I designed a service that uses
plant care to combat mental
health stigma within the black community.
12 Week, Independent Project
Strategy, Visual Design/Branding,
Interaction Design, Product Design
Brand Guide, High Fidelity Flows, Prototypes, Product Mockups, Process
CULTIVATE is a self-care service dedicated to helping people plant, nourish, and grow their relationship with mental health by turning them into compassionate plant caretakers.
"Sometimes communities don’t have enough tools in their tool kit to see how we don’t have to perpetuate these damning discourses,”
— Tracy Robinson-Wood Ed.D., LMHC, LCMHC, MAC, NCC
But that's starting to change. Black people are beginning to change this narrative on social media, through podcasts, and by speaking out and advocating. But there are a lack of services and products geared toward helping this movement at large. Acknowledging my own experience with my mental health and realizing the need in having a compassionate support system, I set out to design a new type of experience that gives the black community the tools necessary to understand mental health and be compassionate toward others.
This entire process involved understanding how empathy works, analyzing the current market of mental health services, understanding black people's relationship to mental health & their pain points along this journey, and building a brand solution through storytelling and creative design.
Research – Unpacking Empathy
Empathy is a muscle.
Like every muscle, empathy must be trained to be used effectively. The requirements to exercise empathy are practice & share-ability.
To begin, I wanted to understand how people come to understand the lived experience of other people. The answer is simple - empathy! Empathy is the way in which we understand the world and the people around us. However, there is decline in empathy because, unlike a regular emotion, empathy must be practiced so that the muscle does does experience atrophy. VR is thought to be the most effective way to build empathy, but the downside is that VR is not accessible and cannot account for the time it takes to effectively build the skill.
With this knowledge, I knew that the foundation for the experience would have to rely on the idea of training empathy to generate longlasting compassion
Research - Interview & Listening Findings
“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 mental health within the black community, I conducted interviews with therapists, interviews with black individuals that were willing to talk about their experience opening up (about anything), listening to black people talk about their mental health experience (through podcasts), and used social media to connect with people that were self proclaimed advocates for mental health within the black community.
The hard truth is that most experienced a hard time with finding support from friends and family because of the stigma that exists within the community. Though it is changing, it still can be difficult to express struggles with mental health and receive the appropriate support or acknowledgement.
Jahmil's Journey to Opening Up
Along the journey, there are many ups and downs. The main areas of tension and stress 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. With the misinformation, lack of understanding, and stereotypes surrounding mental health – opening up becomes a stressful situation. Without knowledge on handling this situation, the aftermath that follows compounds the situation until it becomes tunes out.
In this case, Jahmil is not able to receive the support he is seeking and ultimately is left feeling vulnerable and upset because of the lack of understanding from those closest to him.
Though there are many individual pain points, each one is dependent on the next. Because of this, I knew that the experience needed to encompass the entire journey as each part is important to creating compassion among black people for mental health.
Research – Deliverable: Personas & Experience Map
Opening up is a vulnerable
experience for everyone included.
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.
Meet Jahmil & His Support System
Jahmil Johnson, 27
Jahmil's Friends & Family
Get black millennials who feel they cannot open up about their mental health because of stigma to feel empowered to share their journeys with others by creating a multi-modal experience focused on building a compassionate relationship with mental wellbeing.
What if we used the idea of raising something in order to educate people about mental health and how to support others?
Visual Design - Deliverable: Design + Brand Guide
INSPIRED BY —
BLACKNESS. GRIDS. & PLANTS.
With mental health being a taboo within the black community, I became intrigued with the idea of grids — as grids convey a sense of structure. Majority of the design is built on an 8pt grid but I chose to intentionally break the grid as a way to show that the black community is breaking down stereotypes that have been built.
The name, CULTIVATE draws its inspiration from the notion of fertile land and the overall goal of the experience – to grow.
Through this, I created a design guideline that is flexibility to expand across multiple mediums, while maintaining consistency.
Textures & Visual Patterns
Interaction Design – Experience Overview
At the core of CULTIVATE is the
metaphor of growing a plant to grow yourself.
The idea for CULTIVATE came from my experience with becoming a plant parent. After seeing how having a plant affected my own life, I wondered how I could apply my experience elsewhere.
At the core of CULTIVATE is the metaphor of growing a plant – this is for two reasons. First, plants generally make people happy and liven up any room. Second, the plant is a physical representation of mental health. Mental health is an intangible idea but by relating it to a physical thing, it can becomes more significant in a person’s mind.
This metaphor extends into the experience and is combined with the foundation for empathy training and circular design.
Onboards users via website and begins inviting the user to think about their mental health more regularly through text check-ins & the arrival of the Starter Kit
Deliverable: High-Fi Website Flow
CULTIVATE Desktop Website
Through the website, users can join CULTIVATE. The registration process includes an overview & requirements, a plant match quiz, user details, payment & shipping information, and a confirmation screen.
Plant Match Quiz
Before Arrival Updates
Users receive text messages that integrate them into plant parenthood through guided exercises related to setting up their space for their plant.
Text messages were chosen as the medium because they create a sense of a more personal relationship, ie a friendship.
Deliverable: Message Mockups
Deliverable: Product Mockups
CULTIVATE Starter Kit
Includes everything necessary to get off to a successful start. It including all plant essentials, a welcome letter, and getting started materials
The core loop that begins equipping the user with the tools & knowledge necessary to understanding mental health via habitual prompts & exercises.
Periodic Check Ins
Periodically throughout the week, users receive text messages that remind them to care for their plant. These messages serve to not only build confidence in plant care but to also invite opportunities for users to recognize their mental health.
The Seedling Pack is a monthly booklet that comes in the mail. Every month centers around a different theme. Each theme is based off a plants needs, ie finding the best light, but weaves in relevant mental health information.
Seedling Pack gives the users opportunities to learn and then apply that learning to their everyday life. This is important because it allows them to practice and foster a deeper connection with mental health. Seedling Packs are pocket sized and are designed to go with the user throughout their day.
Lessons Inside Seedling Pack
Each Seedling Pack is two-sided. On one side is a monthly activity that challenges the user to a specific activity. The other side contains a learning lesson that educates users about a mental health topic.
Though CULTIVATE can be used by anyone, since it is designed for the black community, topics & information are geared toward the black experience and will include topics such as – Microaggressions, Police Brutality, Compounding, and much more.
Seedling Packs are designed to be written on, and are intentionally not digital because the physicality can lend users to create a different type of habit with this medium.
As the plant grows, it soon needs to be replanted in a larger pot.
Propagation is the process in which a user replants their plant and initiates another person into the CULTIVATE experience
1. Propagation Check In
GROW. GROW. AND GROW.
The cyle continues over and over, and over again. Each time, inviting a new person to start on their journey of understanding mental health. Over time, through the cycle of Activation, Cultivation, and Propagation — CULTIVATE equips a community a large with the tools necessary to better understand mental health.
Working on CULTIVATE was an extremely rewarding experience for me as a designer and as person. Though it was an extremely large project and undertaking, through this venture, I was able to understand deeper how research, visual design, interaction design, and testing can come together to create an experience that lives mostly off screen.
Personally, through this project I was pushed to become vulnerable in my design process. By opening up myself to this work, it allowed me to check my own bias and reach further to ensure that the solution always harkens back to user needs.
My biggest takeaway from this work is my ability to now design for topics that may seem taboo to people. In learning how to navigate these conversations without alienating users, I am now better equipped to design for any form of problem.
Next Steps – Continue iterating, refining design, and building out business case to make CULTIVATE real.