Close-Up: The charity poster that innovates and educates

M&C Saatchi has used the ancient arts of maths and logarithms to create an interactive digital poster. Noel Bussey reports.

There aren't many people who would want to hear that their ex's last partner was better than them in bed. According to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and M&C Saatchi, though, there are some who would. One in seven, to be precise.

That is the number of people in the UK who are hard of hearing or deaf - and the thinking in the latest RNID campaign is that the one in that group of seven would love just to be able to hear someone talking to them, no matter what was said.

To get this message across, the agency, along with its digital arm, Play, is using screens hooked up to microphones that can then "translate" sounds into moving visual representations. Images such as an oscillating soundwave or a moving graphic equaliser will then be displayed on digital posters.

When the idea began life at M&C Saatchi, it was just a small press campaign, but Paul Scanlon, the lead motion designer at Play, was asked to make it digital.

"He came back with this, but we weren't sure if it was possible," Graham Fink, the executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, says.

However, Scanlon says: "It's basically maths, logarithms and physics. All of that is hundreds of years old. It's just a case of finding a way to rewrite it for Flash."

The work is initially programmed in Flash and then uses a tool called microphone.get to work out the sound levels needed.

It's then a case of working out the specific logarithms to transfer the sound to the screen.

"The graphic equaliser was quite easy because it's square, but the soundwave execution was really hard," Scanlon says. "For that we had to create a signwave where the programme works out every possible peak and trough picked up by the microphone and translates it to a wave, so you don't end up with a straight line through the poster."

Fink recalls: "When we showed the client, we had a working version in the meeting room that picked up all the noise of the meeting as a demonstration."

The posters will be set up across the country in busy pedestrian areas with lots of noise. Portable versions will also be used outside music gigs and sporting events.

Fink explains: "We've also made sure that the straplines can be changed so they can remain topical to the event or area."

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