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Your Shot: The Intelligent Design Behind Graham, the Evolved Human

LBB Editorial, 2 months ago

Clemenger BBDO Melbourne on why they decided to build a human who could survive a car crash

Your Shot: The Intelligent Design Behind Graham, the Evolved Human

You’ve probably seen Graham already. The flat face embedded with a nose, cone-shaped skull, soft fleshy pouches drooping from his ribs, hairy spring-heeled legs protruding from his boxer shorts. He ain’t a pretty sight – but he’s not supposed to be. He’s a startling illustration of our fragility – human beings were not designed for high speed impacts because if they were, they might look something like Graham. 

A sculpture created in collaboration between artist Patricia Piccinini, trauma surgeon Christian Kenfield and crash investigator David Logan, Graham represents a different way of talking about road safety. He’s the central part of an integrated campaign from Clemenger BBDO Melbourne for the Transport Accident Commission – there’s an online 360 element, a rather clever augmented reality (AR) component from Airbag and a toolkit for schools and educators. 

Graham was only revealed a week ago, but already his impact is being felt far beyond Australia. Science publications and museums like The Smithsonian are already talking about him, and he’s even become something of a meme (one UK satirical site replaced his face with Brexit Boris Johnson’s, and a record company has incorporated him into their album covers). LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with the team at Clemenger BBDO to find out more.

LBB> What was the brief from the client and what were your initial thoughts when you got it? 

Clemenger BBDO> The brief was to go back to basics. To explain to people that they are more vulnerable than they think when they’re on the roads, and start to educate them on the science of human vulnerability.

We were inspired by the brief because from the start – it was fundamentally about the human condition.

LBB> I know this is quite a shift from traditional approaches to road safety – why was now the right time to make that shift?

CBBDO> The Transport Accident Commission (TAC) is no stranger to confronting work, they have been doing it for 27 years. But in recent years the road toll has levelled out, and the public had become complacent; accepting that death and serious injury are the cost of mobility. 

We know that traditional shock tactics for road safety have run their course, so we needed to find a new way to make people react and think about their vulnerability.

LBB> What sort of strategic research did you do? And how did it lead to the idea of creating this evolved human?

CBBDO> We went out to learn the public’s understanding of the science, specifically the fact that impact forces of 30km/h are enough to be fatal. We found that talking about the physics was confusing, and impact force and its consequences on the human body are difficult to explain in a traditional or non-cliché manner, such as likening us to glass or paper. 

We also talked with trauma surgeons and other specialists when developing the brief, who had some interesting insights into the flaws of the human body and how it simply hasn’t evolved to withstand the speeds we subject it to when on the road network.

So the creative challenge became, “How do we convey all this information in a new way?”

LBB> When you first approached the experts, did you have any idea what they would come up with? And were there any aspects of Graham’s physiology that really surprised or shocked you?

CBBDO> We had no idea what they would come up with, although our first conversations began to provide some hints. We just hoped he or she would be recognisably human so people could connect with him or her and reflect on their own body design. If we don’t look like Graham, then maybe we need to take more care on the roads and protect ourselves with safer vehicles. 

LBB> How closely did the surgeon, the crash investigator and the artist work together? These are three very different disciplines – what was it like seeing them come together to chuck ideas around?

CBBDO> They worked very closely together. Graham is Patricia Piccinini’s creation, she had complete creative control. But, she was briefed by Christian Kenfield the trauma surgeon and David Logan, the crash investigator, drawing on their expertise and knowledge of the human body and what happens in crashes. They met several times during the process, and Christian and David were really pleased that Patricia had listened and really taken on board their insights, with many of them playing a pivotal role in the final appearance of Graham. 

LBB> The project has several levels to it – obviously there’s the installation at the Victoria State Library, but there’s the 360 online version of Graham, not to mention the AR aspect of the experience. What do these technologies bring to the project and how do they help get the message to a wider audience? 

CBBDO> Graham is a catalyst for conversation. He gets people thinking and is also a way of delivering information in an interesting and accessible way. For those who can visit Graham in person, the AR aspect creates an interesting way for people to interact with the sculpture and spend more time with it. For those who can’t visit in person, the website provides an experience that is as close as we could make it to the real thing. TAC are an evidence based organisation so we needed to ensure that as many people as possible could access more information and understand not just Graham but the broader Towards Zero agenda. 

LBB> It was also interesting to see the way that you’ve really thought about how Graham can be deployed at a school-level. Not just as a road safety mascot but a character that can slot into many different parts of the curriculum, from Biology and Technology to Art and English. Was that always part of the plan or was it something that came about once you realised what a powerful idea the Evolved Human was?

CBBDO> Educating future drivers is always a consideration, but with Graham, the Education aspect took prominence once we had a clear idea of how the campaign would roll out around the state. We all saw the potential for Graham to become a tool for education, so we engaged curriculum specialists to write lesson plans for teachers, who can utilise the website as a learning tool, or create more context around an excursion to Graham. 

LBB> You worked with Airbag on the project – what elements were they involved in and what did they bring to it?

CBBDO> Airbag created the augmented reality aspect of the exhibition and they have done a wonderful job. We actually had a lot of trouble finding an AR tech which could track a 3D object without using markers (obviously you don’t want large markers on artwork by a world renowned artist). So they recommended utilising the first Australian use of Google Tango. In collaboration with Patricia they also developed the internal 3D visuals that are featured in the AR experience and the site, they went over and above in collaborating with us on Graham and brought true passion and skill to the project. 

LBB> Graham has already made an impression around the world, its pick up in newspapers and science magazines has been amazing. What sort of response have you seen from the public? And has anything surprised you?

CBBDO> We always believed Graham would be a great conversation starter and hoped he would be newsworthy, but the way he has entered popular culture has surprised us. Graham doesn’t belong to the TAC anymore, he belongs to the public and that is the way it should be.

Explore Graham more at:

Category: Corporate and social , Road safety

Genre: Creative technology , Digital , Experiential