Department of Health

In December 2014, we were given a brief by the Department of Health (DH) and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to design a new digital service to support people struggling with their mental health.

Team: Jen, Ella, Cassie, with Snook.

Why did we do this work

The project’s emphasis was on helping people manage their mental health and build resilience, so that they could stay in work or get back into work after a period of leave or unemployment. The inclusion of a digital approach meant we could design to reach a much larger pool of people, and particularly people who would be less likely to present themselves to doctors or support services as struggling with their mental health. We were also impressed by the DH and DWP understanding this as a joint challenge for both departments to address together. 

What was our approach

We were introduced to DH through Government Digital Services, a group whose mission is to transform government services for the 21st century. GDS lay some initial ground work for us, encouraging the department to approach the project through conducting user research rather than market research. Leisa Reichelt, Head of User Research at GDS, sold the benefits of starting by working to understand the needs and everyday experiences of real people struggling to stay in work or find a job, whilst managing a condition like anxiety or depression. Having convinced the departments to take this approach, GDS asked us to lead user research and the design of some initial prototype ideas (a Discovery and Alpha phase, based on GDS terminology).


It was clear that the project was as much about proving the worth of user research as it was about generating user needs for this particular new service. One of the first things we did was call up our friends at Snook and ask them if they would partner with us on the project and bring additional capacity in service design to the table. We agreed that given the tight timescale we were working to that we would work to create a series of research led design briefs as the main output from what we termed our ‘pre-Alpha’ phase in early January 2015.


We learned a huge amount about the experiences of everyday people coping with common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, at the same time as managing a job, a job hunt, or a period away from work. You can read more about this in our outputs from the project.

The discovery report is a lengthy read but contains valuable insights into the mindset of citizens across the employment journey. Our pre-alpha slide-deck provides clear use cases that can support a variety of design teams from public and private organisations to respond to in building a cohesive digital infrastructure and products for supporting mental health needs across the employment journey.

Any connections with other work

We had just completed a piece of work with Mind before starting our relationship with Department of Health. With Mind, we were focusing on their own workforce and how to build communication, and collaboration across the Mind network with the aim of increasing their collective impact. A different type of project, but both are in the service of improving mental health and both used an agile approach, starting with user research and an iterative approach to service design.

What else is on our radar in this space

At the moment, a challenge prize is being designed by NHS England, Department of Health, Behavioural Insight Team, and Nesta to throw open the challenge of digital mental health and employment support to the public. Our design briefs will provide a starting point for teams to get to grips with the key issues and inform responses.