Brian Lam, Product Designer

UX/UI 2018
  • Competitive Analysis
  • User Interviews
  • Job Stories
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Usability Testing
  • Visual Design
    The Problem

    People who lived through experiences of mental illness commonly report feeling stigmatized and highly vulnerable in difficult life circumstances. However, social exclusion and not being able to find supportive people that they could relate to are some contributing factors that negatively mediates self-stigma and reluctance to seek care.


    Digital safe spaces can bring people together. The overarching goals of this project is to (1) help people feel more comfortable in taking small steps towards getting better through sparking conversations with others who have been there before in an anonymized chat-based community. (2) Designed a user profile for members to pin helpful messages, and (3) make it fast and easy for everyone everywhere to connect with helpers instantly.

    Role & Timeline

    Taken full ownership of the entire product lifecycle of the project as the lead Product Designer. Worked with General Assembly mentors Bernice Liu and Jay Sethi to deliver actionable insights with some guidance. The duration of the project was completed within a tight timeline of 1 month.

No1 — Discovery
Competitive Analysis

First and foremost, I began by conducting competitive research to learn about each competitor and do cross-comparisons to define what types of customer segments use their products. In my research, I evaluated Woebot, PatientsLikeMe, Wisdo, and Youper.

A direct competitor offering similar value proposition to my current customer segment. The (PLM) online platform let members discuss health and lived experience, but can also contribute to sharing detailed health data. The pain point was addressed through an asynchronous online discussion that allows for more in-depth discussions and more thoughtful learning than in traditional face-to-face environments.

In contrast to this study, its viable for users who are typically motivated by their individual needs or interested in finding empathy in small groups tailored to their own mental health conditions. In parallel with likeability, there are some limitations of these communities that they are not entirely anonymous and medical experiences or credentials may be shared with researchers. However, users do have the the ability to set their profile private to remain anonymous.

An indirect competitor because it offers partial solution to my customer segment. With this automated conversational bot, users get access to engaging and confidential conversations. Some plausible outcomes have shown that it supports users with an array of techniques using a CBT framework by asking users questions of relevance about how they are feeling and the emotional problems they are facing.

In respondent, this made it possible for specific content to be sent to users depending on the mood state they had disclosed. For example, if the user had indicated that they feel depressed, it offers assistance with the depressed events. Although some users could solve some of their pain points with Woebot, it wouldn’t be their ideal solution in view of several limitations: Users would not trust a conversational agent to understand them on the same level that a human would.

View detailed competitive analysis
Remote User Interviews

For the majority of the interviews, I have facilitated to screen participants remotely to maintain anonymity and to maximize the reach of interviewees that are not of the same geographical region. In the next phase, I have sought out to develop personas to gain more granular details in synthesizing my user research. I needed to identify common pain points and understand what actually stops individuals with mental illness from achieving their goals.

These are some common characteristics at a glance:

  1. They are self-disclosure individuals. Given the incentives that this platform provides a conducive environment for people to connect with other people who share similar difficulties. It’s understandable that these users would find coming out of the ‘dark closet’ or revealing sensitive details about their mental health journey through conversations to be therapeutically beneficial.
  2. They are non self-disclosure individuals. Users who belong in this group are more withdrawn, sustained to internalize their mental health problem. This is after all, something about themselves that they want to keep private and because of the intimate nature of the content. Comparatively speaking, some individuals may maintain a social distance by privately seeking guidance to cope and are less inclined to share their stories, often or not the perceptions of the public of those with mental illness—the outcome is not always empathetic.
  3. They are neutral individuals. Users who have specific queries about diagnosis and has a sense of openness to experimenting with other treatments. These users have shown willingness to seek counseling regarding their psychological and interpersonal concerns. Technology-based therapies on the web that users can access with ease than face to face conventional psychotherapy provides the convenience they need.

View detailed personas
No2 — Define
Job Stories

With the remote user interviews and synthesize research factored in, I focused on gathering more insight into why creating these features are necessary, whether or not users appreciate conversing with others about their mental health. By creating job stories, I was able to get a better representation of real user journey and what outcomes they really seek.

  1. When I share personal story of my mental health, I want to start conversations, so that I can learn from people who have gone through them before.
  2. When I join a chatroom, I want to find topics that carries similarity in-the-moment of my needs and feelings, so that I feel comfortable that I would get instant support from others.
  3. When I create a chatroom, I want to invite friends or people whom are close to me, so that my conversation shouldn't be open to everyone in the public.

View detailed job stories
Information Architecture

With the goals and research at hand, I needed to identify and understand the pain points of these three users and ensure their needs are met. I first develop a minimum viable product (MVP) to go along with mapping out a flow diagram. I created flows for account registration, email verification, public and private conversations, and different levels of security and administrative settings.

(MVP) helped prioritize features and gather feedback to make improvements. For future versions, I intend to create an emotional connection with the user and incorporate other product functionality. Some of which include: user’s ability to edit or delete messages, starring conversations and direct messages catch up to all threads followed, replying to threads, etc.

View detailed IA
No3 — Ideation

My process usually goes something like this: I would generate sketches early and often. And arrive at a few options to explore further by testing with peers and stakeholders. To identify areas for improvements of the designs, I run several tests with participants through UsabilityHub.

For the minimum viable product (MVP), my primary focus was on the home activity feed. The first iteration started out with the hypothesis of allowing a more topic-based like conversations for people to communicate about their mental health with others in the form of threaded conversations. However, this did not fulfill the level of expectations of engagement needed because it was to broad. Users did not feel motivated or impactful use from content of forum posts or thread-based feature.

As a result, I switched to a different model in my second iteration where I would focus on encouraging more people to voluntarily start a conversation by creating a chatroom based on their current events and symptoms. This attracted more attention and visibility on the issues of mental health and for people to join rooms that they find is related to what’s going in their life.

No4 — Validation
Usability Testing

I tested the prototype with several participants to gauge our users potential receptiveness in the overall functionality of the app base on the scales of visual credibility, familiarity, usability and relevancy. I wanted to ensure if users can successfully use the app and that they see value in it.

  • Some of my participants expressed excitement at having the ability to post and interact anonymously under a readily available profile photo and their own nickname. They would be less receptive to converse online if their real name were to be displayed.
  • Most of my participants expressed interest in moderation because these roles act as gatekeepers to keep communities safe. Trolls can be a disruptive presence in social communities. Users would be less engaged in chatrooms if moderators did not exist to ban and kick unauthorized users.

View detailed usability testing
You can have a one-to-one conversations between you and another Brainmate member nearby.
A dialog element would appear when user decides to take an action on leaving from completing creating a room.
To report someone, you would tap on ‘report’ in the more options menu under the conversation with the person you want to block.
You can pin conversations and messages with a tap of the pin icon. Pinning lets users to quickly access important messages from their profile pane.
No5 — Prototype
Hi-Fidelity Mockups

Prototyping demonstrates how the product would function in the real world. I intended to present each iterations in a high-fidelity conceptual level to stakeholders and users because it provides better context. People often have trouble imagining what good design would look like in low-fidelity.

In home, you can see a peripheral of information from all of the chatrooms your friends have created, new posts and discussions that people are engaged with the most in the community.

Create a Room
Members can create a room to kick off new discussions and topics. To create one, simply tap on the plus icon. Enter a room name, add a purpose to let others know what this room is about and you are all set. By default, your room is selected to be public. You have the permission to change the settings into private mode if you so choose to.

Chat Room
Chatroom is a space where you could seek for online anonymous help and spark conversations with others with similar experiences. Users can form connections with other members by selecting ‘add’. These members will appear in your friend list.

Report Someone
Things can get a little sticky in large mental health online communities. You can anonymously mute and block users who threatens, harass, or bully you or other people in the community.

Visual Design

Once I work through validating the layouts and flows with end users, it was comfortable for me to spend some time creating a design system that can make interacting with the product easier for our demographic. Some of the key requirements includes:

  • Purposefully communicating Brainmate’s brand values.
  • Inclusively accessible, thinking about the diversity of our users and making sure no one is excluded from using our tool.
  • Creating components library that could be reused across applications without reinventing interface elements.

View detailed visual design
No6 — Delivery
Design Handoff

The preparation for the design handoff should begin at the initial stage to the end of the entire process. Due to the timing constraints involved in this project, I had prepared a miniature design specs for internal use as a method to keep the product visually consistent.

And some time in-between creating the specs, I planned and annotated for digital prototypes to showcase the different points of the design journey of the product. At the same time, to better communicate my design process and enabling others to provide feedback.

Learnings & Reflections

I ran into a lot of constraints nearing the end of the project that requires quick fixes and sacrifices. Throughout the entire experience, I learned the importance of empathy. The ability to understand another person’s inner experiences and feelings and a capability to view the outside world from the other person’s perspective, that understanding is always beneficial to advance the direction of this project.

It was only through researching participants that I was able to discover nuances and understand the true issues of users struggling with mental illness. In future work, I hope to improve meaningful relationships with users and spend more time addressing any issues that has not been resolved yet.