Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic


Designed by Damian Cranney and Stephen Shaw at Big Motive

Strategy Lead: Damian Cranney

Experience Lead : Stephen Shaw

UX Engineer : Jon-Paul Samuels

Interaction Designer : Edward Manson

Categories: Website

Industry: Civic

Tags: Interactive


The outbreak of a pandemic flu virus tops the UK government’s list of threats to public safety. Currently, the mathematical models researchers use to predict the spread of infectious diseases rely on data sets constrained by small numbers of participants and limited information about their behaviour. So those in government whose job it is to plan for the inevitable emergency, have a big challenge on their hands: No one knows how fast a pandemic will spread or how best to stop it.

Partnering with researchers at the University of Cambridge, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 360 Production and BBC Four, we set out to design a new kind of ‘citizen science’ experiment that would address the pandemic problem.

Our role was to create a user experience that could be easily understood by many different people. To achieve this we had to carefully consider and test each type of interaction as well as the interface and language used.

The science and maths teams mapped the experimental data requirements and we designed each step to find the simplest way of asking the question and the easiest way to enter the response. We worked through many iterations of this, extending into the choice of colours, style of illustration and even the sequencing of access permissions requests. The finished interface takes users through a process that carefully balances the need for usability, data security, battery and network optimisation, and crucially, delivery of the best possible experimental data.

When we launched the experiment, we hoped to get as many as 20,000 people to download the apps with, ideally, a 50% conversion (those completing a full 24 hour study) over a five month period. This would give us 10,000 studies, the magic number that the scientists needed to create a new ‘gold standard’ in their field of research.

In just two months, the figures quickly rose to 50k downloads with 28k studies completed. A conversion rate of 94%. Not only were people keen to participate, but the app enabled them to do so at a much higher rate than anyone expected. Within 24 hours of the broadcast of the TV show in March 2018 – Contagion! The BBC Four Pandemic – another 30k studies were completed. The experiment has been hailed as a landmark success, greatly exceeding the expectations of the scientists, the team at 360 Production and the BBC. Most importantly of all, it has contributed to a huge leap forward in science that could save millions of lives.

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