverse’, ‘twittersphere’ and ‘twitterer’. While these terms may sound idiotic and strange to those who aren’t keen Twitter users, they wouldn’t exist at all had Twitter never been created.

As well as affecting our vocabulary, the internet has had an influence on our grammar, although perhaps not quite to the same extent. Changes in the way we speak as well as what we actually say largely have the internet to thank, a recent prominent grammar adoption has been the use of ‘because’ as a preposition. According to Crystal however this use has been observed before and is much like a fashion or meme as opposed to a definitive change (Kobie, 2015). Linguistic blogger Stan Carey explains that the use of because as a preposition is “fashionably slangy at the moment” and while it may be irritating to some and confusing to others, there’s nothing linguistically wrong about it. “Because has become a preposition, because grammar” (Carey, 2013).

Then came emojis, now an international language, with each of the 1,620 icons available being instantly recognisable across the globe. The Oxford English Dictionary even named the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as the word of the year in 2015, much to the annoyance of the general public, but does it actually count as a word? We are in a world now where celebrities are creating their own emojis, take the Kimoji app for example; for just £1.49 on the iPhone App Store you can access around 500 Kim Kardashian themed emojis to send in messages and on social media. Emojis are insanely popular and so it’s understandable why Kim Kardashian would want to capitalise on that. 72% of the younger generation find it easier to express their feelings with emojis rather than words and over half say that using them has improved their ability to interact (Bangor University, 2015), though it’s a bit hard to see how the slightly NSFW naked butt selfie Kimoji would help the younger generation to express their feelings.

Numerous marketing campaigns have exploited the use of emojis to target younger buyers who are notorious for being difficult to market towards. Among those that worked well were McDonald’s emoji billboards promoting their ‘Good Times’ campaign, and Domino’s ‘tweet to order’ twitter campaign whereby you tweeted the pizza emoji, after having registered an ‘Easy Order’ account, resulting in a pizza delivery. With any marketing campaign however there’s always room for failure, and regarding emoji campaigns a prime example is Chevrolet. As part of their #ChevyGoesEmoji campaign they published an entire press release written in emojis. Sounds like a great idea however when it came down to it, it got a bit lost in translation: “? :” ? ? ? ? ” (Chevrolet, 2015a) apparently equates to “Design: Athletic build, stylish and good looking” (Chevrolet, 2015b). Is it possible they took it too far?

Our modern language has changed a fair amount purely down to the internet, and why shouldn’t it have had an influence? Internet trends come and go which can be said for a lot of the vocabulary changes we are seeing, however it looks like emojis are here to stay. Like mathematics, emojis have become a globally recognised language, and yes their misuse can be confusing, but for the most part they’ve enhanced our communication and our ability to express emotions online. The English language is so extensive and it’s forever been adapting to the way we are living so it only makes sense that the internet and surrounding technology has had an impact on our communication as well.


Written by Niamh Courtaux  (LinkedIn/Email)


Bangor University. (2015). Emoji ‘fastest growing new language – TalkTalk Report Summary. [Online] Available at: language-22835

Carey. S. (2013) ‘‘Because’ has become a preposition, because grammar’, Sentence first blog, November 13th. [Online] Available at: become-a-preposition-because-grammar/ (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Chevrolet. (2015a). Prepare to Fall in Love – Press Release. [Online] Available at: http:// (Accessed 20th February 2016)

Chevrolet. (2015b). Emoji Explained: You’re Going To Love The All-New 2016 Cruze! [Online] Available at: news/us/en/2015/jun/0622-cruze-emoji-decoder.html (Accessed 20th February 2016)

Crystal, D. (2003) ‘TXT NE1?’. New Statesman. Supplement on ‘Our Mobile Future’, 15 September 2003. p.16.

Crystal, D. (2008) ‘The joy of txt’. Spotlight. November 2008. p.17.
OED Online. (2011). LOL, int. and n.2. Available at: (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Metamorph. (2016). Web, Branding & Graphic Design Agency London | Metamorph. [online] Available at: (Accessed 22nd February. 2016).

OED Online. (2011). LOL, n.1. Available at: rskey=NfksF1&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid (Accessed 21st February 2016)

Kobie, N. (2015) ‘WOW! So language. Very technology. Much changing.’ alphr, August 29th. [Online] Available at: much-changing. (Accessed 5th January 2016)