What does the world need from us?
How we’re using the power of design to inspire change.
Dramatic changes in the global landscape have led us to reflect upon our approach to human-centred storytelling — the common thread that binds together Human After All’s multidisciplinary output. Over 12 years of working as a team, we’ve progressed from designing for ourselves to considering how design — as part of a confluence of disciplines — can help improve the state of the world.
From the moment we knew what graphic design was, there were agencies that captured our imagination with iconic, zeitgeist-defining visuals. These were the inspirations that drove our first great ambition: to help define an iconic moment in graphic design. And in the end, things did kind of start out that way. In 2005 we launched a movie magazine called Little White Lies, filling its pages with bold illustration, photography and typography. For eight years the magazine was both workhorse and show pony: it won awards, attracted corporate clients and made our name, and we were grateful for every minute of it.
But from the moment we could build a website and communicate with our growing audience via social channels, there was a sharp shift in our aspirations. Our journey happily coincided with the explosion of social media, mobile technology and connectivity, and as we developed LWLies we entered into a new kind of dialogue with our readers — one spanning print, digital, social and experiential channels. By the time data and mobile apps entered the mix, we were in our readers’ pockets — geo–locating them and providing local film times alongside our trusted reviews. Working gradually, and without even being able to articulate or fully understand what it was, we crystallised a mission: to help people love film more. And we could only achieve this by placing our readers, rather than ourselves, at the heart of the story.
"Our work on LWLies ultimately taught us that no matter where technology leads, engagement remains a personal, human experience — a learning that informed a growing number of collaborations with brands that shared our mission, putting the reader at the heart of their story."
It was always the community around LWLies that excited us the most. We ran a number of film clubs, and by the time we’d been able to take them nationwide, thousands of people on our mailing list were applying for tickets to our events. Knowing that many of our audience were illustrators and designers, we ran competitions to design alternate issue covers; every time we did this, our inbox swelled with hundreds of stunning entries. We had truly mobilised a community, stoking their passions in a way that called them swiftly to action.
We were beginning to understand the ways in which publishing can be an instrument in the world. Where a magazine coexists with a website, social channels, events and an app, when all these things come together harmoniously under the banner of a brand with a mission, that is something special. Little White Lies did this for film, but loving film more can only add so much value in the world. Sure, going to the cinema is an important part of any culturally varied diet, but something was tugging harder at our hearts. We wanted to tackle more meaningful challenges.
Our work on LWLies ultimately taught us that no matter where technology leads, engagement remains a personal, human experience — a learning that informed a growing number of collaborations with brands that shared our mission, putting the reader at the heart of their story. With each passing year, we became increasingly aware of the extent to which any problem can be aided by storytelling and design. And with each passing year, more organisations approached us to work with them as a client servicing agency.
Some of our most impactful projects — for Google, The World Economic Forum, Facebook and more — have married our knowledge of time-poor audiences with their need to bring personality, context and coherence to complex topics. These audience groups were quite distinct from the ones we’d targeted previously. By working to understand the c-suite, policymakers, and other such groups, we saw how the skills we had learned on our film magazine could be taken to whole new levels.
In time, this understanding prompted us to completely change both our mission and our way of working. Eight years in, we stepped aside from our film project to do something new — but once again, we began with a publishing platform. Inspired by our own struggle to grasp the complexity of the world around us, we launched Weapons of Reason as a platform to explore the biggest and most important challenges of our generation. Weapons of Reason would communicate complex issues clearly and simply, making these topics accessible to new audiences and providing nudges to action.
Through WoR, our publishing skill set has evolved into what might be better described as a storytelling skill set. We take information about the state of the world, process it, and relate it in a way that will make an emotional connection with people. We do this by taking a human-centred approach, understanding our audience groups and how we might best speak to them — with the right content, through the right channel, at the right time.
"At a time when lobbyists control the political narrative and fact gives way to post-truth, we as communicators have found ourselves in the crucial position of taking that which is intangible, and making it understandable to everyone."
A predetermined eight-issue exercise in print, we began WoR armed with the knowledge of our future topics — conflict, economics, environment, health, population, society, sustenance and technology — but leaving ourselves free to respond to real-time changes in the world. Those changes have not been ones we could have predicted; our lives are now besieged by stories with an impact that is undeniable, but seldom positive. At a time when lobbyists control the political narrative and fact gives way to post-truth, we as communicators have found ourselves in the crucial position of taking that which is intangible, and making it understandable to everyone.
In the current climate, we feel it is essential to reflect upon the way we communicate, to stand up to the narratives that deceive, and put the reader (and the humanity) back into the heart of our stories. The minimalist approach of WoR is a response to the overwhelming complexity of today’s unknowingly entwined systems. When looking at the kind of work we should undertake as an agency, we often ask ourselves, “What does the world need from us?” The answer to that question is pretty clear just now, as the inherent challenges in clarifying the complex are exactly where we thrive.
Today, storytelling is the thread that binds together Human After All’s multidisciplinary output: campaigns built on editorial and visual storytelling devices; branding narratives that evoke the story of who and why a company is; and digital products that deliver immersive experiences, built around an organisation’s content and mission.
"These are the challenges that pull us from our beds each morning, and our reason for building a meaningful organisation when so much around us is in doubt."
Our work on WoR has attracted the attention of new clients in the non-profit space, including Greenpeace, ALNAP and International Alert. In 2017 we’ll be collaborating with NGO Girl Effect on spreading their message to new communities; partnering with Volans and the UN Global Compact to demonstrate the impact of radical new business models; and working with Skoll Centre for Social Impact Entertainment to explore show just how powerful storytelling can be. These are the challenges that pull us from our beds each morning, and our reason for building a meaningful organisation when so much around us is in doubt.
In the years ahead we will use our expertise to inspire change. We know that design can’t do this alone, but working alongside a wide range of collaborating disciplines we will apply our experience to projects of real influence — creating products that communicate bigger, bolder and more complex ideas to even broader audiences. Like so many things that have happened to us, we didn’t plan it this way, but are grateful and ready to seize every new opportunity to do something important with our lives, and through the power of design.