Thinking differently…with Crossover Labs

Posted on: Wednesday 06 July 2011 6:16pm

Blog by Colin Ward (who promised a John Lennon quote with every blog).

Session introduced By:
Mark Atkin, Director, Crossover Labs
Juliet Tzabar, Production Director, Plug-in Media
Produced by:
Mark Atkin, Director, Crossover Labs

“It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what colour my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man.”  John Lennon

Absolutely right John, although in the context of this Crossover Labs session those things turned out to be rather important. It was all about something called User-experience Design. The logic of the approach is that there’s no point pouring your creative juices into devising something that will sell to a particular commissioner on a specific platform because audiences/consumers expect their favourite media to be available in multiple formats anyway. Don’t think about what will work on CBBC, or appeal to Walker Books, concentrate on how to make your idea ‘people shaped’.

With that in mind the delegates set about creating six imaginary children (persona) with detailed information on their hairstyle, race, and gender, as well as likes, dislikes, home life, clothes, and their ‘unarticulated needs’. Sounds tough? Well, it was, which is why the process usually takes days, not hours, and often starts with fieldwork – time spent talking to real people so that those observed characteristics can be absorbed into a composite persona.

The participants for the Crossover Labs workshops are always drawn from a range of specialisms – games designers, producers, animators, commissioners, and writers. The CMC delegate mix was perfect and they came up with a ‘family’ of children and young people who all felt real. The process is iterative and everyone faced questions about their persona, forcing them to defend and expand their thinking. I don’t know why but for some reason all the kids our delegates devised turned out to be ‘quite bright’ with supportive parents and easy access to different media. Maybe that reflects the world we live in, or maybe that is the world we aspire to? Or maybe it’s just the world of those people with the money to buy product?

The next step was to devise a cross-platform proposal inspired by the personality and life experiences of the persona created by each group. The jumping off point for the brainstorm was the underlying themes of archetypal children’s stories like The Ugly Duckling and Little Red Riding Hood (because we know that these stories work for the broader children’s audience). The ideas ranged from an online virtual pet farm linked to the Royal Veterinary College (with real life pet-related rewards), to a cartoon, comic, and interactive web game based on the Hansel and Gretel story, in which the two main characters are dropped off in a different place (and time) each week and have to fight their way to safety, avoiding the distractions of many and varied temptations.

What gives the Crossover Labs approach the edge over some of the other ‘ideas factories’ is the way every idea is pitched to the whole group, helping people to see potential weaknesses in their idea. Commissioners are always looking for a reason to reject a proposal but if your idea can successfully fight its way through this process then maybe one day it will bathe in the lustrous glow of a green light.