Thyroid problems are experienced by one in twenty people in the UK, which means they affect about the same number of people as diabetes. The language used in online explanations can be complicated and is often rather medical-sounding. One thing quickly becomes clear: nearly all the information about thyroid problems is designed for adults.
The thing is, Children can experience thyroid problems too. It’s rarer, but it happens. And there aren’t many resources out there to help them understand what’s happening, or reassure them that everything’s going to be okay.
Our brief from the British Thyroid Foundation was to create a five-minute animated video to help children aged 6 – 12, recently diagnosed with a thyroid problem, understand their diagnosis and know what to expect.
To do this well, there were several factors Numiko needed to consider:
- A diverse audience. Our target demographic was definitely a tricky one. Ask any parent to describe what makes a 6-year-old different from a 12-year-old, and they’ll talk about huge developmental differences, as well as kids’ very different tastes in books and TV. We needed to appeal to the full range of ages by choosing appropriate content and style: the animation had to be simple enough to hold a 6-year-old’s attention, but fun and rapid-fire enough that someone on the cusp of adolescence wouldn’t turn up their nose at it. And this didn’t just have to work for kids of different ages, either: it also had to be something adult caregivers would watch, and maybe even learn from. While adults probably have an easier time navigating the available information on thyroid problems, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a general overview and a spot of reassurance too.
- The big picture. Children with thyroid problems need to understand what is going on, in the most general terms. (What’s going to happen now? What will happen after that? Will it hurt?) Kids don’t process information as effectively as adults do; it’s unrealistic to throw a load of information at them and expect everything to stick. So we needed to craft some very simple messages about what to expect.
- The little details. Children diagnosed with thyroid problems are going to hear some very long words from their medical care providers: words like ‘hypothyroidism’, and some pretty complicated drug names. We didn’t expect that kids, especially the younger ones, would take in every single thing first time; the idea was to make something fun enough that they would want to watch it again.
- Personal reassurance. We wanted to reassure children that just because they’d been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, it didn’t mean anything nasty was going to happen to them. In fact, we actually wanted to emphasise that by getting treatment for it, they’d start feeling better than they did at the moment.
- Social reassurance. Particularly for older children, who become more concerned about fitting in the closer they get to adolescence, we wanted to provide reassurance that having a thyroid problem, and taking medication for it, doesn’t have to affect your social or school life. We needed to send a clear message: you’ll still be normal, and you’re still you.
- Making it fun. We knew nobody would remember much if the animation was dry and factual — it had to grab attention, so its messages would be heard and would stick. Obviously we didn’t have the budget of SpongeBob SquarePants or The Incredibles, but we wanted to create something that would capture that same broad appeal: fun (and funny), warm, and accessible to everyone.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that making it fun was the key to unlocking all those other requirements. On the first day of scripting, we had a bit of a brainwave and realised that five minutes of animation and engaging characters would be fine, but five minutes of animated characters all speaking in rhyme would be great. Rhymes are memorable, and they’re fun. They’re also attention-magnets: as Dr Seuss knew, rhyming stories are page-turners all the way, because they create suspense. We can’t help it — we want to know how a stanza will finish, to the point of inventing the ending ourselves if that last line doesn’t arrive right on cue. It took a lot of cups of tea, but yup, we went there: we wrote a rhyming script about thyroid problems.
It was important from the start to get the look and feel right, not just to get buy-in from those involved, but also to set the mood. This project was never going to be about blowing a huge design budget on whizz-bang animation: it was about creating something friendly and appealing. So we used the scripting and storyboarding stages to develop and sketch three simple characters, two children and a doctor, who would form the heart of the story. The BTF kept us on the right track medically, and made sure that we foregrounded the most important messages.
The acid test was when we took a printed storyboard into a primary school, and read it aloud like a storybook with some 5- and 6-year olds, then again with some 9- and 10-year-olds. This was surprisingly nerve-wracking: would children without thyroid problems be able to engage with the subject? Would they be scared by the medical stuff? And crucially, would they remember anything useful about the story afterwards?
As it turned out, we were a hit: the kids loved the story and laughed at the funny bits. They did brilliantly pronouncing all the long words, and gave us some valuable feedback, such as to make the doctor a bit more reassuring. Best of all, we were surprised — thrilled, if we’re honest — by how much even the youngest children remembered about the story afterwards. And they weren’t worried, either: all the children seemed satisfied that by the end of the story, the two main characters were happy and safe, and understood what was happening to them.
So what happens now? Well, now we get to animate the whole thing. And we can’t wait to see the finished product! So watch this space …