Formats Unpacked: The North-o-Meter: How Northern Are You?

How a simple quiz became one of the most viral quizzes of the time

Hi All,

I know I said I’d make sure I got back into a steady weekly publishing rhythm but work got in the way again. Shoddy, I know. 

This week I’m unpacking a quiz. I think it’s the first quiz to appear in Formats Unpacked. Might not be. I’m just too busy to scroll through the archive to check.

It’s not just any old quiz though. It’s a quiz that on the surface looks a little bit silly but in reality is...well, really silly. But it is brilliant at doing what it is designed to do. 

Here we go…


What’s it Called? 

The North-o-Meter: How Northern Are You? (online quiz)

What’s the Format?

The quiz starts with an arrow hovering around the middle of a map of the UK. To the right there is a question followed by three multiple-choice answers: 

Question - When did you last eat chips and gravy?

This week

This year

Longer, if ever

Depending on what answer you choose, the arrow moves up or down the map. Answer all ten questions to find out where you belong on the North-o-Metre. I scored ten. Just saying. 

I’m sure you’ve seen, and played, and shared, lots of similar quizzes. People refer to them as ‘Buzzfeed-style quizzes’ but I prefer to call them ‘UsVsTh3m-style quizzes’ because they are the people who made this particular quiz, and most of the others I’ve played. I didn’t really connect with the Buzzfeed quizzes. I never really wanted to find out Which Saved By The Bell Character Are You (not bothered), but I did want to know How Geeky Are You (100%) and How Much Are You Hated by the Daily Mail (loathed).

I’ve chosen this one to unpack because it’s incredibly simple, had a massive impact on the people who made it, and I’m Northern. I won’t mention that again. 

What’s the magic that makes it special?

The real magic in this quiz, and others like it, is in how the results are designed to say something about us. When we take the quiz it gives us a reason to share and connect with other people. The results validate something we want to believe and say about ourselves. They give us a brief reassurance that we really are who we perceive ourselves to be, and that’s really important. In the case of being Northern, that is something we take pride in.  

We don’t like to admit it but we really care about our identity and how people see us. It’s through our identity that we connect with others, which according to Maslow is our third most important need. Our identity is not just about the avatar we choose when playing the EuroSong Generator game. We spend a lot of time crafting it via a range of micro-actions, particularly in online spaces. Every conversation we take part in is identity forming. Everything we share is identity forming. 

At Storythings we talk about designing for two people. The audience, and the audience’s audience. Quizzes like this are a great example of how you do that - they’re brilliant connectors. When I shared my 10/10 score on the North-o-Meter, the audience I was sharing it with was mostly made up of other Northerners - family, old school friends, ex-colleagues. There was social capital to be had by sharing with this particular group, plus all the bonding that took place in discussing the smart in-jokes. That’s what designing for two people looks like.

As a bit of a backstory, the quiz was developed by the UsVsTh3m team at the British newspaper the Daily Mirror. UsVsTh3m launched with a brief to experiment with social news formats as a way of getting attention. The team consisted of some of the smartest thinkers, writers and coders working in digital publishing at the time. They were given the freedom to work in an agile way, but that came with just three months to prove themselves. 

This quiz played a big part in ensuring the three-month experiment lasted a lot longer than they ever imagined. Within days it was shared a million times on Facebook. Not viewed, or played, but shared. A million people had played the quiz and decided to share their results with their friends. Whilst they wouldn’t claim to have come up with the idea for these kinds of games, they were definitely in amongst a few smart thinkers that created the template for the millions of social quizzes that followed. 

Favourite Question?

When do you wear a coat?

When it’s cold

When there’s an R in the month

When hell freezes over

Similar Formats:

You can see a collection of games Tom Scott worked on for UsVsTh3m here. Matt Round has a collection here.

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There were a couple of things UsVsTh3m aimed to achieve for the Mirror. As mentioned above they were tasked with getting attention. Once they got it they would help explain the news and complex issues in engaging ways. They were brilliant at getting attention through their quizzes. Not all of them were about being Northern. Emily Bell at the Guardian described their ‘Where is Damascus?’ quiz as “the best piece of digital journalism to emerge from newsrooms over the past few years.” I really miss their work. 

That’s it for this week. If you need help developing formats that get attention or explain complex issues get in touch. We’d love to talk to you about our format development workshops or show you some of our work. 

Or if you’d love to unpack a format yourself just send me a message or leave a comment.

See you all next week,

Hugh