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How can you tell if someone ran a Marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!

Karen, Kev and Sarah before the Great North Run

Designer and resident runner bean, Sarah Hardman, on her marathon prep and the reason behind running twenty-six miles.

Last year Karen, Kev and myself headed to Newcastle to take part in the Great North Run. We crossed the finish line with an enormous sense of achievement, but our blistered feet and tired legs made us swear we’d never, EVER run a single mile more.

But, like Mothers who remember labour pains as being less extreme than they actually were (I can’t speak from my own experience, but I know a few mums) - we forgot our oath and signed up for a full Marathon - this time, down the road in Liverpool. Why not, we figured, we were half way trained already...

And so, we embarked on a 20-week training plan, sticking to it most weeks, coming unstuck others! Running club started up again in early January with our minds set on the big day. Sunday the 14th of June felt like a long way away back then, but now here we are, in the final throws of training, ready to hit the streets of Merseyside for a rock and roll marathon. Running through our lunch hour, over the weekends and even all the way home (once) - a 22 miler from Manchester to Warrington being our final long distance run.

Just as we began to train, some friends of mine became aware that their eighteen month old daughter Elspeth had a condition called Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a progressive neuromuscular disease in which faulty nerve cells prevent muscles from functioning properly. Elspeth has SMA type 2, which whilst not the most severe form, means she cannot stand, crawl or walk. In time she will face her share of challenges as the disease progresses.

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The timing of our marathon seemed ‘meant to be’ and we saw an opportunity to raise some money for this precious little girl. Looking to the immediate future Elspeth will greatly benefit from acquiring some wheels. The NHS is not able to fund powered wheelchairs for under 5s and the one which will suit her best costs just over £20,000.

If you would like to help us contribute a portion of the money needed for Elspeth to get mobile and help her face some of the challenges ahead then you can sponsor us here: http://gogetfunding.com/marathon-for-sma/

To find out more about SMA, Elspeth and the wheelchair you can visit www.elspethswheels.weebly.com

Politics and the social media soapbox

TN Artwork Manager and Green Party Local Council candidate Ed Dunsdon talks about the impact social media has had on smaller parties in the run up to Election day. 

It’s Election day and if the pollsters are to be believed, it is going to be a tough one to call. What we have seen, which we didn't see in 2010, is a sizeable impact on the political scene by the smaller parties. After a century of predominantly two party politics we've witnessed a shift, and the rise in the prominence of what would have been regarded, or derided, as 'fringe' parties. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and The Green Party. Today will see whether this hyperbole and bluster will correspond into votes, to bums on seats in the Commons or whether actually the voters prefer the status quo.

The smaller parties have taken the opportunity in this election to reach a far greater audience than they ever have before. As well as the TV debates, the social media soapbox has allowed the opinions and policies of these parties and their supporters to be disseminated far and wide. 2010 saw the first major impact of Twitter and Facebook on the general election but the last five years has seen a huge rise in the use of social media, for gathering and distributing information, by ordinary voters not just the media twitterati.

A third of young people (18-24) think that social media will influence their vote (10 March 2015 IPSOS Mori) second only to the television debates. Social media has allowed the Green Party to raise its profile nationally and to allow smaller local parties to organise and promote themselves. The last 12 months saw the ‘Green Surge’ when membership quadrupled from 14,000 in March 2014 to 55,775 in March 2015, in no small part to the use of social media. This took party membership above that of UKIP and the Liberal Democrats.

At a local level, in Bolton, the Green Party trebled its followers on Twitter over the last twelve months. The Party's use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have given its Parliamentary candidates a platform, usually out of reach with the financial constraints, that can make an election campaign a very uneven playing field. The unfair financial advantage of the leading parties can be significantly negated through the effective use of social media. It has allowed smaller groups like these to link up and connect with other groups and organisations, empowering them collectively and politically.

Parties like the Greens are using social media effectively to help bring them into the mainstream and challenge preconceptions. The various social media platforms have to be used with integrity and constraint, as we have seen it can be a double-edged sword for any party. If you make a misjudged comment or post something you immediately regret, it is out there for the full scrutiny of society, and your rivals are waiting for slip-ups. Natalie Bennett had a couple of “car crash’ interviews early in the campaign that were rapidly distributed on YouTube and Twitter, it could have been disastrous but supporters were able to react immediately, in this hyper connected environment, and come out in support. 

This election has raised the profile of the Greens, whether it will translate into seats is yet to be seen, but from today the Greens can start to build a credible narrative, build on the ‘Green Surge’ and plan for a positive future.

Brand Politics

After a lengthy six weeks, the votes will today be cast as the campaigns by the leading political parties draw to a close. The photo opps, the missed opps, the jibes and the slips ups which have played out in front of the British public over the passed forty two days will be acknowledged, considered and judged as we head to the polling stations to cast our vote. For us, it's the culmination of a project we started back in January of this year, when we were introduced to Michael Taylor, former business journalist, co-founder of Discuss Manchester and the Labour candidate for Hazel Grove. Together with Michael, we worked to develop his brand and campaign ahead of the election.

Its important to point out that not everyone who worked on this brief is a Labour voter, not everyone who works in this office is a Labour voter, but there are a few things we all agree on. Firstly, we believe in the power of brand as a catalyst for change and the most important tool for generating engagement and building trust. Secondly, we had all, at some point, felt apathetic towards the political system like many voters across the country. And thirdly, we felt incredibly strongly about the fact that creatively, political parties are clueless.

We worked with Michael to understand him, what he believed in and how he intended to help the people in his constituency. We looked at what voters wanted from their candidate and, on a national level, the perceptions of politicians and their parties. We quickly reallised, it’s not about them.

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As Michael was a relatively new face it became clear there was an opportunity to create a brand that could change people’s perceptions and give a voice back to the voters.

The aim was to reframe the narrative around politics and move it away from personalities, instead focusing on issues people care about at a local level. It wasn’t about telling people what a party could do, but inviting them to engage and share what’s important to them. By creating a very stripped back, direct visual identity we cut through the noise of traditional political literature and got directly to the heart of what matters.

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Lend me your ears...

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse

Faced with an hour and forty minutes of Shakespeare you could be mistaken for thinking you’re back at school. Not only because now, the prospect of the bard can’t help but summon memories of Double English but because The Liverpool Everyman’s latest production of A Midsummer Night's Dream takes you away from mythical Athens and places you slap bang in the middle of a high school.

The play opens in front of an oversized door, crowned with a clock, instantly transporting you back to those seemingly never ending days, feeling so small and counting down the minutes until the next free period. The sets blackboard walls, scribbled with juvenile graffiti “Hermia loves Lysander” and the cast’s school uniforms do nothing to alleviate the memories of boredom. Instead reminding you of the real and more interesting dramas that unfolded in the playground, and the lessons we learnt there.

It is an interesting angle to take, placing Shakespeare in the setting where most of us first encountered him. However, as the play unfolds those memories of dread start to drift away and you’re reminded that, even after 425 years, the plot of A Midsummer Night's Dream resonates with everyone in the audience, just as it did when first performed.

Lysander is that boy who was always unsuitable in your parent’s eyes. Helena, that friend who won’t take no for an answer, constantly sending those hopeful texts even though we all know he’s “just not that into you.” Oberon and Titania, that couple disagreeing and playing games, despite being old enough to know better.

And then there’s Nick Bottom, the hapless fool and light relief. That ever optimistic, eager and, lets be honest, rather annoying pal who can take on any challenge, knows more than the rest of us, but who you can’t help but like. In this performance, reminding me more of David Brent – the Bottom of our time.

So even though the language has evolved, the names sound daft and the use of magic seems absurd, Shakespeare continues to hold a mirror to our lives. It’s hard to believe we’ll ever bore of the bard.

A Midsummer Night's Dream runs until the 18th April at The Liverpool Everyman. 

Spread This Word

The Roses Student Awards exist to showcase the best in class design talent. In September last year True North were invited, along with eight other agencies, to write an anonymous brief for the competition. Last week, the judges cast their vote and we met Rebecca Stephens, the student designer who successfully responded to our brief Help Spread the Word. 

The challenge: Create or select a ‘non-word’ and help it claim its rightful place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The response: Smushables. 

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We spoke to Rebecca about her process and we begin our campaign to spread her word! 

On entering the Roses Awards:  

I remember looking at the Roses website in my first year, and I was really interested in some of the briefs that had been set. So, when it came around to this year, I was ready to get going on my chosen project. Roses, and student design competitions in general, are so valuable to enter - you never know what these things lead to! 

On the brief:

The brief caught my eye straight away. At face value, it looked a hard brief, especially trying to design for a non-physical thing like a word. But once I got to the crux of what the brief was saying, it was something that opened up to so many possibilities. In a nutshell, it was a fun brief that you could really play around with! 

On the design process:

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I actually started my process by looking at trying to group ‘non words’ together, which didn’t work at all - I always end up going through the classic process of trial and error when I design. My chosen word ‘smushables’ has a strong visual language - meaning I had so much to play and experiment with. I took photographs of squashed fruit, made some out of wool and paper that I had painted and manipulated - after trying out all of these, I then had my visual language created. I then considered how I could get the word ‘out there’, and not just on posters or leaflets, which lead me to looking into bags people can use whilst packing their shopping.

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On being a Graphic Design Student:

I’ve always been a creative person, and had a love for design, but I also enjoyed the academic side of things. Even though Graphic Design isn’t necessarily an academic subject, I feel like things such as current events, the economy and even history can have a big influence on design. 

This year I’ve been working on a range of projects and briefs from typography through to creating campaigns to support fracking. And that’s what I love about studying a design degree, it can encompass so many different areas and I have the opportunity to explore a range of techniques, layouts, image making and so on.

Beyond the Museum

 Wellcome Collection's curiosity roadshow.

For the last four days, our “twitter dwelling” has been dominated by one thing: Museum Week’s seven-day international tweetathon. A feed full of gloriously inspirational, insightful and engaging content pulled together under unifying hash tags, celebrating the wonder of museums and culture from across the world.

What captivated us so much about this was the demonstration of creative communication and the opportunity museums and galleries have to engage with their visitors, new and old, beyond four walls. This was something that resonated with us. For the past 14 years True North has collaborated with a range of similar organisations to develop strategic and creative ways to engage their audiences, and have been fascinated by how the use of social has liberated institutions and created a new form of curation. 

It’s something we have thought a lot about recently, for a range of clients, but one in particular that posed a rather unique challenge. In 2013 we were commissioned by Wellcome Collection to communicate their redevelopment project to their 500,000+ visitors. What was unusual about this was that the building would remain completely open throughout renovation and so posed an intriguing brief in articulation. How do you retain a branded experience when a venue is under construction?

‘Be Part of our Curious Journey’ was the creative idea, inviting visitors in the gallery and beyond, to join in and become part of the transformation. Curiosity is so much of what the Wellcome Collection is about and so this became the central thread, unifying a range of messages and events providing visitors with an experience that was in keeping with the existing Wellcome Collection brand.

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Curiosity was brought to life across the building with hoardings defying the traditional closed for business notices, instead becoming installations in their own right. But it was online that played a crucial role in engaging visitors and creating participatory experiences that weren’t always feasible in a building under renovation.

Social media, in particular, was key in ensuring existing audiences were kept engaged and connected by posing questions fortnightly. Each question linking to Wellcome’s vast collection or a range of topics: Science, Art, Humanity. 

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What this week has reinforced, and our collaboration with Wellcome Collection has perfectly demonstrated, is that museums no longer live behind bricks and mortar but have the power to reach audiences around their city, their country and the world.

For more information on Wellcome Collections redevelopment read Fran fascinating article or explore Curious conversations on Wellcome Collection’s storify.

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