How Designing for Persons With Mental Illness Changed Me

One of the first traits that I learnt in my product design journey is empathy.

In Design Thinking, empathy is, as explained in IDEO’s Human-Centred Design Toolkit, a “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for”. It involves learning about the difficulties people face, as well as uncovering their latent needs and desires in order to explain their behaviours.- (

It has helped me gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of people’s emotional and physical needs, the way they see, understand, and interact with the world around them.  which has helped me to learn how to curiously dig through user stories in order to understand a user’s pain-point, needs, motivations and behaviors. So that I can truly solve their problems while making sure they enjoy a pleasant user experience while using my product.

However, none of this prepared me for the reality of being responsible for designing products for actual people who have to live every day with the rigors of different mental disorders.

As a Product Designer at Persons With Mental Illness (PWMI), I have spent hours on different days conducting user interviews with psychologists, peer support specialists and everyday people across different cultures who have been diagnosed and are living with serious mental health conditions. I try to understand how it impacts their day to day lives and how we can make sure our product isn’t just another mental health product out there that does not help the people it was created for, This is commonly caused by a disconnect between the designers creating the apps, the patients and providers in the field of mental health, which ultimately makes these products not useful at best and harmful at worst.

User Experience Design became more than just about solving user’s needs and bringing out favorable business outcomes. I now know that not intentionally making design decisions that are safe and inclusive creates a negative impact on our users through the design, language and general personality of our products.

I began to see how flawed most of our existing products and systems are ranging from healthcare to education and even within the corporate world.  It is almost as if they are designed to set up people with mental health conditions and other disabilities to fail. I became more conscious and intentional in making sure all the products I design are safe and inclusive and I hope that one day, we develop proper guidelines to ensure our products meet a minimum standard that ensures it is safe and usable even for persons with mental illness and other disabilities to use.

Until then, I am committed to continuing to educate myself and others to learn more on how to create an inclusive experience and follow design principles that are safe even for persons who are experiencing mental illness.

If you have questions or just want to chat about what I and my amazing team at PWMI are doing to make sure our RecoveryHub app is both safe and useful for persons with mental illness, You can send me a mail at or you can support our work by donating via

Below is a short list of some of the articles and trainings, we have read and taken to guide our work as UX designers in the mental health space.

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