Design for Mental Health Series / Market Research

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.

Cultures, markets & opportunities

Here we are at the next phase in our series exploring ProdActive's process for design for mental health and stress. During this type of research phase it is imperative to have an understanding of the current market landscape before conducting our primary (first hand) research. To help progress our knowledge of the subject, we examined different cultural philosophies for stress relief, investigated current market solutions and uncovered areas of opportunity for new concepts for stress relief.

Finding cultural approaches to stress relief

One of the activities we do for our clients during research is look at different cultures and how they approach the chosen topic. For this project we tried to find out how people around the world keep themselves mentally well. Washington-Harmon (2020) documents their top 15 ways to relieve stress in different cultures (you can find the link in our sources section).

The top three methods we found most thought provoking were;

  1. Indian Hasyayoga - A type of yoga that incorporates voluntary laughing
  2. Danish culture of Hygge -  Described as a quality of consciousness and comfortable conviviality
  3. Russian Banya - An integral part of Russian tradition where you spend time in a wooden steam rooms with leafy branches and cold buckets of water.

Fig 2 a,b,c. ProdActive Collage (See Image Sources for reference)

We found that the underlying principles of stress relief in different cultures all encompass the ability to detach ourselves mentally using Escapism. This theme also appears in our thematic analysis in our upcoming article where we talk about how Escapism in moderation can be a hugely positive influence on our overall mental health.

Market research

Another form of research we conduct with clients is competitive market investigation. For this project our researchers found products currently being sold across ten key market areas. These include:

  • Smart Technology
  • Passive Technology
  • ‘Science rooted’ Technology
  • Mobile Applications
  • Sensory Based Products
  • Tactile and Toy orientated products
  • Analogue Artefacts and curiosities

We plotted the products we found in these categories across a range of matrices to determine areas of market opportunity (gaps in the market). See figure 3

Fig 3. ProdActive (2021) Comparing Passive & Active Therapeutic Solutions.

The Y axis in this matrix compares therapeutic products that operate ‘Passively’ or ‘Actively’. A ‘Passive’ product example could be a soothing product like an Aroma Diffuser. The product functions to create a calm and soothing ambience in a home through user specified aromas, and crucially does not require any direct input from the user once it is operating. An ‘Active’ product example would be a meditation app such as Headspace. This is where the user must actively and intentionally engage with a device to participate in guided meditation. 

We found three clusters of product groups when comparing product operation (Passive & Active) against a user's barrier to entry (perceived difficulty to start using the product, which can include factors like cost, difficulty to learn the product’s operation, unfamiliarity with the technology etc). 

Cluster #1: The cheaper and lower barrier to entry products such as fidget spinners, candles and colouring books with more ‘Active’ operating solutions. 

Cluster #2: More expensive and technologically advanced products such as the Relief Headband and Spire Stone tended to be more ‘Passive’ oriented solutions (though still with a relatively high barrier to entry related to their cost).

Cluster #3: Apps and Products that connected with Apps (Headspace, Calm, and Sensate Meditation) tended to have a high barrier to entry - either in terms of cost or engagement or both, were placed in the mid to high level price bracket and operated in a much more ‘Active’ way by users.

High-tech vs low-tech solutions

Fig 4 a, b. ProdActive Collage (see Image Sources for reference)

Some of the most technologically advanced products we found commonly used scientific and medical research to legitimise their propositions. The ‘Muse Headband’ in particular, uses ‘EEG (Electroencephalography - a method to record an electrogram of surface brain activity) to translate your brainwaves into the guiding sounds of weather’. Over the past seven years this product has become popular in the psychological/scientific community where there have been several published psychologists using Muse as part of their suite of testing equipment. Cody Rall MD (2021), an influential YouTuber who runs the Techforpsych Channel, mentions that the EEG signals a Muse Headband (priced at $259.98) produces is ‘just as reliable as traditional $80,000 medical EEG machines’. 

Our level of understanding for successful products in the market allows us to define key principles when innovating - what we often call “guard rails”. A key guard rail for this project was to reduce the dissonance between technology and tradition in many mental health products. Muse, for example, relies heavily on scientific data and technological advancements to achieve its purpose. This is largely an opposing approach to traditional stress relief techniques such as mindfulness and ancient meditation techniques, which are more reliant on the user to be active when developing their mental resilience. Recognising this disparity between traditional mental models and the function of a current product on the market allows us to use this insight to develop effective concepts that are still relatable and accessible to the modern stressor.

Lower, or even negligible uses of technology, in products such as fidget spinners, fidget cubes, colouring books and stress balls tend to be more popular in sales due to their low barrier to entry, lower price brackets and immediate user-friendliness. The simplicity of these products attract customers that want a ‘quick fix’ for their pre-existing conditions such as GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). One Amazon reviewer mentions how their fidget spinner was recommended by their healthcare professional for his anxiety which a lot of these products claim to help alleviate. The tactility of these solutions is seen as a core part of their attraction, and a key learning point we took forward when generating concepts.

Summarised market research opportunities

From a consumer perspective, there are pros and cons to every therapeutic solution we compared. Technologically advanced products inherently have more scientific legitimacy, as well as basing their propositions on long term benefits. After overcoming the upfront expense, to gain benefit from these products, users need a substantial amount of willpower and determination to create positive behaviour change through ‘Active’ interaction. 

For lower tech-based / analogue therapeutic solutions, consumers can easily access a product because of lower price points and their functional simplicity. Conversely, users may not get to the root causes of their stress - but that may not be what they necessarily want to achieve. 

At ProdActive we like to define our key opportunities in succinct statements. Our market research allowed us to formulate a skeleton to ground our next phase of design work: 

To Design; An accessible therapeutic product with mid to high level technological features that enables users to operate the product passively and/or actively for stress relief.
Figure 5. ZOHO, (2022), Collect Survey Responses. By

This statement enabled us to build the next layer of our design specification, which we’ll be revealing in our next article! 

In our next post we will be discussing how we conducted our primary research through a national survey and the findings that helped us define our design direction and target market groups. 


Muse, (2022) EEG-Powered Meditation & Sleep. Available at: (Accessed on  8 July 2022)

Reliefband®, (2022) Home Page, Available at: (Accessed on 8 July 2022)

Stewart. (2022) Review of Fidget Spinner Hand Tri Finger Gyro Toy - Stress Relief & Anxiety ADD ADHD. Amazon, Available at: (Accessed on 8 July 2022) 

Techforpsych (2021), Does the Muse Headband Actually Work? (No B.S. after 7 years of data). 2021, Available at: (Accessed on 8 July 2022)

Washington-Harmon, T. (2020), How To Relieve Stress: 15 Ways You'll Want To Try. Available at: (Accessed on 8 July 2022)

Images Sources

Figure 1. BHLR. N, (2018), On my way through the bourbon street in Nola. Crazy city and crazy people. Available at: (Accessed on 18 July 2022)

Figure 2a. Livini, E. (2016),  The hard science that backs age-defying “laughter yoga”. Available at: (Accessed on 14 July 2022)

Figure 2b. The Hygge Scents, (2022), HAND POURED CANDLES, Available at:, (Accessed on 14 July 2022)

Figure 2c.  The BATH HOUSE, (2021),  Steam and Heat: Health Benefits of Banya, Available at: (Accessed on: 14 July 2022)

Fig 3. ProdActive. (2021),  Comparing Passive & Active Therapeutic Solutions. 

Figure 4a.  Cruz, A. (2018), Introducing the Muse 2 – Meditation Headband, Available at: (Accessed on: 14 July 2022)

Figure 4b. She’s a Gentry. (2016), Animals: A Mindful Colouring Book | Review

Figure 5. ZOHO, (2022), Collect Survey Responses, 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