Yaki Yaki
17th May 2019
Elimar at Hotel Excelsior Venice
23rd December 2020

design innovation to help reduce the spread of covid (and social awkwardness)

‘Stop The Awks’ was an experimental initiative: an in-house challenge to create and rapidly launch a Covid-response product with ourselves as the client, just to see what would happen!

We conceived, designed, produced and launched our own response to the rise in Covid cases and the need to socially distance – calling it ‘Stop The Awks’. This concept consisted of a product, a name, a brand, a website and even a bit of national PR. The primary aim was to reduce the awkwardness felt in social and professional greeting situations brought about by the pandemic, with the secondary benefit also being to help reduce the spread of infection. It was never supposed to be a commercially viable product – more of a self-pitch project to see what we could achieve within a three-day sprint.


With the world panicking about the spread of coronavirus and minimising physical contact in order to limit the spread of infection, we as an agency were noticing how uncomfortable people were when meeting each other. The news and social feeds showed us that world leaders, politicians, royals and celebrities were also struggling with the awkwardness of these encounters. We ourselves had quite a few ‘awks’ moments with clients and friends, where we found ourselves practically dancing around each other as we flapped between handshakes and elbow bumps.

We identified that as Coronavirus was spreading rapidly, so was the sense of social awkwardness, behaviour confusion and disease anxiety that came with each new meeting. In response we sat down as a creative team to come up with a way to utilise our in-house design and strategic skills to try and solve the problem at-hand.

We concluded that the answer was a simple one. Creation of a range of 14 pin button badges, in multiple colours, with various messages, designed to make it easy for the person wearing it to silently and immediately communicate to everyone they met, just how they were happy to greet and be greeted – thereby instantly eliminating the sense of awkwardness. Badges had messages on such as ‘Handshakes cancelled’, ‘No handshakes please’, ‘Fist bumps welcome’, ‘I’m hands free’ and ‘Let’s kickshake’.

In an all-agency three-day sprint, the entire Creative Clinic team successfully came together to conceive the idea, create all the designs, get 30mm metal pin button badges produced, build an e-commerce website (stoptheawks.com) and launch across several social channels (as well as share the idea with national press and broadcast media).

Somehow the idea got picked up by The Sun, The Mirror, ITV’s Good Morning Britain and The Drum and we went on to sell quite a few badges. We re-launched and updated the badges in February 2022 and have recently seen an uptake in orders since people have started to return to hybrid and in-person events, meetings and networking. Most amusingly we have also seen that there are bootleg versions of our badges available to buy on eBay!

Although of course Covid is an extremely serious situation, we managed to devise an innovative concept and brand language that brought some much-needed lightness in dark times.

It was a bit of fun, an idea that became a little bit more than an idea, an opportunity for us to stress-test the agency’s abilities under pressure and to use design to help make the world just a little bit brighter.