Back Chat #2

Emily Jeffrey-Barrett

May 29, 2018

Emily Jeffrey-Barrett is an award-wining Creative Lead at creative consultancy Radley Yeldar. She specialises in making dry, complex topics genuinely engaging – and has created brand, campaign and sustainability work for a wide range of clients including VisitBritain, The Mayor’s Office, TEDxLondon, Fairtrade, IKEA and Recycle Now.

29/05/2018, 10:46 - BTF:

Hello Emily! Let’s get this Back Chat going. To kick us off… Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, on the side, and for fun?

29/05/2018, 12:42 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

For a living: I’m Creative Lead at an independent agency. We’re based in Shoreditch (obviously) and I work on a lot of issue-based campaigns. Right this second I’m working on how we can use behaviour change psychology to get more people recycling. In about 12 minutes I’ll be working on how we can get more people to protect the data on their phones.

On the side: I used to write quite a bit of poetry. Now I come up with loads of ideas that I’m definitely, definitely going to do then get distracted by actual job. Current ideas include:

– A children’s book about a character called Oojamaflip and his dog Wotsit who live in a town called Nowhere. They only speak nonsense language. The book charts their journey to ‘Somewhere’ and the things they discover – and name – along the way.

– A campaign to modernise our favourite books with inserts featuring alternative passages – so you don’t have to read to your daughter about how Wendy stayed and had fun doing the washing while Peter, her brothers and the Lost Boys went adventuring – you can tell a more positive, progressive story (if you want to).

– ‘Post(break-up)cards’ – a series of postcards featuring things you want to say but don’t know how to after a traumatic break-up. See also ‘Post(death)cards’, ‘Post(car crash)cards’, ‘Post(lost dog)cards’ etc. etc.

– A campaign for dancing at gigs. Get venues and artists involved and create ‘Dancing Areas’ within ‘Standing Areas’. Because there’s nothing (NOTHING 😖) that infuriates me more than people who stand still at the front of gigs.

For fun: I go to gigs and get furious at people not dancing. I also watch a horrifying amount of TV. So much it’s *almost* impressive (she lied, to herself).

29/05/2018, 12:43 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

God, that was long wasn’t it? I’ve always been more suited to letters than WhatsApp!

29/05/2018, 13:23 - BTF:

Ha – fear not, it was the perfect length! Though it must be said that it is frankly impressive that you have any time at all to watch any TV considering all the ideas you are whipping up! It’s interesting that both your day-to-day work and your extra-curricular ideas err towards important issues – sustainability, children’s literacy, sexism, mental health (even if tackled in a light-hearted way). Why do you think that is? And is there a particular project you’re working on / have worked on recently that you find particularly inspiring, or feel is particularly important?

29/05/2018, 14:10 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

A lot of people in my job consider themselves artists – they want to create beautiful things. I consider myself a problem solver. I’ve always loved coming up with clever solutions and deciphering challenges (if I could do any job in the world I’d go crack codes for MI5 but sadly their exercise and clean living standards are prohibitive).

There are a lot of issues communications can’t solve, but it can help some of the things you cited like sexism and sustainability. I was on the verge of writing that I’d rather solve problems like that than how to sell the latest pair of shoes, but I’m not sure that’s true actually – i just like solving big, complex challenges and right now these problems are the greatest.

I’m currently working on loads of big issues – how we get the UK recycling, how we make people care about climate change, how we help fix the ocean plastics issue, how we support child refugees with PTSD… I’m doing some of this at work, some on the side. They’re all both inspiring and important. The thing I really, badly want to help with is animal welfare, so I’m currently on the lookout for challenges in that space too 🐶🐱🐷🐣

29/05/2018, 14:10 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Aaaand that was even longer.

29/05/2018, 15:16 - BTF:

This is the kind of CV most people dream of! Phenomenal work – and a very wise way to look at creativity generally. This kind of thinking – problem-solving more than ‘art’ – has been present in design and UX for a while (and strategy) but its exciting to hear about it spoken about in relation to more ‘traditional’ creative work (if you can call it that). Speaking of being wise and worldly – what do you think is the biggest creative challenge facing you, your job, or your organisation?

29/05/2018, 16:01 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Ha! Well that’s the first time I’ve ever been called ‘wise and worldly’. Hold on a sec while I get that put on a T shirt.

29/05/2018, 16:05 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Right, that’s done.

29/05/2018, 16:10 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

From a project POV there is an endless number of challenges that need solving. That’s not changing any time soon.

From an organisational POV, I think the biggest issue will be how agencies respond to advances in technology and client demand. We’re seeing agency ECDs moving to Google, major holding groups forgoing award spend in favour of AI investment, more and more collectives being started vs traditional agencies. It’s either a terrifying time to be an agency, or a ridiculously exciting one, depending on your perspective.

And for me personally, the challenge will be how I stay challenged. I hate being bored more than anything, so I need to figure out how I can evolve what I do to make it new and difficult and fascinating. Any bright ideas?

29/05/2018, 16:30 - BTF:

Hang on a sec… Who’s interviewing who? 😉 But in all seriousness, that’s an excellent question. Many people naturally gravitate towards starting their own agencies / businesses – which, along with new starts and new staff and new clients (and maybe a new location and schedule) offer the additional juicy challenge of… running a business! Back To Front is actually an example of the type of collective agency you mention – and we find that the remote-working aspect keeps us inspired (as we’re dotted all over the world, some of us moving around a fair bit, so there’s always something new or different going on). It does sound like your huge list of side projects will be keeping you busy for a while though…

29/05/2018, 16:32 - BTF:

On a somewhat related note – on the theme of inspiration and always looking around for new ideas – outside of your own work, what arts, social or charity thing have you been most impressed / moved / jealous of recently?

29/05/2018, 16:56 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

There have been so many projects I’m envious of.

It’s a bit old now but that Trash Isles job = 🙌🏻 Such a clever idea – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was the size of France (it’s now 4x bigger) so they made it into a country and asked people to sign up as citizens, which meant signing a petition to the UN to help solve the ocean plastics crisis. The whole thing was so beautifully executed.

Teddy Gun was amazing too – teddies are more heavily regulated than guns in the US so three made a teddy shaped gun. Beaut.

And it’s not a charity thing but I’m still obsessed with that Apple HomePod ad with FKA Twigs. My life ambition is to be able to do that dance routine.

29/05/2018, 17:04 - BTF:

All excellent examples there. Many so simple – just little tweaks that allow people to see something (often something right in front of them) in a new and arresting way. The teddy / gun fact is terrifying.

29/05/2018, 17:05 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

You’re so right. Also that teddy / gun fact is the stuff dream creative briefs are made of.

29/05/2018, 17:10 - BTF:

Have you heard of the idea of hyperobjects? It’s a term the philosopher tim morton coined when talking about concepts (and more often that not issues or problems) that are so massive (in terms of time and space) that we completely struggle to think about them, let alone deal with them. Global warming is his big example. The Garbage Patch is a fantastic creative attack on that – turning something immense, possibly even sublime, into something tangible (and therefore potentially actionable). Maybe hyperobjects are the big challenge that’ll keep you from ever getting bored? 🤔

29/05/2018, 17:11 - BTF:

(Because hyperobjects are one of the biggest problems of our time, arguably)

29/05/2018, 17:16 - BTF:

You might also be interested in morton’s thinking about how we can tackle climate change. He suggests we put all our efforts into tackling rascism of any kind – as he believes that if we can close the gap of empathy/understanding between each other, we’re more likely to be able to close the ‘uncanny valley’ between us and nature, animals, plants… The idea being that if I can see where another human being is coming from, maybe, in time, I’ll also be able to respect the plight of a polar bear. And want to do something about it.

29/05/2018, 17:17 - BTF:

But enough of my blathering. I can use morton’s advice as a nice little segway into my penultimate question – whats the best advice anyone’s ever given you?

29/05/2018, 17:23 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Hang on, before we get to advice (which may well be that I focus next on hyperobjects):

1. I was familiar with the concept but hadn’t heard that great term, which I will be using at least 4 times a day from now on.

2. I also hadn’t heard the phrase ‘uncanny valley’, but it’s beautiful.

3. Both of these are amazing ways of looking at psychological distance and how we close it. I recently published some research with some very talented colleagues on how we close the spatial, temporal and experiential gaps between people and issues to make people genuinely care about and take action on things like Climate Change. Our output was really practical – principles clients can use to visualise sustainability better – but we’re starting phase two soon so your references will be hugely helpful. Thank you.

29/05/2018, 17:24 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Best advice was from my dad: you can say anything you want, express any opinion, to anyone at all, no matter how old or big or important they are, as long as you do it politely.

29/05/2018, 17:30 - BTF:

Quality advice there from your father. Bang on the money. And, in all likelyhood, also very important when considering these ‘hyperobject’ challenges like sustainability etc – as they are so often instituionalised or embedded in hierarchical cultures that need challenging (but polite) voices.

29/05/2018, 17:31 - BTF:

Very happy to help. Have you got any links to your work / that research that we’re able to share? It not only sounds interesting – it also sounds vital.

29/05/2018, 17:32 - BTF:

(And then I’ll ping you our last little question and you can get back to saving the world)

29/05/2018, 17:43 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Sure – here you go: http:ry.com/ideas/2018/a-new-visual-language-for-sustainability/

29/05/2018, 17:43 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

And yes – challenging and polite is EXACTLY what we need more of. Cheers to my dad!

29/05/2018, 17:48 - BTF:

Excellenté. Thank you! Righto – it’s time for the last question. It’s one you can interpret however you like. What’s your one big recommendation?

29/05/2018, 17:57 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

Drink margaritas at Home Bar on Ravey St, listen to the last Dent May album all summer and always work with people you think are much, much better than you.

29/05/2018, 17:57 - Emily Jeffrey-Barrett:

I know that’s three, but it’s just one message so…

29/05/2018, 18:19 - BTF:

Well, that’s our to-do list sorted. 🍹🎧🤓

29/05/2018, 18:20 - BTF:

Three in one suits us just fine.

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