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Welcome to the second edition of Modernity, the monthly look inside our studio at Modern Human.

We shared an article on Twitter this week from Democracy Journal that argued that climate change is a moral issue, and that we need a mass social movement to protect the future of our planet. The article likens the fight against climate change to the abolition of slavery or the fight for women’s suffrage. Their call for a mass social movement echoed a conversation I had with friend and fellow designer Sarah Woodrow, who introduced me to the work of environmental and human rights activist Van Jones. We spoke for a long time about how art shapes culture and culture shapes politics. Sarah had so many interesting, insightful and provocative things to say, as usual, that I wish I had recorded that conversation to share with you. In lieu of that, Favianna Rodriguez’s reflections on how cultural undercurrents come together to make waves of political change is a good substitute.

We share Modernity every month so if this issue piques your interest, subscribe to avoid missing the next one. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Until next month, remember: systemic change doesn’t happen all at once. It starts with little acts of bravery. Other people witness them and are encouraged to carry out their own positive acts. Little actions initiate systemic changes. No-one’s interventions are pointless. Stay brave. Keep being disruptive. Believe in a better future. Together, we can start that movement, one tiny act of rebellion at a time.

— PJH.


Imagine kitchen appliances that make you a better cook

New technology means the devices in our homes and in our hands are becoming smarter. The profusion of small and cheap sensors combined with connectivity, distributed computing, artificial intelligence and new human-device interaction paradigms means that the ‘internet of things’ is finally starting to become a reality. Against this backdrop, a leading home appliance manufacturer invited Modern Human to work with their product design team on two new appliance ranges: the first, a high-end range of kitchen and laundry appliances (Projekt Queller); the second, an entry-level range for people moving into their first home (Projekt Linse).

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Greek mathematician, Archimedes said: “give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum to rest it on and I shall move the world.” There are some things that we design that have the power to have an oversized positive impact on modern life. With these design interventions our studio can move the world towards a more sustainable future. This month we’ve been working on one such Fulcrum project, Croft.

Croft is an intervention in the food supply chain that aims to change our relationship with food by addressing one of the biggest sources of food waste: bagged salad. Bagged salad is one of the most unsustainable foods we eat and is often not as healthy as it seems.

studio thoughts

The surprising thing is that salad is very easy to grow at home. It requires very little space and will grow quite happily inside on a window sill. Croft examines how we can get more people growing salad at home by making the ‘grow your own’ experience desirable to as broad a range of people as possible. It can’t just be those people who have a garden or are motivated enough to get an allotment. We have to design an intervention that brings home growing to everyone.

Croft is at an early stage. We have several prototypes and our initial pilot is underway. The plants are thriving and our pilot participants are enjoying the fruits of their labour in more ways than one. Croft is one little step towards a more sustainable home.


Artificial intelligence or machine learning is creeping into an increasing number of our projects. They range from the commonly discussed applications for AI to more surprising uses of machine learning.

At one end of the spectrum we conducted a deep exploration of the relationship between driver, passengers and vehicle, and designed the dashboard and control displays for one manufacturers range of autonomous vehicles. At the other end of the spectrum we combined deep undercover ethnography with machine learning to help a charity predict which of its supporters were most likely to donate to a fundraising campaign.

Studio notes

There’s a natural cadence to life in a design studio. In July we were busy finishing big projects, so inevitably August has given us a little time to stand back, examine how we practice our craft and to hone the way we work.

We spent the day with Jon Torrens, Communication Coach, perfecting how we bring our work to life for our clients. Successfully sharing ideas and telling compelling stories is central to our practice; we recognise it as a core skill within our team, so it’s important we get safe space to exercise our skills away from client projects. A day with Jon gave us all an opportunity to flex our skills and try new approaches.

The day couldn’t have been better timed in many ways, as this month we were invited to pitch for two new client rosters. We won both. We’ve also been asked for a record number of proposals from new clients. All those proposals and pitches will hopefully mean really interesting work in September including more workplace design, more work in financial services, and some really interesting projects looking at people’s media consumption behaviour.

In between creating proposals and pitches we’ve been working on two initiatives, one of which we’ve already mentioned. Our Fulcrum Project Croft turned our studio green and leafy as we conducted design research, ideated and created the prototypes for our pilots. In amongst all the plants we’ve also been busy crafting a Modernity Report on The Modern Workplace.

Finally, we welcomed new Mod, Ashley, onboard. She’s from a city we know well. Originally a native of Glasgow, she joins us after a stint in Chengdu, China. Ash is already a multi award-winning young designer so we’re looking forward to working with her on new projects.

We hope you’re enjoying Modernity. Please share it with your friends and colleagues and make sure you sign up to avoid missing the next one. Remember to connect with us too. You can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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