Using Design To Help Steel Warriors Fight Knife Crime

Mock ups of the new designs for the steel warriors mobile website

In February we began working with Steel Warriors, a London-based charity that provides gyms and training sessions to give young people a support system and to build mental and physical confidence to walk the streets unarmed. Spectacularly, the outdoor gyms that Steel Warriors provides are made using steel collected by melting down confiscated knives.

Though this is an ongoing engagement the London design team wanted to share the outcomes of phase one of the project as well as give a taste of what’s to come from this collaboration.

The Brief

When Steel Warriors came to us they had an ambitious plan of developing a digital platform to support their amazing physical offering. At the outset we discussed a series of broad features:

  • Activity Tracking
  • Workout Instruction
  • Community Building

Once we downloaded all of the information about their business goals and needs we set to work with a research phase.

Research Phase - User Insights

We began our research phase by attending a Steel Warriors training session at their gym in Ruskin Park. Training sessions are free and take place weekly visit their website to learn more.

two images side by side showinf individuals working out on the steel warriors gym

While at the workout session we spoke to the athletes that participated as well as Simone, one of Steel Warriors’ excellent trainers.

Some comments we received were:

I’m afraid of heights so there is definitely a fear factor to contend with

Nearly every exercise today was new to me

Gym’s like these have amazing communities

From those conversations it became apparent that the training and instruction is the key value proposition for Steel Warriors. This insight helped us to pivot our focus to investigating how we could deliver a digital experience that both teaches users workout techniques and helps them to organize workout routines.

Research Phase - Competitive Analysis

With some first hand experience of the training sessions we turned our focus to competitive analysis. For this we looked at four applications/services that we felt aligned with the aforementioned features identified in our initial conversation with the Steel Warriors team.

To do this we set about downloading and investigating the applications. We used them ourselves and read online reviews to see what features users loved and what features they were not so fond of. Following that first pass we then did Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis to get a picture of the product as a whole as it stands in the market. From there we mapped out the most common user flows and tried to identify the product’s unique selling proposition (the highlighted portion in the diagrams).

Side Note: SWOT analysis is typically used as a tool for helping businesses identify the internal (strengths and weaknesses) and external (opportunities and threats) forces shaping their business environment and it can often serve as a starting point for developing a business strategy. At thoughtbot we find that SWOT analysis can be useful to help put competitive products in a wider context in regards to the one we are building. With that gained perspective we can not only compare product features and flows, but we can also better understand the shared market these products inhabit.


Strava is a mobile application for tracking your fitness activity. Strava uses three primary ways to engage with users:

  1. Tracking and analysing their workouts

  2. Showing users new routes and maps for uses to try out

  3. Creating challenges and allowing users to compete with one another

Presentation pages showcasing research outcomes from investigating Stava

Yoga Studio

Yoga Studio is a mobile and Apple TV application that delivers video yoga class for all levels of experience. Yoga Studio’s key features are:

  1. Accessible video yoga classes for all abilities

  2. Customizable yoga workouts (made easy with their video-stitching technology)

  3. Workout planner to schedule workouts in advance

Presentation pages showcasing research outcomes from investigating 
Yoga Studio

Apple Watch (Activity App)

Hardware integrations with great software are often market game-changers and that is the case with the Apple Watch. For our analysis we focused on the Apple Watch Activity app, which serves two main purposes:

  1. To track and archive user workout data

  2. To motivate users to be active at all levels from walking up the steps to a 5k run

Presentation pages showcasing research outcomes from investigating the 
Apple Watch activity app

Nike Run Club

Nike Run Club is a mobile application that helps athletes get the most out of their running experience. Its features include:

  1. GPS run tracking

  2. Guided Runs

  3. Weekly, monthly, and distance challenges

  4. Competition between friends

Presentation pages showcasing research outcomes from investigating the 
Nike Run club app

Research Phase - Moodboards

In an effort to help Steel Warriors visualize potential outcomes from the research we generate mood boards based on the broad feature themes from our first meeting (Activity Tracking, Workout Instruction, Community Engagement).

A series of three moodboards showing visual design direction options

Research Phase - Next Steps

With this light research phase complete we identified a series of next steps for the engagement. First was to speak to internal stakeholders to get confirmation of our learnings. Second was to reach out to more athletes for more in depth interviews to learn more about their workout habits. Finally, we wanted to hold a design workshop in order to:

  1. Highlight any assumptions we have about the product / users / etc. and ideate on how to gain a deeper understanding of them (interviews, user testing, market research)

  2. Identify user pain points & map out a proposed user journey

  3. Prioritize proposed features with business needs in mind

  4. Select a small piece of the user flow to prototype and test

With a good foundation laid in our research phase we began to think about our approach to delivery. Fortunately, we were able to partner with 8th Light, a software consultancy with similar values to ours, to support us on the development side of the equation.

Part II - Design Workshop

With limited availability from key stakeholders we set out to run a 1-day workshop in which we would complete the following exercises:

  1. Introduction & Pleasantries

  2. Rapid Research Review

  3. Goal Statement

  4. Year Plan

  5. What does success / failure look like

  6. Storyboarding

  7. Critical Path

  8. Planning

two presenation mock ups of the workshop schedule

Design Workshop - Goal Statement

the thoughtbot, 8th light, and steel warriors team putting post-it notes 
on the whiteboard

Instructions: Define the problem at hand keeping in mind what we learned in the research review. As a group we’ll be trying to distill down what the problem is both from a business perspective and a user perspective by filling in the following sentences.

“As an Individual, I want ______________ so that I can ______________”

“As Steel Warriors, we want ______________ so that we can ______________”

Outcomes: As Steel Warriors, we want to get more of our target users to our gyms. So that we can gather data about usage to help with our funding and our future planning.

As an individual, I want to emulate top athletes I have seen. So that I can improve myself, mentally and physically, and potentially join a community.

Design Workshop - 5-Year Plan

images showing the team conversing and writing on a whiteboard

Instructions: Discuss and define the ideal future of the company



  • More people using the Gyms
  • More Gyms

2-3 Years

  • Expand Camden Youth Programs

5 Years

  • Steel Warriors across Europe
  • Expand to mental health services

Design Workshop - What does success / failure look like?

the team conversing and and a close up shot showing someone 
writing on post-it notes

Instructions: Identify a short list of success metrics and parallel to that a look at what failure looks like.

Outcome: We identified key metrics that we could use to measure success/failure such as gym visits, partnerships with youth services, and media coverage. We then crafted a simple statement to put the identified metrics into perspective.

The project will be deemed a success if users get value from the digital experience and if steel warriors receive useful data that can help them to secure more funding.

Design Workshop - Storyboarding

the team from verious angles sketching storyboards

Instructions: Using sketches, draw out perspective user flows. Present sketches to the group and vote keeping in mind the previous exercises.

team members holding up their storyboards as they share them with the group

team members standing at the whiteboard and voting on the storyboards

Outcome: We utilized the outcomes of the voting process to identify features and understand their priority. With that information we mapped the features onto a diagram we could reference going forward.

pictures of the various storyboards that team members produced 
during the exercise

team member at the whiteboard and a diagram showing priorities

Design Workshop - Critical Path

teamate standing at the whiteboard drawing a diagram

Instructions: As a group, map out the ideal path of users solving our identified problem. Decide on an area of the path to prototype.

Outcome: Using all of the previous exercises we began to build a critical path. As a means to helping out in the upcoming planning session we also discussed how we could split features into phases ensuring that we could deliver a lean product and iterate on it over time.

diagram outlining the critical path as it relates to the user booking process

Design Workshop - Planning

Group of teamates in a discussion around a table

Instructions: Given the area of focus selected in the previous exercise create a backlog of early features and discuss timeline and start date and short term goals.

Outcome: Based on what we learned throughout the day we decided that we would focus on helping users book workout sessions online for phase 1.

Design Workshop - Wrap Up

One teamate looking up towards the group not shown in the photo and smiling

The final part of the workshop when we could all release a deep breath and appreciate the effort that we had put in throughout the day.

Instructions: Ensure that all aspects of the workshop have been documented and shared across the group and clarify any unresolved queries.

Outcome: High fives, excitement, and exhaustion - workshop complete.

Part III - Prototyping & Beyond

With the workshop wrapped up we were all eager to dive deeper into the design process. We worked with 8th Light to determine what technology stack we would be using and set some rituals to abide by, weekly planning meetings (as needed) asynchronous stand ups, and retrospectives.

Since that time the thoughtbot design team and 8th Light have begun designing and building the booking system. From focusing on micro interactions such as form fields to helping translate the Steel Warriors brand to the web we have been especially driven by the amazing mission of Steel Warriors.

A video showing the design proccess of our initial design proccess

If you want to learn more, participate in workouts, or donate to Steel Warriors visit their website. If you want to follow along with our design progress follow us on Dribbble.

Special thanks to photographer Francis Augusto for his amazing photographic documentation of our workshop session. To see more of his work visit his website.

Thanks for reading.