Designing a New Way
Of Understanding Mental Health
8 Week, Independent Project
Experience Strategy, Visual Design,
Branding, Interaction Design
I designed a service that uses
plant care as a learning tool for mental health.
When I struggled with mental health, my family were a huge support. But I realized that despite good intentions, not everyone is equipped with the tools to effectively support their loved ones with mental health challenges.
Brand Guide, High Fidelity Flows, Prototypes, Product Mockups, Process
of African Americans believe
depression is a personal weakness
From Article African American Men and Women's Attitude Toward Mental Illness, Perceptions of Stigma, and Preferred Coping Behaviors
A history of stigma has created an unrealistic view of mental health. This tension makes building a relationship with mental health inaccessible to many black people. Though self-care services, like Headspace, aim to make understanding the mind more accessible for many people — none of these services take into account the complexities of race and mental health.
Access to information is not the problem.
The truth is that mental health is an abstract concept that requires specific language to
understand its complexities.
Without a collective toolkit, stigma will continue to prevent black people from opening up painful discussions about mental health.
What if we could create a common language about mental health in an uncommon way?
CULTIVATE is a self-care service that helps people plant, nourish, and grow their relationship with mental health through the exercise of raising a plant.
CULTIVATE leverages the experience of plant raising and curated activities to build confidence and to create transferrable learning about mental health.
Pictured is the CULTIVATE Starter Kit. The Starter kit includes everything necessary to get off to a successful start including all plant essentials, a welcome letter, and getting started materials.(Made in Adobe CC)
Pictured are the core components of CULTIVATE — the plant (featured is Jade plant), seedling pack, text check-ins, and the website. Made with Adobe CC + Figma
The root of CULTIVATE is the
experience of tending to living plant.
Through the metaphor of plant care, CULTIVATE breaks down mental health concepts into more relatable and digestible bits.
The Importance of Plants
The benefits of plants are bountiful! Plants purify the air, liven up a space, and generally make people happier.
Second, plants can serve as a physical representation of mental health. Mental health is an intangible concept. But by relating it to a physical thing (in this case a plant), one's mental health becomes a living object with a set of needs for survival.
The Process Behind CULTIVATE
CULTIVATE is grounded in empathy training. to teach, reinforce, and build habits over time.
Once joined, users receive messages that serve as a reminder to care for their plant. Reminders also encourages users to think about their disposition regularly by relating the care instructions to mental health concepts.
Text Messages were chosen as the delivery medium because they create a more personal relationship between CULTIVATE and the user.
Each month, a Seedling Pack arrives via mail. These activity booklets center on a monthly theme and contain a relevant lesson and an attainable task or habit to practice.
Information within the Seedling Packs are designed to be highly relatable. It is important to acknowledge that the lived experience of black people will be unique. This allows for topics centered around – Microaggressions, Police Brutality, Spirituality, and much more.
Seedling Packs are designed to be written on, and are pocket sized so they can travel with the user throughout their day.
Seedling Pack Prototype
Seedling Packs are curated with
content relevant to the black experience.
Example of Completed Activity Section
Example of Completed Lesson Seection
As the plant grows, it will eventually need a larger pot.
Propagation is the process in which a user replants their plant and invites another person into the journey of building a relationship with mental health. This social aspect of CULTIVATE ensures that change is happening throughout the community.
NOURISH. GROW. PROPAGATE. REPEAT.
With CULTIVATE overcoming stigma is not a solo venture, but a collaborative effort of encouraging empathy and open conversation.
(or how I got here)
I'll name you ... Thomas!
I brought Thomas home with me in August of 2019. I had never had a plant before, but I need some green in my life. It was tumultuous at first, but when I started listening to Thomas and their needs, I began to see the similarities in their life and my own. Thomas needed proper nutrients and I needed that as well. Thomas needed a trim to feel better, and my beard needed a trim to lighten me up. The more I learned about Thomas, the more I learned about myself.
Everyday I am learning how to support my mental health responsibly, but I know that therapy is not accessible for every black and brown people like myself. Taking notes from my experience with Thomas, I wanted to unpack this phenomenon further.
Discovery Through Immersion
“There is pressure to be a ‘Real Adult’ [in the black community] and this does not [look like someone] that struggles with [their] mental health.”
— Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC
From interview with licensed therapist @ Talkspace
To understand the realities of mental health within the black community, I immersed myself with stories from people within the community via:
Conducting interviews with therapists & individuals
Exploring podcasts concerning mental health & blackness
Reading journal articles & blogs
Becoming a member of micro-communities around mental health on twitter & other social medias.
Through this, it became apparent that the most difficult moment along the mental health journey is opening up to other people because of the negative perception of mental health among black people.
Pictured is a consolidation of all the notes I gathered from people that I interviewed, or information I stumbled upon. The main takeaway – sometime's people are equipped to know how to handle the situation.
Pictured is a Market/Competitive Analysis. I knew that a viable space to occupy would be a more social experience that had specialized information tailored to the core audience.
Jahmil's Journey to Opening Up
The main areas of tension are before the person opens up, the moment they open up, and the aftermath. The aftermath is the most uncertain as it is dependent on a Receivers experience with the topic of mental health and The Sharers resilience. Without the language to handle this situation, the aftermath exasperates the situation.
There are many individual pain points, but they are all dependent on one another. For this reason, I knew that the experience needed to encompass the entire journey.
Defining the Problem
Takeaway — Opening up is a
vulnerable experience for everyone.
Meet Jahmil & His Support System
Consolidating the research & interviews, I created a narrative journey that centers around a black millennial, Jahmil, deciding to open up about his journey with depression and anxiety. The goal was to better understand this experience and pin-point potential pain points / opportunities for design.
Jahmil Johnson, 27
Jahmil's Friends & Family
From there, I ran forward ideating. Moving from experiential events, to forms of literature. Each idea built on the next until the idea of raising plants was created.
1. Experience must occur over time.
2. Learning must be scalable.
3. Content must be relevant.
Pictured are sketches for early iterations of CULTIVATE. Some ideas included: a traveling event, an app that allowed people to check on others, and a starter kit for having mental health conversations.
Design + Brand Guide
BLACKNESS. GRIDS. & PLANTS.
Moodboard + Color Wheel
Textures & Visual Patterns
I became intrigued with the idea of grids. Grids convey structure, but with mental issues being seen as a taboo, I chose to break the grid within the branding to create the idea that a structural change is happening. Colors and texture where inspired by black people and nature. Each of these have complex layers and histories and I wanted to convey this visually.
CULTIVATE is named after the idea of fertile land. The logo is to represent the goal of CULTIVATE — to grow. The logo includes nods to plants with colors and plant like accents, but is designed to be both timely and flexible.
Pictured are examples of CULTIVATE's branding living digitally.
Sketching + Ideating
Pictured are early iterations of the various process, interactions, and details that make up the CULTIVATE experience.
Setting the goals and steps of the experience was essential to selecting the proper mediums for the users of CULTIVATE.
Designing. Prototyping. Testing.
(and then repeating)
I tested with people, synthesized their feedback, and then made changes best suited for the experience.The main change was making the registration process seamless and logical.
*Note: Link opens in new tab*
Seedling Pack Iterations
With the Seedling Packets, I wanted to ensure that the language, visual style, and medium were appropriate and approachable. To test, I created prototype versions and conducted a light A/B Test. I tested size, colors, and content.
& Running Forward!
CULTIVATE felt like a miraculous culmination of everything I strive do as a designer — innovate to empower people. Throughout the process, I grew professionally and personally. I learned how to embrace my vulnerability to ask the hard questions, honed my visual design skills, and ultimately created an experience that is intentional throughout all interactions. I guess you could say CULTIVATE cultivated me 🥴.
Next Steps – CULTIVATE was selected to be apart of VCU’s Pre-Accelerator Program (Pre-X). Pre-X is for turning ideas into action. The goal of the program is to identify, support, and launch high growth and high potential startups and founders.
*Note - CULTIVATE is a concept. I do not own the right to any images.*