Going analogue with the digital generation

Unreal Engine
Unreality rules…

It’s perhaps not surprising that, as a Digital Development Team, we spend a lot of time firmly entrenched in our respective digital realms.

Whether we’re coding, dev-op’ing, grooming backlogs, throwing lo-fi clickable prototypes together, annoying each other on Slack, updating our Trello roadmaps, testing (read faffing about in) the latest shiny web app or listening to Adventures in Angular (you know who you are), there’s usually a digital slant to our endeavours.

And of course the geekdom extends into our non-work pursuits — running Minecraft Realms servers, building strange habitats in Unreal Engine, ‘attempting’ to make music in Ableton Live, and so on — it’s safe to say as digital proponents we definitely eat our own dog food.

So, when we walk into a customer meeting there is invariably an expectation that we will get straight down to some serious digital wizardry…

Paper Planes

As touched upon in an excellent recent blog from one of our devs, Jack, it’s been somewhat of a culture shock for us to embrace many of the more analogue approaches that User-Centred Design brings to the party.

Equally, for our customers, the sight of us breaking out the A0, Post-its™ and Sharpies™ and speaking in decidedly non-tech language can leave them a little nonplussed.

Of course being a bit of a disruptive influence (my school reports had that one nailed) we love the raised eyebrows and we know, ultimately, most of them feel much more confident in this medium, once we get going.

But what about when we’re working with people who — popular media would have you believe — live pretty much exclusively in a digital world.

World War Z


It annoys me intently that Generation Z get such bad press, particularly for their supposed ‘over-reliance’ on tech. It’s contradictory, to say the least, to criticise them for fully engaging with the very thing that the two previous generations worked so hard to make, er, engaging!

As a local authority function we spend quite a bit of time making things for people who are very different to your average young person in 2016, i.e. tech averse and nervous about change.

So when we get a chance to work with this demographic, we jump at it.

We’re currently building an app for young people in our youth offending programme, following on from a joint project with our fab Youth Offending Team and the excellent Futuregov.

And more recently we were given the chance to work with our equally brilliant Youth Council.

The challenge was pretty straightforward: help raise awareness of the Youth Council and its work.

But would these digital natives welcome our non-digital approach?

Pitch Perfect

Burt Reynolds
Still relevant, even in a rollneck…

We’ll often kick-off our discovery process with a nice juicy metaphor, to get past the self-conscious assumptions and down to some gritty realities.

Our challenge for the Youth Council was an old favourite: Pitch your vision for the Youth Council as if it was a Hollywood blockbuster.

The resulting ideas were rich in detail and full of surprises: not least a lot of explosions and a starring role for the venerable Burt Reynolds!

But beyond that there was a clear appreciation of why we were doing it, summed up brilliantly in the check-out with comments like “describing things with metaphors was much easier” and “it made me really think about what we want to get across to people.”

We also got some great personas (the films’ “target audience”) which meant we could hotfoot on to a persona session…


Persona sheet
Persona very much grata…

We love creating personas because it ‘humanises’ what we are trying to do. This is a powerful enabler in software development, a discipline that can all too easily become abstract and technically-immersive.

The young people got this very quickly and their natural creativity and confidence as a group came, instantly, to the fore.

Aside from some seriously superior persona artwork (see inset) we also got real depth; stuff around personal issues, lifestyle choices, influences and so on.

In short, the personas felt real. By no means an easy thing to accomplish.

The Words

Next we ideated on words that articulated what the Youth Council meant to these exceptional young people and their aspirations for its future.

We themed them and spot voted the top three in each. The councillors used these to write a vision statement:

“To empower every young person to have a voice and to influence the future of their community”

Truly aspirational and inspiring.

The remaining words went into the mix for their key message piece. No good idea goes to waste in this process!

The Idea

The pen is mightier…

We took these outputs, combined them with the background intelligence the young people had gathered on social and offline media, and got down to some serious Post-it production.

The ideation was effortless, with the young people generating ideas that were focussed, supported the vision and resonated with the identified personas.

In other words they made it look easy.

And still nary a laptop or tablet in sight…


As a solutions provider we want to speak to everyone who might use our products. As a solutions provider for a unitary authority that is pretty much everyone!

But as a team we have a particular aspiration to develop solutions for two of our most important, and often under-represented, demographic groups: young people like the ones above, and our older citizens.

Finding a design approach that works for both of these is always going to be a tough call. But keeping it truly user-centred and giving them simple and engaging tools to express their needs in a unemotional, but creative way, is always going to be key.

And radical trust is what drives the whole thing.

So, contrary to perceived wisdom, we think a blank piece of paper might just be the best place to start.

And Gen Z are all over it.

Please follow the brilliant York Youth Council when you get a mo! 🙂

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