Brave Expressions

Empowering creative mental health expressions

TIMELINE  •

Jan 2019 – March 2019

CLASS  •

Capstone, Passion Project/Startup

TEAM  •

Bridget Lewis,

Sarah Strickler

ROLE  •

Product Designer

Overview

When Bridget, Sarah and I bonded over shared struggles in mental health, we realized how storytelling has the power to heal. Born out of shared passion, we created Brave Expressions, a mental health storytelling platform that empowers people to express their experiences through creative outlets. Our goal is to create a space where people can express their mental health stories and know they're not alone. Visit braveexpressions.com to see our website, with real stories told by real people.

The Opportunity

Through personal experience and design research, we discovered that talking about mental health experiences is powerful in overcoming the stigma that surrounds mental health, fostering a sense of personal healing through a sense of community and solidarity. However, there currently isn't a dedicated, storytelling-forward space where people can share their mental health experiences.

The Platform

Brave Expressions is a digital space dedicated to mental health storytelling. Our goal is to create a platform where people can express their mental health stories, learn about others’ experiences, and know they’re not alone. People are encouraged to use whatever form of expression resonates with them, including written stories, poetry, video, art, music, audio, and many more. At Brave Expressions, your story matters.

Process & Contributions

All throughout our design process, we continually centered around and co-designed with our users. My contribution spanned across the design process, from research and synthesis, creating the information architecture, ideating around features and creating mockups, and developing the visual language.

Since beginning the project, we knew we wanted to make our website a reality in order to help people's stories be heard. To do this, we had to engage in all aspects of product design like web development, community outreach, and legal matters. In June, our team launched a website with real story content!

Primary Research & Participatory Design

My teammates and I conducted 3 rounds of research and participatory design over an intermittent 8 month period to avoid potential design bias from being very close to our user group, and to expand our research pool to a greater variety of users and experts to design a more inclusive and responsible platform. Each round, we learned new things depending on what we wanted to investigate more and as our research shifted focus.

Secondary Research

We conducted secondary research in the form of a competitive analysis and literary paper search in order to fill in our gaps of knowledge. By investigating existing mental health resources and peer-reviewed research, we discovered what's working well on existing platforms and identified new opportunity areas.

Research findings & validation

There's an abundance of valuable resources in the library, but they're scattered and difficult to locate resources in the physical space.

Navigating within the library is confusing, resulting in patrons getting lost and librarians constantly answering navigational questions.

The Central Branch library is a hub for other libraries, leaving other branches also unclear about how to navigate the Central Branch.

Principles

As we synthesized our research, we defined design principles that captured the characteristics of our platform that would empower users. These principles summarized our learnings and helped guide our design process as we moved into ideation. These principles also later became a user-facing set of community principles on our site.

Ideation

As our research validated the need for an online space for people to share their mental health stories in creative ways, we ideated around core functionalities and the digital environment of our platform. This included the story sharing, reading, and browsing experience, and safeguards such as trigger warnings. We also ideated around ways to foster a welcoming environment, such as warm imagery and community principles.

Architecture

As our ideas around the website grew, I helped my team create an information architecture. This helped us visually map out the website, including the pages and what content each should have, and how the pages connect to each other in a way that is intuitive for the user.

Low- to high-fidelity mockups

We created low-fidelity wireframes in order to map out key layouts and functionalities of each page, thinking about what features and content were necessary to creative mental health storytelling. We gradually transitioned to high-fidelity mockups, thinking about how visuals can play a role in the experience. I helped my team by taking ownership over the home, community, learn more, and resources pages.

Visual language

Visual design plays a major role in fostering a sense of approachability and warmth on our platform. Our visuals aim to evoke a sense of compassion, authenticity, and expressiveness, featuring handwritten font, organic lines and shapes, natural and realistic imagery, and rich, healing colors. Our visual elements are generally used sparingly in order to showcase the diverse work of our story submitters.

User Testing & Co-Design Sessions

After developing our user experience and creating higher-fidelity wireframes, we met with new and previous participants to conduct co-design sessions. Our goal was to get their feedback on our developed mockups and concepts, and co-design to further develop the visual language of the site together.

Research findings & validation

There's an abundance of valuable resources in the library, but they're scattered and difficult to locate resources in the physical space.

Navigating within the library is confusing, resulting in patrons getting lost and librarians constantly answering navigational questions.

The Central Branch library is a hub for other libraries, leaving other branches also unclear about how to navigate the Central Branch.

Implementation

To make Brave Expressions a fully functional website, we had to wear many more hats besides just design. We engaged in marketing, social media, and outreach in order to build community connections and gain story submissions; website development and using Webflow in order to build out the platform; and learning about legalities such as intellectual property and copyright by working with the UW Entrepreneurial Law Clinic.

On the design front, as we continued building the MVP with limited time and resources, we had to think back to what was core to demonstrating the value of our platform: creative mental health storytelling. Certain non-essential features started falling out of focus for our initial phase, including the shop, learn more, and community pages.

MVP Design

Below are the main features we have incorporated as our MVP. Visit our website at braveexpressions.com to experience them live!

Home page

Our home page greets visitors with a splash page with animations and our mission statement, leading into the story section.

Story experience

Visitors can view a diverse range of creative submissions about mental health shared by real people, from written pieces to artwork to poetry.

Resources

Because we are not a substitute for medical services, we offer resources for immediate help, general help, and help by mental health issue.

Submission guide

For visitors to submit a story of their own, they follow our step-by-step submission guide and email us their creative pieces.

Reflection

The moment before our virtual launch!

While incorporating protections and safeguards into our designs, I saw how there is a tension between safety and creative expression. For example, we iterated over and over again to design trigger warnings that weren't too restrictive, nor too alarming, nor too light. Additionally, I saw how there are real-life ethical issues in design that we had to question deeply; for example, even if we provided trigger warnings, someone could harm themselves after reading a story – who is liable?

Additionally, I learned how inclusivity as a value must be reflected across the entire design process. As designers, we have the ability and responsibility to ingrain greater diversity and representation into our designs. We had to consider how to be more inclusive in all aspects, from including people of different ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations in our research pool and story collection, to the imagery and content categories that we used on our website.

Because my teammates and I had to wear so many hats on this project, I learned to understand the unique challenges and step in the shoes of roles complementary to product design. We were web developers, forcing us to think realistically of what was possible to implement. We engaged in community outreach to collect mental health pieces, which took strategic outreach, respectful communication, and network management. We had to learn about legal limitations in order to learn how to protect both our users and ourselves.

Our next steps:
•  We're currently in the process of filing as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization
•  We're putting our designer hats back on and gathering user feedback on our MVP from story submitters and new users to learn how to improve our site and promote longer-term engagement, as well as revisiting features we had previously shelved
•  We're ideating around more sustainable business and community outreach models, particularly how to fundraise and keep collecting story submissions