Talking Minds

Talking Minds – Co-creating Better Mental Health Support Through Patient-centred Design

Empowering young New Zealanders to better manage their mental wellbeing


Nearly half of New Zealanders experience mental distress in their lifetime, with Māori and 18-24 year-olds more affected. Online support services often lack culturally relevant, age appropriate information to support young people's mental wellbeing.

Nick Hayes, Ivana Nakarada-Kordic, Reid Douglas, Anushka Verma
  • User research
  • Prototyping
  • UX/UI
  • Branding & Identity
  • Web Development
  • Product testing

The Challenge

A group of Mental Health Pharmacists were developing an educational resource to help young people learn about the importance of medication in managing psychosis. The initial paper resource was intended to visually communicate concepts relating to medication and facilitate conversation between clinicians, young people and their families. Acknowledging the limitations of a paper resource, the DHW Lab was briefed to digitise the resource either as an app or website to make the resource more engaging and relatable for young people.

The Context

‘Psychosis’ refers to a range of unusual experiences or states that affect the mind. Like other mental health related subjects, there are common misconceptions, social stigmas and barriers surrounding psychosis that prevent young people from seeking support.

Online information about psychosis is often overwhelming, highly medicalised, and heavily associated with frightening, chaotic imagery. As a result, young people typically avoid web-based resources, finding them hard to relate to, fear-invoking and disempowering.

The Process

After early research on the complex subject, our first challenge was finding ways to meaningfully engage young, potentially vulnerable people in co-design workshops. Research suggested young people often find traditional methods such as interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups boring or intimidating. In order to encourage young people to share their stories and experiences of psychosis, we needed to develop fun, creative and interactive methods to build trust and engagement.

We started with a series of broad, discovery workshops to unpack the topic and explore how a digital resource could support their needs. To break the ice to these workshops, and explain the process of ‘co-design’, we began by ‘co-designing a pizza’ – each participant wrote down three favourite toppings and stuck them on the wall; from there, we arranged toppings into different flavour combinations that we’d all enjoy.

This activity gave everyone the chance to share their own preferences and showed the group how we would work collaboratively throughout the session – it also gave us a delicious lunch to look forward to!

Following our icebreaker, we wanted to learn more about each individual – their background, culture and lifestyle. We used emojis to create visual stories about people's day-to-day lives, addressing factors that can influence the management of psychosis, such as exercise, nutrition, social and recreational activities. This activity encouraged participants to contribute and share without needing to vocalise their experiences.

From there, we were able to dive deeper into understanding each person’s experiences of psychosis, first hand. Rather than ask directly, we used a persona ‘Jack’, and asked people “how might Jack be feeling, what might he be thinking if he’d just been diagnosed with psychosis?” By allowing participants to project their thoughts, feelings and experiences onto a fictional character, any sense of direct attention or pressure on a specific individual was dramatically reduced.

These activities generated a great deal of insight into the challenges young people and their families face following diagnosis. From here, we shifted the focus to generating ideas as to how a web or app-based resource might support their needs, and enable them to better understand and manage psychosis. Fundamentally, what people wanted was:

A trustworthy, positive and empowering place to learn about psychosis, and share stories with others.

The Outcome

Prototyping Workshops

After learning what was most important to young people and families experiencing psychosis through discovery workshops, we began developing a simple, interactive prototype that responded to our key themes. The prototype combined high level information on various topics around psychosis, alongside a simple, friendly look and feel. To keep users engaged in the co-design process, and ensure we were on the right path, we ran another series of workshops focusing on content and design.

We presented the initial prototype on tablets and printed out specific pages we wanted to test. On each page, we included an emoji rating scale and comments section so that people could give feedback and make suggestions directly on the page.

Rather than simply gaining feedback on information and features, we wanted our users to have an active influence on the look and feel of the resource. To facilitate this, we ran an activity asking participants to ‘draw what a good day looks like and what a bad day looks like’. We then took turns explaining what our drawings represented; two clear themes emerged – bad days were typically represented through sharp, zig-zag shapes symbolising difficulty, despair or disconnection, while good days were represented through circular, wavy shapes symbolising calm, flow and connection.

After the workshops, we scanned these drawings and took snippets/shapes from each to create patterns that became inspiration for the look and feel of the resource. From here, we were able to develop a brand system that would support the informational content and give the website a friendly, inviting and empowering identity.

Left: Shapes taken from scans of original drawings. Right: Repeating patterns created from scanned shapes.
Left: developing informational content following user feedback. Right: developing patterns and a character system to support informational content
A series of character illustrations were developed to support text-based information and visualise common feelings or concerns young people expressed surrounding psychosis. Illustrations by Reid Douglas.
App Downloads
NZ DHB Adoption Rate
Clinical disciplines

The Outcome

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Currently senior product designer at Thriva, shaping the future of healthcare. If you'd like to chat, say or connect with me on LinkedIn.