Giving young people the right tools to become the digital makers of the future.

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Introduction

Make Things Do Stuff is about bringing together individuals and organisations with similar aims in a single mission: inspire young people aged 11-18 to be creators not just consumers of digital technologies. With more than a fair share of Numikons having been inspired by writing lines of BASIC into a Spectrum ZX, this was a project close to our hearts. So this is exactly what we did for the pitch. Yes. We pitched with a Spectrum ZX. 

Having beeped into glory, Numiko was tasked by Nesta to create a fully integrated and responsive campaign for 11-18 year olds. This meant building from nothing an all encompassing brand, integrated comms campaign and web platform that gives young people the confidence, the tools and the support to get into digital making. The project brings together partners such as the Nominet Trust, Mozilla and Raspberry Pi to name but a few.

Understanding the audience

As with any Numiko project, we started by getting under the skin of our audience. We attended events at the O2 and Mozfest where young people were taking their first steps into digital making. We went to schools and talked to children about their experience of ICT in schools and what it was lacking. 

Understanding difficulty

We knew that to be truly successful, this wasn't going to be a simple journey. Coding is hard. The thought that somehow everyone will come to a website, learn to code and go on to change the world would have been easy, but not true. When we started to code on a ZX Spectrum, the results we could get weren't a million miles away from what you saw in a game you had played the day before.  Now though, the gap between an Xbox game, an iPhone App and what you can realistically create after an hour's worth of hand coding is enormous.  The effort to result ratio is completely different.  

There's a complicated journey of confidence, perception, peer support and education that we needed to understand. At MozFest we worked with young people to explain their emotional journey in relation to coding. We asked them each to map out their confidence levels as they started out, how they felt when they hit their first problem, and how they overcame it.  By understanding this we could plan what content and advice we could provide to pick them back up when they fell. 

Building a brand

 We took an iterative, evidence-based approach to the brand development, testing it on young people at every stage as we developed values, tone, name and finally visual look and feel. At each stage, we tested creative and naming routes against the defined brand values. From speaking to the audience we were highly aware of both the blockers and motivations that young people experienced with digital making.

Make, Do, Inspire

Our research found there was a huge gap between what is taught in schools as part of the national curriculum and what young people actually enjoyed doing. We discovered that young people, unsurprisingly, are motivated by the result, the things they make, rather than just the actual process used to make it. So we gathered the top things that young people are interested in and led all our digital making projects with a series of themes, from music and art, to computer games and fashion and used those as the hooks rather than the method of production.

A scalable platform

The brand which had resonated most with the users was then developed into a full design language for the Make Things Do Stuff website. It was cool, but not exclusive. The website had to be built to grow, as it will eventually be the home for thousands of project ideas, events, news and reviews for young people. This made information architecture critical to get right, together with a clean, yet striking design.

Start small

Young people want to get stuck in immediately. This didn't mean start programming HTML straight away though. It meant giving them agency and signalling that they can be in control of technology. Therefore for each section, for example animation, we created small, fun applications that allowed the user to immediately take control, recording, remixing and tweaking variables. Letting them know that they can be creative without scaring them with ‘too much too soon’.

We knew from our research that if young people fail early, the likelihood of them continuing is low.  Conversely if there is no progression they get bored and do something else.  Therefore we needed an intelligent system that suggested projects at the right level, and slowly increased complexity over time.

Dynamic content

Drupal supported the pedagogy; assets and tutorials being dynamically delivered not only on a related topic, such as ‘Music’ but also delivered content in an automated way based on what level the user was comfortable with, either based on their self-declared proficiency, or what they had successfully (or unsuccessfully) attempted previously.

Once up and running, we also had to ensure that the site was easy to add to for the end users, who can contribute back to the site. We created a form that allows people to suggest resources that they've found on the web, or they can create their own tutorials.  We capture all the classifications we need to add the project back into the repository so that they can be served out to the right people at the right time of their journey into digital making.

The devices used by our auidence

We knew that the primary web device for young people is of course, their mobile, and so we used the latest responsive design approaches, which meant we could properly render the site for any available screen size – whether that be a desktop, mobile or tablet device. At the other end of the spectrum, all graphical elements were created to look great on ultra high resolution displays, such as Apple’s Retina displays.

Summary

In the end, we emerged with a platform that we had nurtured from concept through to creation, and one that we are extremely proud of. But it's not just us...when your website gets launched by the Chancellor in Downing Street, you know you are doing something a bit special. And as if that wasn't enough, Web User magazine gave Make Things Do Stuff an incredible five star rating, which they classify as, “Superb. Impossible to fault in terms of design, content & features. Bookmark it now!” It doesn't get better than that.

We hope to look back in twenty years and say that we played a part in inspiring the next generation of digital makers.

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