Category Archives: Blog

A Day in the Life of a Co-creation Illustrator

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If we went back in time 23 years, you would find a situation very similar to now. I would more than likely be surrounded by paper, pen in hand. I have always drawn. Drawing what I see, drawing what I feel. Drawing in the car and on the train. Drawing on the beach and in the garden. Making up stories, characters and worlds. Almost always making a mess.

As time went on, the natural progression took hold. GCSE Art followed by A Level, and then before I knew it I was graduating with a degree in Illustration. Then it hit me, I can draw, so what?! I have done a degree in Illustration, BIG DEAL! The real challenge was yet to come.

Through my first professional illustration projects, I realised that I am passionate about documenting individual stories and experiences. From these moments I developed a strong interest in the inclusive nature of illustration and the ability to inspire people of different ages and backgrounds. Throughout these first projects I found myself creating action and drama to accompany these interactions, paying special attention to crafting something memorable and accessible. Seeing children engaged and involved in this way encouraged me to investigate the world of education, most notably teaching dance and drama.

Blog post Illustrations 1

Turning up for my first FACE co-creation workshop, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would entail. All I knew was that it was an opportunity to draw and bring ideas to life.

As I sat, fresh felt tips in hand, it turned out that my past experience had equipped me well. The inclusive nature of previous illustration work saw me comfortable to spread out my paper right amongst the participants, tuning into lots of voices discussing multiple opinions. Working with children enabled me to think on my feet. I flourished in a situation where my intuitive nature to create and capture was in its element. I was very pleased and thankful that this illustration opportunity existed, and from that moment on I decided that I would do everything in my power to record the content of the workshops in the most vibrant and exciting way possible.

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There are many different styles of illustration, but I like to produce it in its purest form: something visual that explains an idea, captures a moment or documents a thought. When I illustrate it is important that my drawings can be interpreted by lots of different people and appreciated for what it communicates not just how it looks. That said, I have developed a certain aesthetic that I hope accompanies the meaning well.

In this fast-moving world, the ability to record in this way is still relevant. Illustrations can be used as inspiration. They prompt idea generation, acting as a visual reminder of concepts and discussions as well as recording the world around us.

Visual communication has been around since the dawn of time. From cave drawings that depict the priorities of early human life to the decorative yet informative aboriginal art, which maps out the location to the watering hole and all the myths and stories in the landscape. From this to the Bayeux Tapestry that acted as the social commentary of the day – they all demonstrate the human desire to mark make and express ourselves, to record and explain the world around us. We’re still doing the same today.

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When planning a co-creation workshop it is important that there is a plentiful supply of paper and lots of felt tips for the illustrators. My brand of choice is Sharpies as you can create a clear bold line with a good range of colours. There is nothing worse than a dodgy set of half-run-out pens to disrupt the flow of consciousness. We have been known to get through quite a few packs due to the quantity of outputs and the pace at which they are drawn.

There are many good illustrators out there, but not all have the attributes that make great co-creation illustrators. The main skill needed is the ability to avoid getting intimidated by the fast paced nature of the workshop. In these situations you don’t have the luxury of time to create perfect or ornate illustrations – instead you have to be fast, vibrant and expressive to get your points across. There also needs to be a certain amount of clarity to your work, so maintaining a crispness of line combined with communicating the details is a fine balancing act.

At FACE we recruit illustrators through a combination of viewing online portfolios and personal recommendations. Primarily we look for good use of colour and bold confident lines. Having a variety of styles implies adaptability, but it’s also important they maintain their own visual identity. Personality and humour should feature strongly in their work as this makes it not only appealing to the consumers and clients alike, but also lasting and memorable. It’s great when the illustrators have raw talent, but it is also important that I brief them well beforehand. They should be completely aware of our expectations before they start illustrating at the workshop.

The illustrators are encouraged to start drawing right at the beginning of the workshop. This enables them to warm up, get fluidity within their wrists and start absorbing what’s being discussed. If they sit waiting to be instructed, the illustrations will be disjointed and lack energy. Supplying the illustrators with felt tips helps maintain the bold style and they are advised to fill all of the paper. A full page, bursting with colour has a lot more impact than a tiny pencil Illustration hiding in the corner. The use of text to accompany the Illustrations is also advised, but should only be used in an imaginative and creative way. An ideal co-creation illustrator should be extremely enthusiastic, enjoy employing a fast drawing style and should feel confident expressing their abilities in front of a group.

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A couple of years down the line I still can’t believe the experience I have gained. The prospect of a workshop continues to be very exciting. Whilst listening carefully is a priority, it’s also important not to over-think the situation. If you worry about how to capture everything with the time constraints, you will be pre-occupied by this challenge and it will become an impossible task. It’s definitely better to keep your head clear and imagine it more like a vessel, allowing the words to flow through your mind only partly consciously. You are the one in control of simplifying the moment.

When it comes to what I physically draw on the page,  in a way it’s actually quite hard to distinguish what it is I physically do, as illustration has become like second nature to me. That said I am able to identify a few illustrative traits I have developed as time has gone by.

The illustrations I complete often fall into two categories. One is a more intuitive depiction of what the participants are saying, documenting their thoughts and feelings. These are usually drawn earlier on in the day allowing an emotional response to be captured. As the workshop continues there is more of an opportunity to create new ranges of products or solutions, to the problems they wanted to resolve. In these cases I employ a slightly more graphic feel to my Illustrations clearly displaying a curve of a lid or how the mechanics of a pump may work.

I will often place the theme in the centre, using speech bubbles and arrows to document initial thoughts. I tend to place borders round my drawings as it brings it all together, as well as emphasizing the fullness of the page. I am a fan of mini comic strips, usually combined with silhouettes and shapes, but I really enjoy using a variety of techniques to express the ideas.

Then, as the illustrations are completed, it is very helpful to place them on the wall there and then. Firstly it shows the narrative of the workshop in real time, as well as enthusing and inspiring the participants with the ideas that have already been generated.

The illustrative outputs from the workshops are scanned and turned into individual jpeg images. These images often accompany a debrief that explains what the research has uncovered. They can be used in the product development phase along with triggering memories and reminding the clients what was discussed.

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Since my first workshop my role within Face has definitely evolved. I am now the, in-house creative as well as illustrating at the workshops. I work closely with all areas of the business, creating artwork for presentations, proposals and debriefs. I have produced illustrations for clients ranging from technology to iced tea, from O2 to Coke & Unilever. I was especially pleased to work closely with animators to produce both the “About Us” and “Manifesto” animations on the FACE website, and to spend two weeks with Sennep (The designers behind our Pulsar website) to refine my Adobe Illustrator skills.

So as I continue to surround myself with paper and pens, I reflect on how lucky I am to be doing something I love. I realize how much I can continue to extend my skills being in this ever-changing and exciting environment.


If you’d like to hear more from Beci, go say hello to her on Twitter or LinkedIn

Or if you’d like to talk to us about co-creation, please get in touch here:

10 tactics for rigour in social media market research

Last week I went to the MRS Connected World conference, a really excellent event gathering together an inspiring crowd to talk about new technologies and consumer behaviours. Not just to listen – though listening was great! I was also putting forward the FACE point of view on a panel with Tom Ewing of Brainjuicer and Paul Edwards of Working Plural & JKR.

Our topic: “cutting through the noise”. Digital media & technology has generated a dramatic shift – for the first time in history, there’s not a shortage of information but an excess. But how to make sense of it all? How to find the insight amid the flood?

Our session was kindly written up by Research Live, so I won’t go into the details here. Instead, I want to pick up on a really smart question from an audience member – How do you do social media research with real rigour?

Great question. How do you move beyond a set of observations made on a vast and potentially rather amorphous dataset, to get to something we might actually call research? On the spot I came up with 3 ways  - but on reflection, there are more.

Here’s my top 10 ways to make your social media research rock solid:

1. Capture the complete universe

If the dataset’s incomplete (and especially if you don’t know what’s missing), you can’t say anything about how your findings relate to the wider universe. Tweets found directly through Twitter search are really no more than anecdote until you can contextualise them within a meaningful totality of everything that’s going on in social.


Image source: Mapping The Global Twitter Heartbeat: The Geography of Twitter, by Kalev H. Leetaru et al., 2012

So make sure you’re using a social media research tool that’s built on top of Twitter Firehose (the 100% data API) and robust blog, forum & news data collection.

Of course there’s still a gap between “everything said in social” and “everything people think”. But that’s true for every research method – this is a risk we can only minimise, never remove entirely.

2. Your search strategy is critical

Great data sources aren’t enough on their own – you’ve got to set them up right. If you’re searching for a particular category (e.g. haircare), you need to be confident you’ve collected the whole category – every possible way people can talk about hair, from products to styles and stylists, and verbs & adjectives as well as nouns. Just searching for all mentions of “hair” won’t cut it – you’re not capturing a meaningful totality.

How to build good search syntax: Brainstorm. Then test it in Twitter & Google search, then iterate to add in new words & phrases that come up. Analyst experience is key here to build a search strategy that’s both comprehensive and focused.

3. Qualify your quant insights

Social data is qual data at a mass scale, says Francesco D’Orazio, our chief technologist.

Numbers on their own aren’t insights. Positive sentiment is 20% – so what? What are people saying? What are the needs and emotions driving that figure, and why is it higher for one brand than another? Read, synthesise, code. Quote the actual messages, show the verbatim. Keep the people visible in how you tell your insights.

4. Quantify your qual insights

Say you’re doing an innovation project, find out that fighting frizz is the most important consumer haircare need. Your immediate client might love the depth of qual insight you can build from beauty blogs and forums… But she’s also got to communicate that insight around a larger organisation & to lots of people who won’t ever read your full deck.

So quantify that qual insight and rank it against other needs. Savvy use of Boolean search strings – NEAR operators & smart exclusion terms – can give you sensible approximate volumes for almost any concept. You’ll not capture every nuance, to be sure – but it’ll help support that qual insight as a really solid finding.

puggit pug AND rabbit

(Ok, not really an example of quantifying qual insights – but a very cute example of Boolean syntax!)

5. Can another analyst find the same insights?

Classic research methods such as data coding still can have a key role to play in turning social media data into insight. It provides a structured template for content analysis that helps iron out bias from the analyst’s own preconceptions. Instead you’ve got a random sample of 200 messages and a structured grid, and it’s easy to review across team to help standardise what you mean by particular categories and concepts.

6. Benchmark

Is this finding real? How much does it actually matter? Display your research findings contextualised against other brands, other categories, or as share of voice – so your reader can get a sense of proportion.

7. State what you don’t know, or can’t prove

  • e.g. “This visualisation is based on Twitter data, a channel used by 26% of the UK population.”
  • “Social media messages almost never identify a store by its exact street address, and only 1.6% of tweets have geolocation. Consequently we cannot locate the se complaints to specific store, only town or region level.”
  • “Social media data includes only information that is publicly available on the web, and not private email or text message data” (yes we get this one!)

Make the gaps explicit. It shows you know what you’re talking about – and helps ensure your insights are interpreted accurately. Overclaim isn’t rigorous!

8. Test hypotheses. Test a null hypothesis.

Having hypotheses makes your data useful – instead of just drawing a picture of the landscape, you’re trying to find out something specific. But in the spirit of scientific enquiry, proving a hypothesis isn’t just going out looking for data that supports it. It’s also about looking for data that supports the null hypothesis – the counter-possibility that nothing is happening, or the opposite. Look for both – and if all the evidence really falls on one side, then you can be confident that your finding is really robust.

Null hypothesis cartoon aliens socks

Testing the null hypothesis or counter-factuals  is also a great way to find interesting things you weren’t expecting (see point 10!)

9. Triangulate against other data sources

Extract everything you can from your client, from sales figures to  qual research to semiotics decks.  Turn these into hypotheses. Is your research supporting these? Building on them? Taking them a new direction? Or disagreeing entirely? All are legitimate outcomes – and putting your insights in this context makes them much easier for your client to use.

10. Don’t do social media research if it’s not the right way to answer your question

A contrarian point for closing – but here at FACE we’re honest about the fact that social media data can’t answer all research questions. Its genius is that the data we’re analysing is largely spontaneous and unprompted, making it a great way to find “unknown unknowns’ – the things you didn’t even know you wanted to know, or needed to ask.


But sometimes you’ve got really specific questions to answer – how far are consumers prepared to trade off price vs. quality, perhaps, or whether a different shade of blue would make a better bottle top. And I’m afraid people just aren’t talking about bottle cap colours in social media… So you’d need to ask them directly: time for a focus group! Not social.


So that’s 10 ways to make your social media research really robust. Any more to add? Get in touch with us on Twitter – we’re @FaceResearch – and tell us your top tips! I (Jess) do a bunch of tweeting for FACE, so let’s keep the conversation going.

Or if you’ve got a really thorny research problem and you’re looking for a rigorous solution, get in touch with my colleague James on – we’d love to talk it through with you.


Tents, Ponchos and Knowledge Sharing: Let the Face Festival Begin!

face festival logo 2                            bunting

As the Glastonbury clean-up draws to a close, FACE’s London office has reached fever-pitch as we head into July for the long-awaited FACE Festival.

In less than two weeks, FACE will descend onto the fields of Oxfordshire for our first ever global company gathering. Bunting, BBQ, music, marquees, and a whole lot of festival spirit – what more could you ask for? But the FACE Festival is not only a weekend extravaganza, but a week-long knowledge sharing, learning and team-building event.

As we expand the company across continents we want to make sure our culture, knowledge and expertise is spread amongst teams. We’re always sharing best practices across offices and teams but nothing quite compares to getting all of us together in the same place. Next week, everyone from our three international offices (New York, Hong Kong and Singapore) is flying to the UK in a huge milestone for the FACE family.

Throughout the festival we will host a series of knowledge sessions on key research topics such co-creation best practices, our social intelligence platform Pulsar, and recruiting and briefing illustrators. Then, after five days of bouncing ideas off each other and absorbing new skills, we will set off to Oxfordshire, at the Needham residence (Andrew Needham, FACE’s CEO) for a weekend of team-building activities and relaxation bringing us all together and cementing FACE as one global unit.

Andrew, our host for the Festival, shares his excitement about welcoming everyone at his home next week:

“The FACE Festival is a momentous, ginormous occasion in FACE’s history. It is the first time that the four offices will meet in person, spend time together, get to know each other and share experiences and valuable knowledge. This in itself shows how far we have come as a company in the last 7-8 years where there’s now over 50 Facers with offices in London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

But on a personal note it is even bigger than that. Work and home life have been locked tightly together for me through the ups and downs, twists and turns of FACE’s journey over the last decade. So for me as a husband, as a Dad and as a CEO it is the interweaving of my life at FACE with my personal life and the values that underpin both that is celebrated by the FACE Festival and the coming together of my family and all the wonderful Facers in one place – it doesn’t get much better than that”.

Some of our international Facers have never set foot on British soil before. To make sure their trip is not all work we have enlisted the London office as their tour guides, creating personal itineraries, and unique evenings designed to show them London’s incredible diversity, revealing some of the hidden treasures in Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Covent Garden.

Everyone’s extremely excited about the FACE Festival and can hardly wait until next week’s kick off.

If you want to stay up-to-date with what we’re up to during the Face Festival (and not only), please follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook


Meet us at… the MRS Connected World conference

On Thursday 10th July, Jess Owens, one of our Social Media Managers here at Face, will be speaking on a panel at the Market Research Society’s Connected World conference in London.

Connected World is an exciting new conference for the market research industry which aims to “help the insight and marketing world capitalise on the new technologies, behaviours and beliefs that are driving relationships between individuals, brands and consumers.”

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It’s a privilege to be one of the only research agencies speaking at a conference drawing on an excitingly wide range of speakers and expertise. Connected World aims to inject new ideas into the market research debate, drawing on everything from experts in consumer creativity (Hazel Robinson on tapping into the power of fans) to technologists visioning the future through pervasive computing (Adrian David Cheok, City University) and the Internet of Things (Moeen Khawaja, Umbrellium).

Jess will be on a panel at 11.40am called Cutting Through The Noise, alongside Tom Ewing (Brainjuicer) and Paul Edwards (Working Plural and JKR), with discussion chaired by journalist Richard Young.

The pitch:

“An ever-growing amount of interaction between consumers, brands and beyond means only one thing for research professionals – an ever-growing challenge. How can the analysis keep up with the flow of information? How can research adapt to the new technologies and practices? In this case study-free debate, we discover the scale and nature of the task ahead of us.”

For more information, full programme details and registration, please have a look on the official site of the conference.

Or catch up with Jess at the conference by saying hello on Twitter (@hautepop) or email

How To Detect Communities Using Social Network Analysis

Part 2 of our Network Analysis for Market Research series– read part 1 ‘Identifying Influencers with Social Network Analysis’ here.  


Social media research isn’t just qual or quant market research translated on to a different dataset – it’s got its own methods. At FACE we’re big believers in using the unique properties of social media data to answer questions that other research methods can’t get at.

And what’s special about social data, particularly on Twitter, is that with sufficiently advanced analysis platforms (Pulsar!) you don’t just collect the message, but also metadata about that message and its author. This provides the information needed to analyse how that message is shared through social networks – or alternatively the network of who follows whom. The result: proper social research that starts from the premise that people are connected, not just atomized individuals.

In the first part of this blog series we introduced some of the possible applications for network analysis in market research, revealing how network data visualization can enable you to identify influencers that have real-world meaning in the context of the social groups in which they belong.

I also discussed how influence exists in different ‘sub networks’ or ‘social groups’, and if we are to truly grasp the structure of these relationships then it’s essential to take these into consideration.  It’s this point that the second blog in the series will expand upon. Here I’ll  look at communities: we all know what these are, but what do they mean in terms of social network analysis? And what can you learn from identifying them?

Why look for communities?

detecting communities

When investigating the role of influencers we highlighted previous research carried out at FACE by Francesco D’Orazio and Jess Owens: the How Stuff Spreads project. In this research we discovered how communities are vital in driving the spread of information. The more communities there are in the audience, the slower viral content spreads, as it takes time to spread between the different groups.

So that’s one reason to understand social media communities – if you’re trying to spread a brand campaign or a piece of content, you need to understand the audiences it travels through. Different groups may well benefit from different messaging specifically targeted to their needs and interests – not one size fits all.

Understanding communities is also important to ensure your influencer program is comprehensive: have you got influencers in all the social groups you want to target?

How are we defining communities?

A community is most often defined as a  group of individuals living in the same geographical location. It can also be used to describe a group of people with a shared characteristic or common interest: the research community, for example Within the social sciences, there is also the approach that views communities as something socially and symbolically constructed, resting on a shared understanding that “I am part of this community alongside these other people”. Political scientist Prof. Benedict Anderson defined the nation state as an “imagined community” (1983).

Using social networks analysis we define communities differently – by looking at how people are connected to each other, and clustering these into similar groups.

So it is a statistical measure of connectedness, and it’s not based directly on whether these people would recognize themselves as being part of the same community. However, what’s so fascinating about networked community detection is that the communities it identifies very often DO have significant real-world meaning, and can help us explore what it is that is defining communities.

How to identify communities? Using a social network analysis program such as Gephi, we can use a clustering algorithm called “modularity” to detect hidden patterns in the network. Modularity looks for groups of people who are more densely connected to each other than would be expected if they were connected by chance. . A network with high modularity has dense connections between nodes within clusters, but sparse connections between nodes in different clusters. As a result all individual nodes (people) in a network can be attributed to a specific cluster, as determined by the modularity algorithm.

A real-world example: my Facebook social graph

Let’s start by revisiting the ego network from my Facebook graph that we investigated in the previous blog. When identifying influencers in the graph I mentioned that it’s vital to pin-point people who the key connectors between different sub-networks on the graph. I was able to provide some real-world context to the data due to my personal knowledge of all the individuals in the network. But even on a small dataset such as this, modularity allows us to develop an even more granular understanding of the relationships.

detecting communities 2

Here nodes are portioned by modularity, with each node belonging to a separate cluster or community, and coloured accordingly. For many of the separate and very distinct clusters on the edges of the network, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these people belong to their own community.

What is interesting is within the main component, where without the colour coding it’s hard to see any clearly divided partitions. But now we now have four different communities (blue, brown, purple & maroon-ish). So the question is, are these 4 different groups just statistical figments of the network structure? Or do they relate to anything real about the relationships between the people involved?

  • The blue community is made up of people I met at school, all around my age (17% of the network).
  • The brown community is people I went to school with, but also lived close to where I grew up (9% of the network).
  • The maroon community also went to school with me, but all at least a year older that me (7% of the network).
  • The purple community is people I attended college with directly after finishing school (also 17% of the network).

This is a great example of how we can segment individuals by very subtle differences, simply by analyzing the structure of the connections they share.

But how could a network “know” these things about my friends? Well, it’s all based on the connections they have with each other. People who were in the same yeargroup at school are more likely to know each other, and therefore be friends on Facebook – so that’s what connects the real world to the network relationship.

Large scale network analysis

Strictly speaking I could have analysed my Facebook social graph manually – I know who my friends are friends with, after all, so I could have drawn the network manually (though it’d have taken a long time).

But network analysis becomes even more powerful when the analysis is scaled up to a level at which manual analysis is impossible. Using Pulsar to gather our data means we can use network analysis to investigate the relationships in networks of thousands or even millions of people, where obtaining an understanding of the real-world relationships that make up the communities isn’t anywhere near as straightforward.

detecting communities 3

Reverting back to FACE’s previous research into How Videos Go Viral, you can see that modularity and partitioning has been applied on the audiences in the same way it was applied to my Facebook graph. We then applied statistical modelling of the demographics of each group to understand who was in each.

So for the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video (top right), we can see there’s one community averaging 32-year-old white women, in the USA/NYC, working in marketing – and another of teenage girls in Los Angeles who may be white or Hispanic, and who’re into pop music and reality TV. And indeed, it’s that appeal to a diverse audience that made the Dove advert so successful and the most-viewed on YouTube.

How can this work for you?

Think of communities as very similar to the segments identified in a brand’s customer segmentation model. (With demographics analysis layered on, you might even find that they’re the same.)

While direct marketing communications is often customized by segment, historically this hasn’t been something brands have done in social. But, using social network analysis and also Twitter & Facebook ad targeting, it’s possible to send specific messages to specific groups of people.

Powered by Pulsar TRAC these could be people engaging in a specific conversation, individuals sharing a piece of content online, or the followers of an account on Twitter. Any group of people, in essence, as long as we can define that audience through some property of its behaviour in social media – such as keyword, user bio, or location.

Community analysis allows brands to really understand the behavior of their audiences in a way they can’t replicate with offline, non-social data.

It enables brands to get maximum benefit from their influencer outreach and content seeding, by ensuring they’ve got contacts in each sub-community of their audience.

And once communities have been identified, there’s scope for deeper analysis of how each community interacts with brands, the language they use, and the topic . This can allow for truly customized marketing, allowing brands to understand each group’s social media behaviour, and how best to communicate with them.

Network analyses are also great communication tools – each time we put one on screen at a conference, the cameras come out and people start taking photos. We’d love to see more companies going public on their network analysis, and illustrating their audiences back to their followers. As we said earlier, community isn’t just about shared interests but a shared imaginary, a shared recognition that “We are part of the same group.” Sharing community visualisations could be one tool for a brand to create a real “customer community” – moving beyond individualized buyers towards positioning their brand as a source of meaning and identity.

Thanks to Jess Owens for contributing her ideas to this blog post.