thoughtbot and Steel Warriors - A Case Study

March 20, 2024


Steel Warriors is a London-based charity that melts down knives taken off the streets and recycles the steel into free outdoor community gyms.

They provide gyms and training sessions to transform the lives of young people affected by crime, violence and social exclusion, giving them the skills and confidence they need to achieve seemingly impossible goals in life.


The Challenge

An ambitious concept for developing a digital platform to mirror the physical offering was being considered to grow their community and have a larger impact.

At the outset, thoughtbot product designers and the Steel Warriors team discussed a series of broad features:

  • Activity Tracking
  • Workout Instruction
  • Community Building

 Once there was an understanding of the business goals and needs, the team set to work with a research phase to better understand their current community and what some of their potential competitors are already doing.

Solutions - Research and Design


The research phase developed a better understanding of the current workouts, potential competitors, and future opportunities for Steel Warriors.

The research phase kicked off with the thoughtbot team attending a Steel Warriors training session at their gym in Ruskin Park. While attending the session, it became apparent that the instruction is the strongest value proposition for Steel Warriors. This insight helped to pivot the focus to investigating the delivery of a digital experience that both teaches users workout techniques and helps them to organise workout routines.

Four applications that offered similar services to the Steel Warriors' vision were identified. thoughtbot designers tested them and read online reviews to see what features users loved and what features they were not so fond of. A Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis was then conducted to get a picture of each of the products as a whole in the market.

Product Design

After gathering research, the teams reunited to ideate solutions to be tested.

The goal of this workshop was to align on one idea to prototype and test. With limited availability from key stakeholders, a 1-day workshop was organized to complete the following exercises:

  • Goal Statement
  • Year Plan
  • What does success/failure look like
  • Storyboarding
  • Critical Path
  • Planning



Everyone was eager to dive into prototyping the design, test with some of Steel Warriors’ existing users, and start building the application.

In parallel, thoughtbot worked to determine what technology stack to use. The team set up weekly planning meetings, asynchronous stand-ups, and retrospectives to remain in contact.

Since that time, design and development of the booking system has kicked off. From focusing on micro-interactions such as form fields to helping translate the Steel Warriors brand to the web, everyone involved has been especially driven by the amazing mission of Steel Warriors.

With a strong product foundation laid,, the team was able to move forward quickly, and with confidence. If you want to learn more, participate in workouts, or donate to Steel Warriors visit their website.

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