Londoners on London: How Insight Sparks Important Conversations

Behavioural economics Technology UK

According to Londoners, there is no other place in the world quite like London. It’s a vibrant, fun, diverse and stimulating place to live and work. Londoners don’t just recognise its diversity; they value it, celebrate it and believe in it. It’s how they identify with the city. The insight is that it’s the people, not the place, buildings or history that makes London, well, London.


Let’s say you discovered this throughout the course of a research project. How would you communicate that insight in a debrief? How do we bring to life the essence of what that insight truly is? And, perhaps more challenging – make it memorable. PowerPoint? Quotes? Dashboards?

All of these options are fair game, I admit. Although this is a qualitative insight. It describes an emotion, a set of feelings and a way ‘of being’. And it was teased out through qualitative discussion. Dashboards dehumanise it, losing some of the meaning along the way. Quotes will suffice, to an extent. In fact, they are the most common way of communicating qualitative findings.

But can we do better? Our team have been looking for an approach that is not just viewed, but digested, queried and internalised. A tall order, to say the least. We have had success though – specifically with artworks, created to capture the essence of qualitative insight, and paired with expert explanations that guide consumption.

The result, is something that captures attention, drawing viewers in to query and think about the meaning behind the frame. And as they do, our audiences engage and interact with the insight itself. Not the research process or the data or the findings, but with the actual insight and meaning found within the work.

Let me share how this approach breathed life into our qualitative findings about London.

The city, in this piece, is depicted as a mythical, fantastical bird. The vibrant colours and inspiration behind this subject’s form are a direct reflection of the vivacious life found in the metropolis, while the distinctive patterns highlight the melting pot of cultures that can be found within its streets.

As an animal, birds represent the feeling of ultimate freedom – the joy of flight a metaphor for the unbridled enthusiasm that Londoner’s chase opportunity with. But these opportunities are only there for those with the capacity to reach them – requiring both financial and emotional effort to sustain.

The background is an equally important aspect of the composition, contrasting sharply with the core subject. The grey texture blends together Renaissance styles with modern abstraction. The strange new skyline hints at how the history and heritage of the city is proudly remembered, but still capable of clashing with modern life in a way that can cause very real frictions.

So, what does it all mean? I’d hazard a guess that few researchers would first turn to a mythical bird as a representation of London. Nor would we expect to see insight portrayed in such an abstract fashion, with such little help to navigate. There are no quotes to help audiences find their way around. Just notes, and a visual abstraction.

However, this is precisely the value of the medium. The visuals demand cognitive effort, audience interaction and internal debate. What the image portrays is vibrancy, colour, freedom and a richness of life, with hidden tensions lying in wait. It evokes feelings and emotions too. Joy and hope in particular. It is these observations and emotive reactions that communicate the insight I opened this piece with: the essence of London is its people, their cultural richness and the diversity of opportunities available to them.

When we talk about the difference between research and insight, this is what I believe accurately captures that difference. Quotes are just findings, but insight is what they mean. Art is capable of communicating meaning on a deeper level that’s more human. Or as some may call it, art is a Gestaldt medium of presenting data, where the sum of the parts is more than the parts themselves.

Let me share two quotes from the research:

“I've never lived anywhere with such a diverse range of things [to do], people and fun to be had.”

"It is range and diversity of places and people that makes it a global city in the truest sense. The arts, the sciences, knowledge are all within grasp at the highest standard."

In themselves, these are great quotes. I would happily put them in a summary slide. They do their job, portray the findings and lead me towards the insight, although I would contest that the artwork has created something more memorable, engaging and meaningful with the stakeholders I share it with. It also affords me the opportunity to carry a tangible output with me, that can be distributed and physically held. In our experiments to date, these creative mediums are discussed and debated long after a debrief, which creates an elusive outcome for researchers; activation.

So, what have we learnt from these experiments? We’ve learnt that a picture really is worth a thousand words (maybe more). We’ve re-connected with our qualitative side, stimulating interest across companies and teams. We’ve seen works of art create discussion, even when they are about topics or brands that are not part of our own daily lives. We’ve discovered the value of creativity beyond technology and automation. And found a great new way to communicate with and engage audiences around complex, qualitative insights.

By Paul Hudson, FlexMR CEO