The Big Issue SA Smart Bib 3.0


Background The Big Issue is a socially responsible non-profit organisation (NPO) that enables currently unemployed and economically marginalized adults to take control of their own lives, and to (re-)gain invaluable skills, confidence, and a sense of dignity and self-worth through micro-entrepreneurial and self-development programmes.

They sell these otherwise unemployed entrepreneurs The Big Issue magazines at just above cost price – locally at R10 -  and encourage them to sell them across Cape Town for R20, enabling vendors to draw R10 profit for every magazine sold. While The Big Issue South Africa operates solely out of the greater Cape Town area, this international NPO also operates in Australia, Britain, France, Kenya, Korea, Malawi, Namibia, Ireland, Taiwan and Zambia.

We have been involved with TheBig IssueSouth Africa since 2014. One of the first projects that we completed as a business involved our pro-bono optimization of the iconic blue bibs that all of these micro-entrepreneurs wear, in collaboration with our key partners Soda Pop, Snapscan and Greeff Properties. We have now completed two iterations of our optimized Smart Bibss with The Big Issue SA.

Using behavioural and observational insights into the way commuters and customers’ interact, and their respective motivations and concerns,  we worked to refine our Smart Bib design in efforts to improve the experiences of both the vendors and customers and their sales interactions in their entirety.

Previous iterations included the addition of handwritten messages relaying what each vendor’s ‘big issue’ is to further personalize and ‘humanize’ these micro-entrepreneurs while emphasizing their personal stories and individual concerns. They also included the addition of Snapscan – to remove the necessity of motorists having to carry cash – as well as transparent sleeves displaying how many magazines each vendor had left to sell that day. You can read more about our international award-winning first iteration here. The latest iteration of the Smart Bibs was launched in November this year, and this is what has changed…


Clear Plastic Pockets

In the pervious iteration, clear plastic pockets were placed on the front of each bib intended to display ‘goal cards’, allowing vendors to show - in a visual, engaging and motivating manner - how many magazines they had left to sell that day in order to meet their personal target. The idea behind the cards was to allow consumers to see the difference that their single purchase could make in vendors days and lives, while further motivating vendors to keep selling until they reached their target.

While the concept and thinking were sound, the particular material used for the clear plastic pockets was easily damaged after being exposed to the sun all day, every day. Water kept getting trapped inside of them when it rained too. The goal card was a clever idea in terms of addressing vendor and consumer motivation, but some of the vendors found it somewhat of an inconvenience to regularly change them throughout the day.

This is the perfect example of why, at Gravity, we believe in testing everything! Despite consultations with vendors and management, some variables will likely be outside of the scope of our sight and understanding without their active application. Context matters; award-winning theory is just that, theory, and it is the viability of its practical application that is most important.

Following ongoing consultations with vendors we identified that, since there are already sturdy, material pockets on the inside of the bibs secured with zips, the clear front pockets were superfluous to some. These have thus been taken out during the second iteration of design development.

After about a week of wearing the new bibs out on the job, vendors gave some feedback about this change. Some vendors said that they miss the pockets, stating that they “used it to keep cards and smaller papers” inside these. Another vendor said that he “miss(ed) the pocket on the front. [He’d] like them to come back in the next version, but with better quality”. On the whole however, the vendors have been very positive about the changes made to the bibs. Because of our ongoing partnership with The Big Issue, future iterations will continue to take the invaluable vendor feedback and consumer insights into consideration in developing and improving the bibs. Feedback loops and testing – the value of this speaks for itself.


Vendors complained that their customers did not use Snapscan that much because they did not know that it was an option. Since Snapscan has been a relatively new addition to the vendors’ payment methods, and the Snapscan logo was previously smaller in size and located on the back of the bib, the previous iteration did not overly promote the use of this electronic payment method.

We saw the use of Snapscan as invaluable, not only because customers do not need to keep cash with them, but also because it provides security for vendors who now do not need to walk around or make their long journeys home with cash in their pockets. This was an issue identified particularly by the female Big Issue vendors as they felt themselves to be ‘easy targets’ on public transport. Snapscan also invaluably nudges these micro-entrepreneurs to save as their earnings as the cash is sent directly to a bank account, decreasing the likelihood of vendors spending all of their money as soon as they earn it.

In order to boost awareness, and to hopefully encourage more customers to use the Snapscan payment option, the team decided to clearly indicate its acceptance with a signal on the front of the bib in the form of a large QR code. While the QR code printed on the bib is not linked to any personal account - and therefore should not be scanned in order to pay - each vendor has a lanyard with their unique, personal QR code linked to their name which they present customers upon payment. As the QR code is much larger, front and centre on the bib, it can easily be seen at a distance in the traffic as a signal that motorists who do not have cash on hand will also be able to purchase a magazine.

While the feedback has generally been positive, some vendors did raise concerns regarding the use of Snapscan for transactions. Leslie and Joseph indicated that the lack of immediate access to money can frustrate them when it comes time to buy lunch, or to collect more magazines to sell the next day, since those need to be paid for in cash. Another concern was that fewer people tip the vendors when they pay via Snapscan.

Overall, however, most vendors have been very positive about their new and improved bibs. One vendor, Cedric, indicated that many more people now ask to pay with Snapscan and that it is working well for him. Another vendor was quoted as saying that “It’s good because money gets saved, and I don’t have to carry it around with me the whole time”.

Safety on the Roads

During our consultations with The Big Issue vendors it became clear that they felt unsafe on the roads, especially at night or on dark winter days. Many vendors said that they couldn’t work as long as they wanted to in a day, particularly during the winter months, because they became anxious on the roads after dark. This was largely due to the dark blue colour of their bibs, and the lack of any form of eye-catching visual identifier after the sun went down.

We set out to address this problem by experimenting with new bib colours and luminescent reflective stripes. In this second iteration the same iconic navy blue colour was used to continue the identity of the brand, however we valuably added a yellow and silver reflective stripe along the bottom front and back ensuring that all vendors are still visible in the dark. It also means that they can now be seen at a greater distance, even during the day, so that customers can prepare to stop and buy a magazine.

Cedric said that he “like[s] the stripe; [he] feels safer at night and when it is dark”. Another vendor commented that, because she can be seen from far away, people now call her over to their vehicles in order to buy from her; “they are good quality and the bight fabric and strip feel[s] safe”.. Overall the vendors feel much safer in their new bibs.


It has been about a month since the latest version of The Big Issue bibs have been implemented out on the streets of Cape Town and, from the vendors’ point of view, it seems to be going well. Many vendors also appreciated the larger sizing of the bibs, and the use of sturdy materials to ensure that the bib lasts longer out in the elements all day.

Joseph, a vendor who has been with The Big Issue since just about the beginning of the magazine’s time in South Africa, had the following to say when asked for his opinion on the new design:

“I’ve been working here for 19 years, and this is the nicest bib we have ever had. Customers really like it, and respond to it … I like the bib changing because customers can see us moving forward.”