Illustrators and celebrities unite to help struggling parents in lockdown

Creative production studio Toad has partnered with King’s College London, the NHS and Maudsley Charity to produce a series of advice-based animations for families.

“As lockdown was initiated, there was a growing concern among us about what this was going to do to families – even those who had never before shown any signs of anxiety,” says Henry Waterfall-Allen, digital director at Toad. It was this concern, he tells Design Week, that sparked the team’s latest project: Families Under Pressure.

Aiming to support parents feeling the continued strain of the coronavirus pandemic, the London-based creative production studio has partnered with psychologists and child psychiatrists at King’s College London (KCL) and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLAM) to launch a series of animated videos offering practical, science-backed advice for families in lockdown.

In total, the team has so far launched eight animations under the initiative, designed with help from four different illustrators. Each has been narrated by a celebrity parent, with videos featuring the likes of Olivia Coleman, Danny Dyer, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill and Rob Brydon.

Making “dense clinical content” resonate with people

After realising how lockdown would likely put significant pressure on families around the country, Waterfall-Allen says the project “quickly snowballed” into something bigger.

“KCL and SLAM both had a number of clinically-proven parenting tips, and so we had a conversation about how we could make these readily available for all families to use,” he says.

With years of scientific research and testing having gone into these findings, however, Waterfall-Allen admits the challenge was in taking “dense clinical content” and turning it into something that could “resonate with families in a playful way”.

But while wanting to keep things light, the team also had to keep the animations scientifically sound, Toad creative director Lee Bonnick adds.

“With illustration work, there can sometimes be a tendency to take dry and scientific messaging and add too much playful abstraction to it – so we had to remember that everything ultimately needed to be rooted in KCL and SLAM’s research,” he says.

“We couldn’t just fall into a London bubble”

The final product then, uses illustration from four women in the field – Esther Lalanne (films one and three), Aysha Tengiz (films two and four), Caitlin McCarthy (films five and six) and Giulia Frixione (films seven and eight) – and at every stage, the team says, has been checked over by academics.

Wanting the initiative to have mass-appeal to all kinds of families, Bonnick says diversity was a key consideration throughout the project. Some videos feature single parent or LGBTQ+ families, for example.

“We couldn’t just fall into a London bubble, or a middle-class bubble,” he says, adding that his and Waterfall-Allen’s own experience as parents of young children in lockdown helped inform the story writing for each video.

“Part of the same family”

Each illustrator has bought her own style to the project, but as Bonnick adds: “We wanted all the videos to also feel part of the same family.”

To achieve this, the Toad team developed a bright colour palette for use throughout the eight films. The animations also all take place within the illustrators’ interpretation of the home – be that a flat, house or another living space – to give a sense of consistency across the whole project and reflect the circumstances of the project’s audience.

Additionally, each illustrator was invited to include her own animated interpretation of the word “Pressure”. Aysha Tengiz in film two, for example, depicts the word as if it were sweating, while Caitlin McCarthy’s “Pressure” shatters into tiny pieces in film five.

“Mental health will still be relevant after lockdown”

While lockdown is slowly thought to be coming to an end, Waterfall-Allen and Bonnick say the relevance of Families Under Pressure will not wane.

“We’ve had great feedback from professors who have said that it’s really refreshing and exciting to finally see this kind of content in a format that people can engage with in 30 or 40 seconds,” Waterfall-Allen says. “Mental health will still be relevant after we leave lockdown.”

He adds that there are limitless opportunities as to what the Toad team, KCL and SLAM could cover in future projects, and there is interest in making videos in the future that deal with more specific topics relating to mentally healthy family life.

A further four videos made with four new illustrators will be launched next week, in line with Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, addressing how parents can support anxious children.

To find out more about Families Under Pressure, head to the website

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