Why USELESS works

Tom Tapper

17th July 2019

Last month saw the launch of USELESS. A beautifully designed platform to help cut plastic waste in London, by helping people to easily find their local zero-waste shop.

In under a month, the website has been featured in The Evening Standard, Timeout, It’s Nice That, Secret London, LSN Global and has been used by over 50,000 people.

Here are three reasons why I believe it works:

1. Ugly problems need beautiful solutions

We founded Nice and Serious 10 years ago because we believed the world’s ugliest problems were being let down by even uglier communications. Great ideas and solutions were falling flat on their face because of lacklustre design. USELESS isn’t the first resource to point people to zero-waste shops or ideas, but it is the most beautiful. If we’ve got any chance of overcoming the monstrous challenges we face, the solutions need to dazzle with their brilliance.

But don’t mistake beauty for vacuousness. Good design isn’t just a pleasing palette and lovely illustrations, it’s about simplicity and joyous ease of use. By bringing beauty to the whole experience, we at least give ourselves a fighting chance of changing the system.

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2. Worthiness doesn’t work

Too often the environmental movement have called upon our sense of righteousness to change behaviours. While arguably that’s been effective for deep green audiences, it’s equally effective at getting up the noses of the masses. When invoking the moral high ground argument, there’s an implicit judgement of those not currently taking the desired behaviour. To avoid this, we’ve kept the tone light-hearted and copywriting succinct. We want the zero waste movement to feel fun and inclusive, not virtuous and onerous. By creatively opening up the door, we’re inviting a broader spectrum of people to participate.

3. The best ideas rarely come from those in powerful positions

Power and responsibility are spectacular inhibitors of creativity. Combine that with strict hierarchies and oversized egos, and we find the best ideas are often popped before they bubble to the surface. Three years ago we created Nice Works to subvert this. It’s an initiative that gives everyone in the team 1/2 a day per week to work on creative ideas that help fix serious issues that the market isn’t addressing. USELESS was led by two of our designers, Matt and Sam, who pulled in support from our developers and animators. By giving them agency over the idea, it gave them the responsibility and desire to create something remarkable, and in doing so it helped then to build new skills that went beyond the traditional boundaries of their roles.

USELESS is the latest in a series of campaigns that have come from Nice Works, from Catswing (tackling unaffordable housing) to Touch Yourself (raising awareness of how to test for the signs of breast cancer).

What’s next?

For now USELESS only works for Londoners. But plans are afoot for expansion. If you want to keep in the loop, follow the Nice and Serious Linkedin page, or if you’re interested in partnering to help it grow, send me a message.