This week, UX Strategist Miranda interviews a special guest from for-purpose preventative mental health organisation, batyr. What important lessons can we learn about accessible design for this often overlooked audience?

Mindful UX design

Ever considered how mental health could impact how a user accesses your platform? Time to factor it into your design practices.

Miranda

Strategy

Learning Organisation

6 minute read

‘You are not your user.’ Every budding UX designer will have this phrase drilled into them from the start of their careers, and after 5 years in the UX space, it’s a phrase I still regularly have to check myself against. Especially when it comes to accessibility.

Regardless of who you’re designing for, you need to ensure your designs are accessible to all users. In the digital space, the most common accessibility considerations are for those with auditory or visual impairments. But there’s one that’s often overlooked – mental health.

To learn more about this emerging field of accessible design, I spoke to Bianca Raviraj. She’s a UX/UI designer on the data and insights team at batyr, a mental health organisation built by young people, for young people.
M: Working for a mental health organisation obviously makes it incredibly important that people experiencing poor mental health can effectively engage with your platforms. What are the key accessibility factors you consider when designing for this audience?

B: To be honest, before coming to batyr I hadn’t really considered accessibility in relation to mental health. There’s so little focus on it in the space of design research. But through working with the mental health experts within and connected to batyr’s community, I’ve learnt to consider these key factors:

 

  1. Design with your audience. 
    One of our brand promises is ‘made by young people, for young people’. We collaborate with a huge network of youth who are passionate about mental health and want to share their experiences to inform design that will help other young people through their mental health journey.

  2. Think beyond your personas. 
    Everyone is so unique when it comes to their mental health. At the moment, we’ve got a dual approach: we have our personas which guide us, but also a library of real people we speak to. It helps us stay aware of that diversity.

  3. Be mindful of all kinds of interaction. 
    For example, an overwhelming experience can be particularly challenging for someone dealing with anxiety. And someone who lives with ADHD might start a task, but not necessarily complete it. By introducing features like notifications, we’re able to encourage these users to come back to the app and continue guiding them through the process.

  4. Consider the environment you’re creating. 
    Some feedback we consistently hear from users is that our app feels safe. A big part of that is making sure that there’s a diverse representation of people and content, and having inclusive messaging. It means users can join in the community knowing they won’t be judged; they can be their true selves.

  5. Make sure help is always visible and in reach. 
    We have a life ring icon that sits on the top corner of the screen throughout the app. It consistently reminds young people that they can get help if and when they need it; it’s easily accessible through the app and they can choose whichever contact method they feel most comfortable with – whether it’s text, call, or chat.

  6. Minimise the risk of potentially sensitive or triggering content. 
    With this kind of content being so prevalent on social media, we’ve put significant effort into ensuring users don’t consume it on our platforms.

    Prior to someone submitting a story, they’re served a distress survey to assess where their headspace is right now. It can be good to externalise your feelings, but that process in itself can be triggering, so if they aren’t in a good headspace, we encourage them not to share their story just yet and redirect them to mental health service providers.

    If they are in a good headspace, they’re given the ability to create and share their story. During this process, they’re guided through how to structure a safe story. Once submitted, one of our storytelling experts will then go through the story to assess it for safety before it is published to the feed.
M: You mentioned you’d never really heard about this field of accessible design for mental health before joining batyr. Do you think it isn’t considered as much as other forms of accessible design because of societal taboos?
B:  I totally agree that the taboo surrounding mental health has played a factor in it not being a consideration in accessibility. But in recent years, mental health has become a big priority. In fact, according to Mission Australia’s youth survey, it’s one of the most important issues for young people today.1 We are recognising its impact on our everyday lives, especially given the extreme impact that COVID has had on people’s mental health. We’re seeing a lot of support for smashing the stigma surrounding mental health and I think we’re going to see a real transformation in this space.

“As a designer, you won’t know everything, and you really have to find the people who do; harness their lived experience, knowledge and expertise.”

M: So you think it should be factored in to all good UX design, given most people will experience mental ill-health at some point in their lives?
B: 100%. I think every other product should consider mental health. It plays a role in everyone’s life; it’s a journey we’re all on and I think that’s a consideration that we all need to make.
M: batyr recently released its own app called OurHerd. Can you tell me a bit about it?
B: OurHerd is a mental health storytelling app that empowers young people to use their collective voices to create actionable change. The platform provides a safe and supportive space to share stories about tough times, resilience, and hope. It’s a community that builds confidence through users listening and learning from each other.

OurHerd is uniquely positioned to give young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard, be deeply understood, and to inform the decisions that affect them. Through the power of the app’s technology, we draw valuable insights from these lived experiences to help drive systemic change.
M: OurHerd was designed in collaboration with 509 young Australians, 72 sector and industry experts, and 160,400 social media supporters. Why was it important to get such a large group of people involved?
B: As a designer, you won’t know everything, and you really have to find the people who do; harness their lived experience, knowledge and expertise. This type of collaboration makes a significantly more considered product.

Young people are our target audience. If we’re not designing with them, then our product won’t make sense to them. They were involved right from the research phase; helping us design solutions to the problems. And those sector and industry experts are so important because they have years of knowledge.
M: With all that research behind you, what stage are you at now?
B: The research is never done! Now we’re looking at the experience of the app; seeing where we can improve it; what’s not working. We’re looking at the smaller details that you wouldn’t consider in the first research stage – really refining that product to be more specific to the needs of those young people.
M: One of the App Store reviews for OurHerd really stuck with me. It said ‘This is one of the few apps where I actually feel better after spending heaps of time on it!’.
B: I remember when we read that review as a team and it was such an exciting moment because that's exactly what we're trying to achieve! batyr's positioning around mental health storytelling is that we want to share honest, real, and hopeful stories about mental health so that the audience can feel inspired and uplifted by these stories.
M: We all probably spend too much time on social media and rarely reflect on how it makes us feel. What thinking went in to make sure users were leaving the OurHerd app feeling better than when they opened it?
B: It comes down to the design of each experience within the app.

For OurHerd, our story creation process is an important element of our app's experience. This process is made up of four questions. These questions are designed to capture the mental health journey of that young person and help them conclude with a positive takeaway from their experience. This structure has flow-on effects into the experience of viewing and reading stories in the feed. Every story consumed by a young person always ends with a hopeful and uplifting message provided by the story creator. This significantly contributes to a user feeling less alone, and more inspired and hopeful when they use OurHerd.

This positivity captured in our stories contrasts strongly with the content you can consume on social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, which can be quite negative and triggering, resulting in a user not feeling 'better' after using these apps.

Another contributor to OurHerd's positive user experience is validation. Throughout our app's experience, users are celebrated for tasks they complete. This doesn't necessarily just include sharing a story on OurHerd, but even the act of downloading a mental health app is a step they are making for their mental health and thus is celebrated. Verbalising validation through the app and celebrating the user ensures that they feel good throughout the whole experience.
M: Thanks for your time, Bianca. If any of our readers want to learn more about the great work that batyr is doing, where can they find you?
B: Absolutely, Miranda. I’m so glad to have had the chance to share this. Let’s hope we can push to make mental health a bigger consideration for accessibility in experience design. If anyone wants to learn more about OurHerd, they can visit our site and download our app.


Keen to learn more about OurHerd? It's all here.

on accessibility best practice
Want to know if your digital platforms meet accessible design standards but not sure where to start? The UK Home Office has created some handy posters that highlight the do’s and don’ts of accessible design for different user groups. And best of all, it’s backed by solid research. Check them out here.

Top tips from one UX designer to another
We asked Bianca to leave us with her tip 3 tips for accessible design for mental health that every UX designer should keep in mind, regardless of their audience.

Don’t try to make the ‘perfect’ persona. Make it real. Capture the reality of the user; their day-to-day experiences will give you great insights into how they might interact with your platform.

You don’t know what headspace your user is in. So ensure your platform is a safe, calm environment for them. Graphics, messaging, and branding all contribute – make it feel like you’re holding their hand.

Negativity and online bullying have real impacts on people, so moderation should be integral to any community-based platform. Any comment feature on social media, for instance, needs careful handling.

References
  1. Tiller, E., Fildes, J., Hall, S., Hicking, V., Greenland, N., Liyanarachchi, D., and Di Nicola, K., Youth Survey Report 2020 (2020) Mission Australia.

Get your regular serving of 52 Mondays

Of-the-minute industry insights from our thought leaders, delivered monthly.

Thanks for subscribing!

Keep an eye out for our monthly email roundups.

*
*

Get your regular serving of 52 Mondays

Of-the-minute industry insights from our thought leaders, delivered monthly.

Thanks for subscribing!

Keep an eye out for our monthly email roundups.
*
*