Underthinking — Why one slip equals an entire XD fail

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For those unaware, XD stands for experience design.

On Sunday, I did the Hackney Half marathon in London. It was extremely well attended and my hat goes off to the organisers. I loved it.

Email correspondence was efficient, my information pack came in the post with plenty of time to spare and although getting to the venue might have been a challenge with 25,000 other runners (TFL could do better), the organisation on the ground was superb.

The entire weekend was dubbed Hackney’s Festival of Fitness, and it did feel like one. Sponsors were actively engaging. Crowd interaction seemed to be on the up since the weekend started with a screening of Cool Runnings. There was a real carnival atmosphere until the last scrap of litter went into its neatly lined-up recycling bin.

From what I could tell, the bag drop was smooth sailing, and the plastic-free water stations were a wholesome and sustainable touch. Something to make you feel good when you’re literally running yourself into the ground. Well done. All the right feel-good ticks so far...

The crowd did their bit too. At the [very clearly signposted] mile markers, support was incredible. Some sections were deafening. Elderly folks handed out water. Kids gave out sweeties. Strangers clapped and shouted our names, carrying us mentally. Some people held funny signs of encouragement ("Pain is just French for bread"). One girl handed out slices of pizza. Way to keep it kooky, Hackney.

A lot of money had been invested in the design process. The angular, geometric shapes that made up this years’ branding was striking. The energy injected into the application of the branding was something you could feel. We don't need more round medals – these ones were certainly interesting with their jarring, diagonal lines.

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The website was full of dynamism. Not calm. Not orderly. It infected you with a sense of nervousness that made you fizz and spasm with anticipation; like a starter’s pistol was about to bang. Nike, as their strategic partner, even rotated the angle of their swoosh icon a bit... Fun and crazy. 

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When the results email came in, each runner was able to see their performance. They could track their speed every three miles compared to the average speed of the runners in that section of the race. No small engineering feat, I'm sure. Then there was the option to download their certificate. Brace. Brace.

Printing and hanging their certificate is the final thing a runner might do in their marathon journey. But after months of training and sacrifice, hours of anticipation, moments of pain and a euphoric hangover that’s quickly fading with the start of a new week, no one wants to click “download my certificate” and immediately think, “Well that looks shit!” 

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That's the certificate.

It wasn’t even terribly designed. I'm not sure it was even thought through, which is worse. This just goes to show that with experiential design no matter how much effort you put in, if you do one thing poorly it can take the gloss off everything.

It wouldn’t have been too much trouble, even with variable data, to design something inline with the vitality of the existing branding. The very thing that is supposed to certify and validate your achievement, in fact, screams failure. Ironic.

If you're going to do something, do it well. Do it all the way. It’s such a shame to fall at the final hurdle. We shamelessly steal an idea from an advertising guy called Johnny Molson and say to our clients, "Underspending is like buying a ticket halfway to New York. You’ve spent your money, but you’ll never get there".

The same goes for underthinking.

If you're frustrated that your creative agency is underthinking, get in touch.


Screenshots and images from

Al Walker