Design, Technology, Marketing, & Pigeons?

by Jack Sommer

Twitter and the London Design Festival hosted a competition last year called #PoweredByTweets which was divided into a set of two challenges. One was to "solve a problem" and the other to "create something beautiful." All the submissions had to utilize the Twitter platform.

Pierre DuQuesnoy and Mark Daniels, who work for the global agency Digitas Lbi, submitted an idea and ended up winning the contest. What they proposed was to attach tiny monitoring packs to racer pigeons that would measure the levels of atmosphere where they flew to. 

Digitas Lbi then joined forces with Plume Labs, a UK based company trying to improve how people monitor air pollution, to turn the idea to a reality. Asthma UK has also been offering additional information on air pollution issues to the public in conjunction with the project.

The inspiration for the idea came from pigeons being used in the past to transport war messages and capture aerial photography. DuQuesnoy says that “Most of the time when we talk about pollution people think about Beijing or other places, but there are some days in the year when pollution was higher and more toxic in London than Beijing, that’s the reality.” 

Very light small backpack were placed on carrier pigeons this week, each pack containing sensors monitoring ozone, volatile compounds, and oxygen dioxide. As the birds flew around, tweets were sent out about the pollution levels in particular areas (and you could even tweet the @PigeonAir account to request the details your own immediate surroundings). 

Of course this issue itself is important on its own, and we're glad they're tackling it. Duquesnoy said that, “Air pollution isn’t sexy and people don’t engage with it. So the heart of our idea was to make air pollution more accessible and relevant." The design was, of course, a big part of that - from the photography and video to the packaging and presentation. It wasn't lost on us that the colors of the designs were similar to the hues from the pigeon's feathers and that the illustrations were done in a mid-century like style with those bright tones shining through.

The campaign only lasted a few days but has already raised pollution awareness in London and around the world. It also broke through to a digital audience who might not have paid as much attention to the problem otherwise. All in, we think it was surely a successful effort.

Originally posted about on Gizmodo.