A hand holding an iPhone outside on the sidewalk on a sunny day. The screen displays a light purple background, with the white Thinkable app's logo.

How might we improve mental health in Canada?


Recently, I had a unique opportunity to participate in Bridge School's Product Design Program, hosted by Rangle. Over 155 designers applied, and I was 1 of only 12 people chosen to participate. During this program, we took on a very important and complex issue that many Canadians struggle with - mental health. For 11 weeks we worked collaboratively to design a solution to this problem.

Design Challenge

How might we improve mental health in Canada?

Nearly half of all Canadians will experience some form of mental health-related illness in their lifetime. Unfortunately, one-third of these individuals will not receive adequate treatment. Significant barriers, such as accessibility, affordability and the stigma surrounding mental health, prevent many Canadians from receiving proper treatment. (source: CAMH)


The Client

The STOWE Research Institute - a (fictitious) Canadian research organization whose mission is to provide innovative solutions to challenges in the Canadian healthcare system. Rangle staff took on the roles of client stakeholders. I facilitated some discovery exercises with them to determine what the desired project outcomes are. We then defined the problems that the product should solve, and for whom we are solving them for.

Discovery Facilitation
Discovery workshop with the client to determine goals, concerns, and desired outcomes.

Stakeholder Goals

I started by encouraging an open conversation about goals and concerns by writing each stakeholder’s answers to the following question on the whiteboard: What goals and concerns do we need to address?

This exercise yielded the following goals:

  • Secure funding/buy-in from investors
  • Be seen as an industry leader in mental health patient care
  • Concerns about competition - keep the project “quiet” until we have a solid pitch to present to investors
  • Leverage social media to start a conversation about mental health, and reduce the stigma that surrounds it
  • Patient information should remain private while tracking tangible statistics

Project Goals

For this question, we did some affinity mapping to discuss and cluster the data. I posed the question: What outcomes do you want to achieve, as a result of completing this project successfully?

Our top three goals were defined as follows:

  • Make access to mental health care more accessible
  • Make access to mental health care more affordable
  • Reduce stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging more conversations about it

Target Users

The final question I asked stakeholders was: Whose goals and concerns do we need to address to make this project successful?

Stakeholders came up with the following list:

  • New patients - people who have not sought out treatment
  • Existing patients - people who are not getting the right treatment
  • Support systems - people who support there loved ones

Through dot voting, we prioritized that new patients would be our main focus, with special consideration given to the rest of our list.

Risks & Assumptions

As we went through each discovery exercise, we kept track of any risks, assumptions, or topics that would require more time to research and validate. We put these items in a category called the “parking lot”. This helped to keep stakeholders on task and not deviate into areas that were not relevant to the discovery phase.

Outcome Statement

At the end of our discovery sessions, we developed an outcome statement with our stakeholders which was to:

"Improve the quality of treatment in order to increase the number of new patients who receive treatment, so that we can be the leader in the industry."


I gained some great insights from our stakeholders and design team during the discovery phase. Now, I needed to validate any assumptions made with user research! The timeline for research was short (1 week), so I worked quickly to come up with a list of questions to ask participants, and organize a few interviews. 

Surveys & Interviews

I put together an online survey using Google Forms and posted a link to it on Facebook and in a Slack design channel I’m a member of. Due to the stigma surrounding this subject, I decided to make the survey anonymous - I didn’t ask for personal information such as names, phone numbers, or address. I also did not make any questions mandatory, so the participant could skip anything they did not feel comfortable answering. In doing this, my hope was to make people feel more comfortable to open up about their experiences with mental health. I only asked for an email address at the very end of the survey for the purpose of meeting up in person to discuss the topic of mental health. I made it clear that the email was an optional field.

I received 22 responses and scheduled 3 in-person interviews. Participants did not skip any survey questions and provided some helpful, candid feedback.

Synthesizing the Research

Research Synthesis
Synthesizing the results from the mental health survey.

I examined my data, wrote down all the responses on post-it notes, and decorated the wall with them. I began grouping similar responses together and defining the clusters. I was able to identify some patterns, and pain points became more clear.

Key Findings:

  • 91% of participants noted anxiety as their most common mental health challenge.
  • 86% of participants want to learn how to better cope with their anxiety
  • 82% of participants did not talk to others (friends, family, co-workers) about their mental health because they worried they would be judged or treated differently.
  • Only 27% of participants have spoken to a mental health professional. In 100% of those cases, the participant stated that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was the most effective treatment for managing their anxiety.

Empathy & Ethics

Empathy Mapping
Empathy map based on research data

I turned my attention to the design team and facilitated an exercise to create an empathy map. I instructed the team to answer a series of questions using their independent research findings to understand what an anxious experience might be like for our audience. This gave us a much better understanding of the kind of product we needed to design, and we came back to this exercise many times throughout the design process to make decisions about the final product.

We took things one step further and also used a methodology that allows us to focus on human values throughout the design process. This felt especially significant given the context of the users we were designing for. By facilitating an Ethical Design Thinking workshop, the design team was able to examine if our design goal was helping us achieve or maintain these values, or if it conflicted with them.

This exercise yielded the following human design goals:

  • Safety: I expect a supportive, non-judgmental space where I feel safe to share my personal experiences.
  • Autonomy: I expect better awareness on how to manage my own mental health.
  • Trust: I expect a trustworthy environment where I feel comfortable being vulnerable.

We were then able to re-frame our original outcome statement to be more inclusive of human values:

"When I access treatment, I want a safe and non-judgemental space, where I can feel confident about managing my own mental health."


I did an open card sorting exercise with the results from my research. I organized responses into four categories to help me better define our user.


  • Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
  • Turning down opportunities based on fears
  • Creating "exit strategies" (e.g. having an excuse to leave early, having a reason they cannot attend an event, having a place where they can "escape" to in order to be alone and breathe for a while)


  • I worry about failing
  • Insecure / feeling unsure
  • Lack of confidence in my abilities


  • Talking to someone about my mental health would probably make me feel better
  • I'd like better control over my emotions
  • I'd like to feel understood


  • I want to be able to better manage my anxiety
  • I want to understand my anxiety better
  • I don't want to be judged by others

User Journey Map

Journey Mapping
Journey map (in progress) - Labelled stages of the journey, and listed thoughts, feelings and behaviours based of research data

I created a user journey map to visualize how mental health challenges affect people’s lives, and how they cope when they struggle.

First, I considered all the steps involved in an experience that some of the participants had mentioned was a challenge for them - applying for a job. Next, I used insights from my research to inform what the user was thinking, feeling, and doing during each step of this scenario. Finally, I graphed out that experience and illustrated the “highs” and “lows” in order to locate areas of opportunity for improvement.

I ultimately decided to focus on the management/coping aspect of the user journey. Specifically, I wanted to explore the issue of those who could not afford treatment and create a better way for them to cope with their anxiety.


The design team and I began to ideate on the final solution using Google’s Design Sprint methodology as a guide.

Crazy 8’s

We used the "Crazy 8’s" exercise to sketch 8 unique ideas in 8 minutes in order to generate a variety of solutions to the design problem. Once we were done, each designer presented their ideas and we discussed the options. Here is what I came up with:

  1. A chat room to talk with others with similar mental health challenges

  2. Learning centre to educate yourself about the different types of anxiety
  3. Anxiety challenger tool to log your thoughts and challenge them
  4. A tool to suggest activities to help cope with symptoms
  5. A repository for anonymous blogs that people can “like” to let others know they are heard, and others relate to them.
  6. An emergency contact feature to instantly connect the user with a help phone line if they are feeling suicidal.
  7. A mental health mentoring app.
  8. Mental health tracking - a way to document your mental health history (events like panic attacks, visits with health care professionals, medications, etc.)

Solution Sketch

After a round of dot voting to eliminate ideas that weren’t feasible and/or would not be useful to the user, I expanded on one solution - the “Anxiety Challenger Tool”. It was the most voted on by my peers, and my user research also supported the idea of challenging negative thinking patterns. I drew more detailed sketches to illustrate how this could work.

I presented my solution sketch to the design team, described the features, and gave them a walk-through of the flow. This opened up another opportunity for feedback and discussion. This exercise was helpful in finding some final things to consider before creating a prototype. For example, I might want to consider what metrics to use to measure how a user is making progress, and how to motivate a user to keep using the app.




I created hi-fidelity wireframes using Moqups to help guide users through the experience, and designed a prototype with InVision. I sent out another post on Facebook to recruit a few people to go through the prototype together and provide me with some feedback. I chose the first two people who replied to participate.

Usability Study

I chose to do a usability study with each participant to see where any usability issues may be. I gave users the following scenario:

  • You are having some anxious thoughts about a job you’re trying to apply to. You decide to log this experience in the app.

I reviewed the notes from each study and discovered two main issues with the prototype:

Issue #1: The data entry required to complete the task took too long. There were a few comments about scrolling through “too many options” in order to respond to the question. Participants also wondered, “how many more questions are there?”.

Solution: I made edits to the questions, as well as how the user can respond to them in order to shorten the amount of “think time” for the users. I also added a progress bar at the top of the page so the user can always measure how close they are to completing their task.

Issue #2: There was some confusion around the options from a drop-down field where the user could select the “type” of anxious thought they were experiencing. Users were not familiar with the terminology and were unsure which to choose.

Solution: I removed the drop-down to select a specific type of anxious thought, and instead, replaced it with another question - “Is this thought useful to you?”. A simple “yes” or “no” question should remove that confusion and help to guide the user through this step faster.

Visual Design


I learned from my user research that a “sterile environment” made users feel uncomfortable when seeking treatment, so I decided to stay away from common “health” colour palettes, often seen in green or blue shades. Instead, I focused on using creamy, pigmented tones to keep the experience calm, light, and pleasant.




Naming the App

When naming the product, I went back to my user research once more and reviewed how living with anxiety made participants feel (stuck, fearful, worried). I wanted to give users a sense of hope and validation after using this product.

I chose the name, THINKABLE. Challenging anxious thinking patterns is what this app is all about. Adding the “able” suffix made this task feel achievable.

Design Pitch

I pitched the final solution to the stakeholders. My presentation included:

  • A quick recap of our project goals and target users that we defined back in the discovery phase
  • Highlight of key research findings that lead me to the final solution
  • A quick demo of the prototype which focused on the app’s main feature - the “anxiety challenger tool”
  • Discussed the the results from the usability study to show where we found issues and we corrected them
  • Provided some screen shots of what the visual design may look and feel like

Next Steps

  • Document the client's feedback
  • Note any actionable items and delegate those tasks if needed
  • Additional user testing for any changes we make
  • Provide clients with a hi-fidelity prototype to demo with potential investors


As a designer whose background is largely in digital visual design, and almost always working as the sole designer on the team, I learned so much from working with other designers, and also following a full product design sprint - from discovery, to pitching the final design. The skills I gained from this experience will be a great asset to my future work.

If you are interested in chatting with me about this project, or want to learn more about Bridge School's Product Design program, feel free to get in touch with me!

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© 2019 Cindy Clarke