2018 Distilled Creative: What we’ve learned and changing trends

Each year we write a round-up of some of the most exciting projects we’ve worked on over the past 12 months. We’ve continued to create a wide variety of content; never restricted by format. This year’s roundup includes photo stories, maps, mind maps, calendars, a long format article, picture quizzes and a one-button game.

Our successes have been through both press mentions and social engagement. One of our favourites was Advisa’s Brexit Bus which had over 1600 Twitter mentions - one being from JK Rowling herself.

It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Sun was clearly inspired by our 25 Years of Top Flight Footy Moments (8,400 retweets). And of course, when we find a format that works, we’ve got no qualms with copying ourselves.

Image Stories

Balsam Hill - What Does the World Eat at Christmas?

Balsam Hill is one of the biggest suppliers of artificial Christmas trees in the US, and they’re certainly at the more luxury end of the niche. Christmas content makes perfect sense for them.

With this piece, we also wanted to open people’s eyes to cultural differences worldwide. We contacted over 80 freelance photographers around the world, all with different tastes, styles, religions and traditions, and asked them to photograph their Christmas dinner. It was a year in the making: we had to gather the content one Christmas to be able to launch it the next.  

The photographers took a photo of their Christmas dinner and place setting in a flat-lay style to ensure consistency. We also asked for a photo of the family sitting at the table, with the spread of food in front of them.

In the finished piece, an interactive map allows you to choose a specific country to view, or you can scroll down the article and browse. As well as photography, we included details about recipes, the symbolism of the dish and the traditions that the family enjoy together.

We received covereage from some top tier publications for this, including, The Telegraph, Business Insider and The Mail Online. 

Taking one topic and gathering a snapshot of what that means across the world had worked for us before with The View From Here which we created for a window coverings client.

Image Stories - Key takeaways

Produce timely content - Does your series hook into an event or certain time of year? 

Commission more people than you need - We hired 80 photographers, which enabled us to cherry pick the most interesting stories and photography for the final 25 (days of Christmas - see what we did there) used within the piece.

Ask freelancers for more than you need - We could have easily just asked for a photo of the dinner alone, but the family portrait added a human element to the story.

Be clear on your tie-in - Journalists will be reluctant to cover stories that are too tangential in their link to a brand.

Create highly visual assets - These give the journalist elements that are easy to write an article around - you help their article look good.


Crimson Hexagon - Bites of the Big Apple

Crimson Hexagon create tools to analyse social metrics. We used their customer insights platform to identify the most popular foods and drinks in NYC on Instagram according to hashtags.

This innovative design was created by our other designer Vicke. We did user testing on seemingly small details, such as the clock: to see whether a 24-hour or 12-hour clock was more easily understood. We ended up opting for the latter, choosing colour hues to reflect sunset, sunrise and other phases of the day.

Fortunately, the data was able to be clearly visualised thanks to the plethora of emojis out there. The final effect, with animated emojis, a rainbow of hues, and the turning clock, far surpassed the minimal build time that was required.

Maps - Key takeaways

Use open source data - Use free data sources and visualise the findings in a way that is not currently available.

Be innovative with your design decisions - The clock face movement made this piece feel original in its excecution. 

User test to inform decisions - If ever a debate starts about different ways of doing things, if possible I’ll throw a design out to user testing to settle arguments.

Picture quizzes

Bad Rhino - 25 Years of Top Flight Footy Moments

Bad Rhino is a clothing brand for plus sized men. For this brand it makes sense to comment on sport. For the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we created a picture quiz to see if people could recognise the players in the top 25 footy moments. This ended up trending on Twitter (8,400 retweets), and getting ripped off by the Sun. We used the Bad Rhino logo on the background advertising boards within the image, which was viewed 1000’s of times, improving brand sentiment.  

Having to guess 25 moments makes it just hard enough and annoying enough to complete that it drums up conversation around the harder moments depicted.

Cost effective - Picture quizzes don’t include much data, perhaps just relatively light research. Build is simple, the majority of the production costs go towards hiring an illustrator.

Work with a well known illustrator - We worked with Bill McConkey whose style is recognisable and works well for fine detail.

Make the interface simple - This quiz was specifically aimed at mass market sporting publications. Making the design as simple and bold as possible limits the barrier to playing.

Mind Maps

Just Eat - Curry Explorer

Just Eat are a take away app. To tie in with National Curry Week we fully nerded out on curry. We worked with a curry publication Curry Life to create a gigantic mind map which linked 30 curries together. The interactive helped the user to explore dishes by how hot, sweet, rich, dry, creamy, nutty or tangy they are.

We worked with a food stylist and the Just Eat team to style and photograph the curries. With food photography you need to put much less food on a smaller plate, so the individual items, e.g. a slice of lemon or a chunk of tomato are more easily visible, who knew!

Mind Maps - Takeaways

Nerd out on things - If you can create something that is a comprehensive study on something it has the ability to become a reference material or evergreen piece of content.

Tie in with a national event - Curry week gave us a hook in terms of timeliness for this piece.

Collaborate with your client - Working with the Just Eat photography studio enabled us to create content that was on brand and of a high production value.


Traveloka - Cheapest Michelin Meals

Back in 2013, we created a UK map showing the cheapest Michelin Star lunches in the UK. It was very successful at the time, so we decided to give the concept an international spin for our travel client, Traveloka.

To do this, we used the Michelin website to find the cheapest one and two star restaurants in each country covered by the Michelin guide. We kept the execution simple. A sortable table lists where you can find an à la carte or set menu lunch/dinner for as low as $2.20 in places like Singapore.

As restaurant prices and Michelin listings will inevitably change, this is the sort of piece we can update with new data - potentially gathering more coverage - each year. We only just started outreaching this piece and we already have coverage from, USA Today, Lonely Planet, Esquire, The Telegraph, MSN, Yahoo, The Standard, The Daily Mail and Harpers Bazaar, to name a few. 

Bloomingdales - The Best Day for your Big Day

Bloomingdales owns 54 department stores in the US and wanted to drive links to their wedding registry department. There are a lot of nerves surrounding weddings, ‘What will I wear?, ‘What venue should I hire?’, and most importantly the question on everyone's lips, ‘Will it rain?’

Using open source data we were able to predict by looking at historical weather data which day was the optimal temperature to have a wedding. We focused this on the 1,000 most populous cities in the US. The tool starts with a simple text field, prompting you to input your city. Once you submit you are given a singular date that according to weather records is the optimum date to have your wedding. Hover states give more info detailing humidity, precipitation, temperature and clear skies.

If people were specifically looking for a wedding in an alternative season, e.g. Winter or Autumn these dates were also given lower down the page.

Tool - Takeaways

Make it evergreen - Once a tool like this has been made there is no reason why it can’t be updated as new data comes out, making it ever current.

Play to people's paranoia - This sounds cold but, if you can pique someone's interest by putting concern in their mind and then reassure them, the overriding brand sentiment will be that you were helpful.

Give one key take away - Overwhelming people with information usually means they remember nothing. We boiled this tool down to just one date, with the option to explore more.

Long Format

Simple - Side Hustle

Simple are the perfect bank for millenials, no physical stores, and tools to help you budget and save. During our ideation we stumbled across the concept of side hustles. Everyone seems to have one, especially millennials. But we wanted to drill a little deeper into the motivation behind extra work outside of the usual 9 - 5.

Google search results for ‘side hustle’ proved that interest in the topic was increasing, so we conducted a survey around the topic. The survey had both closed and open ended questions to gather both quantitative and qualitative data.

Both the type of side hustle (selling shark teeth, donating sperm and breeding fish) were strange, as well as a more unexpected reason for having one. Yes, it was for money, but also overwhelmingly to improve people's mental wellbeing.

The page is broken up with photography, quotes, graphs, icons and animations. The key here was pulling out the most interesting findings, and turning what could have been a boring report into something easily digestible, and visually engaging.

YOOX - The Feel Good Factor

When you make your first foray into designer fashion, you often remember the item you bought for years afterwards. It’s that personal feeling we wanted to explore for YOOX, an online fashion store.

To do this, we combined video, photography and editorial to create a long format style article. The personal stories and photography were key, so we picked a selection of dedicated fashionistas to interview about their first designer purchase.

Focusing on how the sustainable jackets, belts, and garish tracksuit bottoms made people feel gave an insight into the owners’ characters, and their lives. The feeling is certainly about the luxury of wanting not needing.

Long Format - Takeaways

Delight with animation - Visual quirks, movement, something that surprises or delights, makes content lift from the page, bringing it to life.  

Grab attention from the start - In a similar vein, a looping intro video can really help to hold attention on the page and entice people to start scrolling.

Cherry pick results - When collating information, we never put everything that we find into the piece, you must be selective with what you choose to publish, the hierarchy and how it will shape your story.

High production value matters - Invest in a good camera, producer and editor to make sure your content is polished to a high enough standard

One Button Games

Advisa - Brexit Bus

And last but not least this one button game for Advisa. Matt Round is our resident one button game expert. Advisa are a financial company so as a client it made sense for them to comment on the current state of the pound post Brexit. Some people on twitter even commented that this game was the best thing to come out of Brexit!

We received top teir coverage from, The Poke, IB Times and a person life goal of mine was achieved, when it featured on It's nice that! Social was where this one really did us proud, with 13,400 Facebook shares, and 1600 mentions on Twitter.  

Big news says around for awhile - Even though Brexit had been a hot topic for a while, news this big has legs for a while. I think that in the doom and gloom of the UK’s bleak outlook this game managed to add a little joviality and light relief to a serious situation.

One button games - Takeaways

Tie into people's passions - Finance is not a light hearted topic, often we are trying to create something that can entertain something quickly on one's lunch break. Small games can do just that.

Use big news as a hook - Brexit will affect everyone the strength of the pound plummeting is shocking to see.

The details make the difference - One of my favourite visual aspects of this piece is the sound design and the bus which crumples as it crashes. These elements delight.

What have you learnt from your content recently?

As well as successes we have also had failures, we are always reassessing what it takes to make something sticky, and how to spot a good idea amongst other weaker ones. We would love to hear what is working for you, and how you go about validating your ideas.

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