5 Design Principles for Mental Health Products


ental health is something we’re incredibly passionate about at Caus, and it’s a subject that sits very close to the hearts of all of us here. Not by chance, over the last year we’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with several teams building products that tackle issues such as substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

Since our initial encounter, we have continued to refine our process and approach, resulting in the culmination of several design principles that we turn to when approaching a project in this space.

1. Make no assumptions.

This statement feels counter-intuitive in today’s world of “move fast and break things”, but it’s something we’ve come to realise is a vital guiding light. Designing products tackling substance abuse, depression, and suicide, means designing for people who are at their most vulnerable point — meaning, we have to be evermore intentional around the decisions we make.

A wrong assumption could have varying degrees of impact on the life of a patient, and so we keep this one at top of mind.

2. Question the status quo.

“The power of why” really is everything. Humans are very habitual creatures by nature, which can often lead us to make decisions “because that’s how it was before”. A good example of this, would be the candle-shaped bulbs in chandeliers — they don’t exist because they’re the best option, they exist because when we moved from candles to bulbs, we simply recreated it in the way we knew before.

To put this one in context, we like to challenge the “why” to make sure we’re delivering the most effective solution. For example, should we simply import traditional therapy methods into your phone? Is there a better way?

Maybe there is, or maybe there isn’t. The vital component is the question being asked.

3. Design through understanding.

Design is something we do very well at Caus — in fact, it’s what we do for a living. We’re product people — but we’re not doctors.

Recognising our responsibility to the people engaging with our products, our team are actively investing in psychology degrees and courses to deepen our understanding of the space.

Furthermore, we’re building a board of mental health professionals to collaborate with on our projects to ensure that our products not only feel great to use, but are evidence-based and provide tangible results.

4. Offer a clear path.

One of the most powerful things we can do, is to offer a next step. Without going too deep into the psychology (that’s for another article), offering clear guidance and next steps (no matter what they may be) to patients at all points is a vital component of our products.

There should be no point in the experience that the patient will question “what should I do next?”, as this potential friction could have varying degrees of consequences and impacts in the lives of our consumers.

5. Be a friend.

Above all else, we aim to be a friend. Everything from colour choice to micro-copy should be welcoming, trustworthy, and approachable. The experience should be as if you were talking to a friend, not as if you’re seeing a doctor.

When people feel as if the product is something they can trust and engage with on a relatable level, the delivery of the experience improves ten-fold. With all of our experiences we aim to break down barriers.

At Caus, we believe that there is limitless potential in the digital mental health space — with continued technological innovations, and advancements in our understanding of the mind, the possibilities are truly endless.

In our experience, mental health products are either well designed and ineffective, or effective but lacking in design — meaning those results are never truly realised. We’re continuing to work with clinics, universities, and researchers to build digital products that are not only engaging, but deliver tangible results for people across the world.