Q&A: Nat Al-Tahhan

We’re happy to announce that Nat Al-Tahhan will be joining our growing associate network. We’ll be working with Nat to help put the fun back into doing good and making a difference.

Nat Al-Tahhan, Associate, Creative Behaviour Change

Nat Al-Tahhan has enjoyed a varied and multi-faceted career, with a background in video game and app development, science education, branding, art direction, graphic design and digital illustration, live event sketching and bodybuilding. A proud, self-confessed “science nerd”, a lot of Nat’s work has focused on science education and outreach — and most of all, bringing the fun.

Using addictive gameplay and arresting design, Nat has illuminated important issues and encouraged learning among diverse audiences. She also ran TEDx Bristol for six years, bringing together the brightest and most inquisitive minds to share great ideas in an inspiring and collaborative setting.

Purpose spoke to Nat about how fun, creativity and gamification can help to unlock positive behaviour change and move the needle on the issues that matter.

Q. How does having fun contribute to positive behaviour change?

It’s all about forming good habits. If you’re trying to learn something, or increase your fitness, or reach a goal, the key to success is consistency. To create consistency and achieve progress, you have to enjoy it. Your willpower is finite, it will run out eventually if there is no intrinsic driver. Fun can be that driver. If it’s fun, you’ll just keep doing it, and then it becomes a habit. Boom! Progress.

I apply this approach to every project I work on — I’m here to bring the fun. If I’m making an educational game, fun is the first thing. If it’s not fun, don’t bother!

For example, we made a bread-baking game for the Wellcome Trust to bring to life research into the RNA transcriptions of a protein. This was really well received, because it first and foremost worked as a game. You had fun first, and then “accidentally” learned stuff.

Q. Is it maybe too easy for the “good business” movement to forget the fun?

If you’re not careful, doing good can become dry and “holier than thou” really quickly, especially when it comes to environmental issues. If you want to inspire people to change their behaviour, this is not the attitude to take. If you want to really engage them, then give them something fun to do that will make them think a bit.

Just being told to recycle is not going to inspire you. The facts alone will not work, much to the chagrin of the scientists whom we really should be listening to. Very few people engage with the message, “the world is going to end if we don’t do this”.

But if you give them really fun, educational and engaging experiences, then you’ve got a chance to influence their behaviour and put them into a different mindset as they approach the problem.

Q. Why are games such an effective way to create behaviour change?

Nobody understands engagement better than a games developer! We understand engagement, reward, feedback loops, and how to challenge people and how to let them have fun while they do something.

For example, I worked on a great project as part of the Bristol Green Capital programme. We created an action puzzle game called Power Up Bristol, which allows citizens to try to solve the dilemma of how manage the city’s energy: choosing which power sources to place where, how to power the shops and the factories, how to manage your budget and your carbon budget, and so on.

We brought in an environmental expert to make sure that the gameplay wasn’t straying too far from how things really work. This meant that you couldn’t just run everything on solar panels, as much as you’d like to — the factories would stop working. It teaches you, through gameplay, that you sometimes have to make tough decisions in order to balance things.

Q. Has it always been important for you to apply your skills and passions to building a better world?

At the beginning of my career, I was just trying to make it work. But once I’d established myself, I started to look for more fulfilling work where I can make a difference and help people.

I’ve always loved science and had always been a science nerd as a kid, so it was a really natural fit for me when science projects started to come up and I got the chance to meet and work with scientists. I didn’t have to feign enthusiasm!

It’s amazing to be able work with institutions to inspire and influence the next generation of scientists. You can really kill a good scientist with a bad science teacher. Look at chemistry. It’s a really cool subject — you get to blow stuff up! — but it gets killed by too many dry equations when you’re at school. That’s not how you teach chemistry if you want more chemists, and we desperately need more chemists and engineers. Whereas innovations like the Nano Simbox can make learning and experimenting with science so much more fun and engaging.

Q. What did you learn from running TEDx Bristol?

I’m very proud of the TEDx Bristol team. It’s gotten bigger and bigger each year, and even moved into the Colston Hall in 2013 in order to run events for over 1000 people.

I really enjoy creating spaces where people who wouldn’t normally meet can come together and have conversations. TEDx is unique in how it attracts people of all walks of life and from all industries. It’s great to break out of the silos of industry-specific events, because the intersections between the sectors are often where the real innovation lies.

It’s a good petri dish for creating something interesting, or providing the right conditions for something to grow. When I organised the events, I always programmed in long breaks between talks to allow people to think about what they’ve seen, and to talk and connect to each other.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with The House?

I’ve done lots of different things in my career, and each experience has fed into the others. Having a multidisciplinary skillset means that I can draw from a breadth of experience, which adds value at the early stages of an idea or initiative. And of course, it means I can think laterally and come up with fun, engaging ways to influence positive behaviour change.

And what I love about working with The House is how fulfilling the work is. Every time I work with you, I come away buzzing, with a renewed faith in humanity!


To talk to us about working with Nat and The House to inject creativity and fun into your mission, get in touch at 01225 780000 or email graham@thehouse.co.uk.

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