Design for Mental Health

Suraj Soren

This article series is intended to demonstrate ProdActive’s Design process and philosophy. We cannot, and do not claim to provide any form of clinical therapy or recommendations regarding mental health. If you, or someone you know, needs any help with mental health related issues please contact your local GP and/or mental health charities such as Mind or Samaritans. If you are in an emergency regarding mental health you can also contact 999 or 111 for more immediate help. We hope you enjoy reading about our approach and process.

Our Interest to design for mental health

At ProdActive we are driven to help improve lives through understanding people's needs. One of the biggest and in our opinion, most important trends we have observed throughout the pandemic - and beyond - was the decline in people’s mental wellbeing, and how much time they spend caring for their mental wellbeing.

‘More than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said that their mental health has gotten worse during the period of lockdown restrictions’.  (Mind, 2020)

This got us thinking about how we, as designers and researchers, could use human centered design processes to help people improve their mental wellbeing.

This series of articles will take you through our design journey for mental health. From our early insights of societal trends, all the way through to executing a refined and distilled solution for a modern problem we face today: The decline of mental well-being.

There are many solutions currently available for people to help them practice good mental health strategies, both products and people. This includes, but is not limited to: Professional Therapies, Mental Health Charities, Mental Health based Apps, Religious & Spiritual Groups, Ancient Philosophies and Physical Consumer Products. (We will delve further into some of these topics in our upcoming market research article). First however, we want to show you how we initially approached this topic at ProdActive.

The problem

As a society, both our awareness of and difficulties with mental health issues has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. There is a real and urgent need to take action on mental health issues; across business, design, and healthcare in order to prevent the long term negative effects of poor mental health, and to promote its importance in our day to day lives. 

Of particular interest is a call to action for greater emphasis on mental health issues from international governing bodies such as the United Nations and their 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

‘The SDGs call on countries, by 2030, to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by a third through prevention and treatment and to promote mental health and well-being (target 3.4, indicator 3.4.2).’ (World Economic Forum, 2018)
Fig. 2, Photography by Sims, S (2018) Available at: Unsplash

This article further describes more shocking statistics, such as in 2018, 800,000 people took their own lives ‘in countries with both high-functioning health systems and with basic health provision.’ (World Economic Forum, 2018)

With this data and clear evidence of an issue in mind, we believe that it is our responsibility as designers as well as the health care systems to be able to reduce this horrific number of suicide, and help people improve their mental wellbeing across the board. And it all starts with understanding how we can help people in their daily lives.

An uphill battle

Despite all the good work that occurs within charities, start up businesses, corporate initiatives and national health care systems, we still find that there is a persistent stigma around the topic of mental health.

‘Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common’ (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017)
Fig. 3, DeWitt, P. (2017) Available at

Any stigma can lead to discrimination whether it is direct or indirect. Therefore if stigma exists within mental health, any solution we produce may not always reach as many as it was intended for. 

We as designers have the power to be able to change people's mindsets and behaviours towards mental health. However, it will be a tough sell. Our approach challenges the status quo of ingrained mental models, reinforced by a vast range of cultural philosophies towards mental wellbeing. 

It will be an uphill battle, however we feel it is one worth fighting.

Stress as a mental health topic

When approaching a topic as broad as mental health and wellbeing, we were acutely aware of the limitations of our expertise and experience. As we are designers and researchers, and not trained Psychologists, we decided early on to narrow the project’s scope to avoid tackling serious or chronic mental health issues. These we felt were best served by professional health care providers, and not something we are sufficiently equipped to address.

Fig. 4, Photography by whoislimos (2017) Available at: Unsplash

One of the most important and recurring themes we discovered during our research was the impact of Stress on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It is an emotion many of us feel on a daily basis, and in some form affects everyone at some point in their lives. 

‘Being under pressure is a normal part of life.’ [Stress] ‘It can help you take action, feel more energised and get results. While stress itself is not a psychiatric diagnosis, stress can cause mental health problems, and make existing problems worse.’  (Mind, 2022)

Mind (2022) recommends that ‘Tackling triggers and causes of stress early can help prevent problems escalating, and reduce the need for medical care’.  We used this principle of tackling the triggers of stress with timely interventions as a framework to design our solution.

Our design brief

Fig. 5, Photography by Villasmil (2020) Available at: Unsplash\

With our initial grounding of the mental health topic formed we created, as with every project, a design brief to help guide our process. 

Our brief was;  

‘To explore methods of improving stress awareness, reduction & prevention through tactile product systems.’

From our initial research we accepted and understood that stress is a part of life. However, as the world rapidly changes (what with advancements in technology like social media, unprecedented circumstances like the pandemic and social upheaval, not to mention general adulting in the 21st century…) we as human beings have a lot more societal pressure to deal with in our day to day lives. Therefore the way we look after our mental health is becoming more of a priority. 

We think design has an opportunity to be able to help the ‘modern stressor’ and utilise technology in a way that helps not hinders, and allows people to take ownership of their own mental-wellbeing again.


So there you have it. This is how, in our early stages of research we were able to refine a complex and intangible trend, and cultivate it into a concise and impactful design project. 

We hope you enjoyed it.

In our next article:

Fig .6, Cruz, A. (2018), Introducing the Muse 2, Available at:

We will be revealing our analysis of the current market of well-being products and our exploratory methods to wayfind our key design opportunities.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017)  Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Available at: (Accessed: Accessed: 5 July 2022)

McManus, S. Fuller, E. (2014) Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Available at: (Accessed: 5 July 2022)

Mind. (2020) The Mental Health Emergency. Available at: (Accessed on 5 July 2, 2022) 

Mind. (2022) Stress. Available at: (Accessed: 5 July 2022)

World Economic Forum. (2018) We can't make progress without investing in mental health. Available at: (Accessed: 5 July 2022)


Figure 1. Swancar, A. (2020), I am blue. Available at: (Accessed 13 July 2022)

Figure 2. Sims, S. (2018), People think depression is sadness. People think depression is crying. People think depression is dressing in black. But people are wrong. Depression is the constant feeling of being numb. Being numb to emotions. Being numb to life. You wake up in the morning just to go back to bed again. Available at: (Accessed 13 July 2022)

Figure 3. DeWitt, P.  (2017) Why Is Public Education Always Fighting an Uphill Battle? Available at: (Accessed on 13 July 2022)

Figure 4. Whoislimos. (2017) In despair, but not lost. I try to remind myself, trials may come yet hope lies at dawn. Available at: (Accessed 13 July 2022)

Figure 5. Villasmil, L. (2020), Young man covered in sticky notes, work overload. Available at: (Accessed on 13 July 2022)

Figure 6. Cruz, A. (2018), Introducing the Muse 2 – Meditation Headband, Available at: (Accessed on: 14 July 2022)

Our insights

Over 60 years combined experience has taught us a few things

Shaping User Behaviour Through Design / Insights From Usability Testing

October 19, 2022

Design for Mental Health / Persona Development & Design Directions

November 30, 2023

Design for Mental Health / Survey Results and Analysis

November 15, 2023