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This month Chloe and I lost a good friend, and a long time supporter of our work at Modern Human. The world lost a true design agitator, someone who was genuinely working in the system from the inside to make the world a better place (not just claiming to be).

I don't have the words right now to describe how we all feel. Ofer was always more eloquent than me, so instead here is one of the last things I heard him say to a room full of designers:

"There's a finite number of projects in our life, please make sure you focus on the right things. Design stuff that matters. Don't just think: 'I need another gig to pay the mortgage'; there's more to life than a mortgage and a gig. There's a legacy that we all leave behind and we can do stuff that matters."
— Ofer Deshe, 1970–2020

Rather than mourn, rather than feeling sorry for our loss, we're going to honour Ofer's memory by continuing to do stuff that matters.



Perhaps one of the most important things we've been working on recently is an ethnographic study on the impact of the media, social media and technology on democracy in the UK, set against the backdrop of the 2019 general election. The results are nearly ready but we've prepared a reading list to brief you on the context.

Reporters Without Borders publishes the World Press Freedom Index annually. The United Kingdom is 33rd. In their commentary they say: "the UK remained one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index, largely due to a heavy-handed approach towards the press, often in the name of national security. The menacing Investigatory Powers Act remained on the books with insufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources. In September, the UK’s mass surveillance regime was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights…"

If you're not sure why a free press is important, this article from the Guardian written in the wake of the Leveson inquiry explains why journalistic freedom remains a fundamental right. It concludes: "Totalitarian governments can never allow a free press. Our own relative freedom has been fought for over 400 years, and there can never be a moment when freedom can be considered "won"… Remember how the freedoms won here became a model for much of the rest of the world. And be conscious how the world still watches us to see how we protect those freedoms."

This article discusses some of the issues we've witnessed first-hand through Ethnography. The reasons that people are upset about media bias are complicated and multivarious.

Even 'Tech Experts' think that technology is damaging democracy.

It's a sad fact that most people aren't sure how the British democracy works. For example, most are not aware of the work, the record, or the credentials of their local MP. The increasingly weakened local press doesn't help.

And in case you're wondering if all this doom and gloom is navel gazing by the Press itself: it isn't. NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) asks: What can we do to counter crumbling rates of democratic satisfaction?

Be clear. Brexit is a sideshow; a complete distraction from the real issues facing this country at the outset of the 21st Century. How might we protect our democracy against people, including inside our own government, that would manipulate us to undermine our freedom?


Our work with young people, codesigning mental wellbeing interventions, has been equally important and enlightening. We've been struck with how informed they have been about ways to protect their mental resilience. Here are some of the things that have caught our attention:

Some social media platforms are using algorithms to identify individuals suffering from depression. Research covered in the British Psychological Society shows that despite the potential for offering targeted support to those in need, people remain rightly cautious about the data that social media platforms hold about them.

This academic study published in Nature examines how people suffering from depression use humour online, specifically by sharing memes. There has been a lot of recent coverage about the damage that social media does to people's mental wellbeing, but it's clear it is both part of the problem, and part of the solution.

The National Institute of Mental Health in the US is examining the advantages and disadvantages of expanding mental health treatment and research into a mobile world.

And, Christian P Subbe of the University of Bangor suggests that AI could be used to unblock hospital beds, and describes a system that they developed in association with Philips Healthcare.

Studio notes

Despite a subdued mood in the studio, our work continues.

This month we've put the finishing touches to a new way to evaluate, measure and understand the customer experience. We've dubbed it CX Equity. It started as a project with a credit card provider to develop a better way to measure customer experience, and is based on qualitative, ethnographic insight coupled with quantitative metrics. It provides a simple and effective way of measuring and improving customer experiences to product teams. We're currently planning with the original client how we share this more widely.

We also presented our insights into how media and social media coverage influenced people's election behaviour to our client this month. We’ve already agreed that we can share some of the insights more widely, so we're working on how we reveal more of our findings about the significant factors that shaped the election, the role of social media, misinformation and fake news, and the implications for democracy.

We've started two new projects: BBC Sounds, and consulting with a Bank on their new product development process.

PJH gave a lecture to Service Design students at the Royal College of Art. In it he shared our non-linear, multimodal approach to design and how we use design ethnography as a springboard to unleash and inspire creativity. He also discussed codesign, cocreation and the changing role of the designer in the relationship between an organisation and its customers.

And finally, we welcomed Ellie to our team in February. Ellie was a registered nurse before becoming a design researcher. She described the relationship between nursing and design: "It was my job as a nurse to understand and be an advocate for my patients. It’s now my job as a design researcher to understand and be an advocate for the people we design for."

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