For youth in rural BC, help can seem too far away to make a difference. To change that feeling for kids in one such area, we created a mobile web app that puts assistance services closer at hand.

Where We Started

The BC Government and Doctors of BC formed local teams to assess and develop responses to mental health needs in rural and remote areas of BC. Seeing our work with the City of North Vancouver on NSYouth, the team for Pemberton and surrounding areas approached us to build a similar mobile-focussed directory.

Early discussions made clear the need to evolve our original design to fit the challenges of service delivery to rural youth. Moreover, to get real adoption the directory could’t feel like a hand-me-down from the city; it had to feel like it belonged to the area and its youth.

What We Did

Visits with youth and front-line workers built an understanding of daily life and barriers to connecting with services. We designed several advanced features to address situational needs such as poor connectivity, service recall, and privacy.

Lacking a large promotional budget, it was important to make the app stand out and stick with a combination of unique features and visual design. We also created a motion-based mini-game meant to encourage repeat visits outside of crisis moments with a goal of making the directory a familiar and memorable space. If that worked, youth will have a better chance of knowing where to turn if a crisis hits.

During the beta phase, a testing day was organized with 20+ students from across the entire area and age groups to validate the usability and desirability of the design, and to tease out remaining issues on the actual phones where the directory needs to work.

The Results

The PLAN-Y brand is truly of the area, featuring the distinctive edge of its most famous landmark, Mount Currie. The vibrant colours are drawn from both local First Nations and Settler art by youth, and the natural environment. Bridging the various communities was a priority in the brand, and the PLAN-Y name itself is an acronym of Pemberton, Lil’Wat Nation and Lower Lakes, Area C, and N’Quatqua for Youth, and includes the major areas and communities in the service area.

While the basics of the PLAN-Y directory are the same as NSYouth - a searchable and filterable list of services - new features such as offline storage, personal list creation and sharing, and a more active interface, resulted in a tool tailored to the real circumstances of youth in rural BC.

With a strong, recognizable brand and a suite of features that go well beyond a simple list of services, the PLAN-Y directory is well positioned to help youth living in remote communities understand that despite the distance, help is within reach.

Try it:

Services Used

New Development

Creative design and development for apps & websites.

Identity Kit

Branding and initial online presence for emerging products.


Cover Photo

Photo by Steward Marshall

Project Snapshots

Scenes from visiting the Pemberton area

We visited the four main schools in the area, getting a feel for what life is like for youth growing up there.

Detail of the service area

The service area covers a mix of cultural and poltical districts, a challenge to unify under a single visual identity. The geography of natural features and sheer distance shapes much of daily life moreso than in urban areas, and provided shared features that we could build on.

Y-shape over maps of the area

From the visual study emerged a common shape, an eccentric Y that we saw in the river and lake arrangement across the entire service area, as well as the intersection of road/mountain/sky that all youth in the area see every day. Standing for Youth in the name, the Y glyph’s inverted tail gave it a bit of non-conformist edge to distance the brand from feeling institutional. logo

The logo combines the jagged peak of Mount Currie, a local landmark known for its distinctive shape and as the centre of the Lil’Wat Nation. The eccentric Y shape was drawn out of the river and lake arrangement that covers the entire service area, as well as the visual combination of valley road, mountain, and sky. Standing for Youth, the Y glyph’s inverted tail gave it a bit of non-conformist edge to distance the brand from feeling institutional. homepage

The PLAN-Y home screen is bright, modern, and non-institutional. The conversation bubble motif emphasizes dialog as a key theme, and animate subtly with device movement to make the directory feel active and alive.

Big questions

A success in the NSYouth design, the Big Questions page guides youth through 150+ services via relatable, plain-language questions.

Actions bar

The Actions bar holds contact shortcuts as well as special features such as a personal bookmark list and saving service pages for offline reading.

Your List

Services of interest can be saved to a personal list, and that list can be shared via a link. A recipient can optionally add services in the received list to their own list. We expect this feature to work from service providers like counsellors to youth more than between peers.

The confidentiality conversation

A unique aspect of the PLAN-Y service area is that youth often personally know those providing services around sensitive topics. A simulated text message exchange about the subject breaks down a complex subject in a format that is normally associated with private conversation.

Cover feature primed The fake Instagram page

For youth feeling the need to hide their use of PLAN-Y, we created a Cover feature. If uncertain about circumstances, the Cover features can be primed, where they take over the header and show emergency contact and a camouflage mode. Triggering the camouflage mode instantly displays a stored fake Instagram 404 page; if the device is online, it then moves to a local Instagram page that is plausible and dismissable by another party.

Special resource categories Pass some time

Resources with a lighter relationship to mental health are given their own context away from more serious content.

Bear on the Bus in Action

Bear on the Bus is a mini-game played by tilting the phone to move the bear to the empty seat. The game was added to make PLAN-Y more memorable and familiar outside of crisis moments.

We can do this for you

Putting the time and effort into understanding local context makes all the difference in connecting with a hard-to-reach audience. If you’ve been trying to do just that, let’s talk about how we can help.