Recently, I had a unique opportunity to participate in a product design program hosted by Rangle. Over 155 designers applied, and I was one of only twelve people chosen for Bridge School's Product Design program. 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. This case study outlines the design process I followed to come to my solution.

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.

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.

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 made the survey anonymous - I didn’t ask for personal information such as name 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 to discuss mental health further. I made it clear that this was optional.

I received over 20 responses (19 surveys, and 3 in-person interviews). Participants did not skip any survey questions and provided some helpful, candid feedback.

Synthesizing the Research
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:

94% of participants note anxiety as their most common mental health challenge. (Depression made up the other 6%)
87% of participants want to talk to others about their mental health but worry they will be judged / treated differently.
88% of participants want to learn how to better cope with their anxiety
8% of participants have spoken to a mental health professional and stated that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was the most effective treatment for managing their anxiety.

Empathy & Ethics
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 new 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 values:

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.

"Establishing trust and create a supportive environment, so that we can improve the quality of treatment and can encourage more new patients to confidently manage their own mental health."

From the research synthesis results, I organized the responses into four categories to help me better define our user:


User Journey Map
I also created a User Journey Map to visualize how mental health challenges affect people’s lives, and how they cope when they struggle.

I considered first, 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”.

I was able to find areas of opportunity that guided me to decide where this product should focus on to help the most people.

I ultimately decided to focus on the management 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.


© 2019 Cindy Clarke