A psychologist’s journey to co-design!

By Bettina Moltrecht
Wednesday, 17th July 2019
Filed under: ESRBlog

The digital mental health field has looked up to her older brother[1] and asked for help:     “Why are my users not as excited about the interventions, as they are about your products? How can I make them use the app passed the two weeks benchmark? “

My older brother, wise as he is, had some helpful advice: “Involve the user when you develop your intervention and make sure you add a little “play” to it.

So off I went, always on my mind the key words to success: “User-centred design”! I agree with my brother – it doesn’t happen very often, but more so as we get older- that involving users is important! I learned so much from all the children, parents and teachers that I spoke to.

Right, so what do you do to run a co-design workshop? I first asked the internet and found that the key ingredients to a co-design workshop are: paper, sticky notes, lots and lots of pens, stickers of various colours, glue and scissors. So that gave me a shopping list to start with. A few weeks later I found myself surrounded by 8 young children, all very motivated to try out the full range of pens and stickers. We had a great time and the result was….well…a design-inspired piece of art. The next rounds of workshops went very differently, but I hope everyone had as much fun as we had at this first one.

(Image by Emily Tulloh)

As you can tell, when I took on that journey months ago, I walked out there, not aimlessly but without any compass, trying my best to involve users when developing the Eda app. In this blog post I would like to take you on my journey again, hoping that it will help anyone, who might find him/herself in a similar situation at some point. I want to introduce you to important vantage points that opened my eyes and helped me see the bigger picture, and I want to tell you how I would plan this journey again, if I could.

1.  Start with a travel guide:

Getting a rough overview of the area and people you are planning to visit is a good starting point. I started with interviews and focus groups involving small groups of young people, their parents and teachers to hear their opinion and ideas around young peoples’ mental health and apps that they like. Personally, I think starting off broad helped me to not miss anything.

2.  Ask a local:

After you have zoomed in on the town that you would like to visit (in my case that was knowing the age group and what my app was trying to achieve: improving emotion regulation skills), get insider tips from the people who actually live there. We all know that locals know the best and most authentic restaurants in town. So I set up a meeting with my local guides to show them some rough sketches of all the routes that I could possibly take (Ask Google about: wireframes). They colour coded the area for me, drew in some secret paths that I hadn’t know about yet and added a bunch of stickers to mark all the places where I should go to and those I should avoid (ask me for my DO’s and DON’T’s list for young mental health apps). It turns out some people just pay for positive online reviews (Who knew?!). In my case I had no money to pay reviews, but I had some budget to spend either on traveling to young people or organizing events where I invited them to come along. I normally asked them to either be my fellow researchers, where we try to creatively solve a problem, or I asked them to behave like detectives who needed to find the error.

3.  Packing list or “READY – STEADY GO!”

Ask someone, who has been there before, whether your packing list is complete. I always had on my packing list: stickers, paper, sticky-notes, scissors and pens. I also had print-outs of screenshots for the potential app and showed it to the young people to get their input.

When you have finished your packing get more input from your local guides on your final travel plans (= let a bunch of different people, with different devices test your prototype).

Ask them kindly to test you on any detail! Can you read a map upside-down? Are your shoes actually waterproof? It is better to get those feet wet while you are at home and a towel is within reach. This will be different when you are out there.

4.  Have your tickets ready:

Make sure you have a bus or train ticket somewhere in your pockets, in case you meet someone on the way who recommends other nearby places that you should check out. Don’t hesitate to take a little de-tour. Things will always look differently in real life. I learned that parts of the app of which I thought they were amazing, actually turned out to be quite boring and vice versa. Furthermore, always keep in mind that everyone is different, some people like running others think it’s the worst thing in the world. If you can try to give people options, so that they can choose from what works best for them, but don’t overwhelm them with too many possible routes.

5.  Come and visit us again:

The first version of your trip will never be the perfect experience! Don’t be afraid though, I find that users are generally very forgiving and appreciated when you take on their feedback. The Eda app has been tested various times, and every time I tagged along with someone else I discovered new things that could be improved. Developing an app is not a one round trip. You need an unlimited travel pass that allows you to visit all those places again. Take them in, look at them as if you have never seen them before. Make the changes that are necessary and stay open for new perspectives.

(Image by Paul Veugen)

I hope this description of my journey was helpful. I am happy to share more details of it if needed (just send me an email!). In my next post I will discuss my brother’s second advice on how to “add a little play to it” and what user engagement could look like from a digital mental health perspective.

On a final note I would like to invite you and your children to have a look at Eda (-> eda.me.uk) and get in touch, either directly or via the feedback function within the app! Thanks!

[1]  I chose “brother”, because I can relate to this the most. I have three of them and I always liked what my next older brother liked. So now is probably an opportune time to thank him for his influence on my music taste, football skills and resilience! Be aware, that in this text the word “brother” is a metaphor for the gaming industry. My actual brother doesn’t know anything about the development of digital products.


This blog update was written by: Bettina Moltrecht

Bettina is a Marie Sklodowska-Cure fellow at the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families

More about Bettina's research project is under WP2 project 3 click here.

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