Case Study:
Signal – Mental Health Emergency
Product Design

About the Project


Project Name: Signal

Project Team: Just myself.

Project Duration: 4 weeks in November & December 2020

Project Description: The idea for this project was sparked by a challenge with the topic “Designing for Impact”. The basic idea was to build a product that has a positive impact on society.

With the idea narrowed down to the field of mental health, few options were explored to see what kind of app could have a possible positive impact.

After initial research it seemed like there was a lack of short term help options, that affected persons could use complementary to traditional long term therapy or counciling. The general idea of Signal is being able to reach out to someone when in an mental crisis – no matter where you are or what time it is.

Role in the Project: In this project I acted as a product designer, practicing both product & design thinking.


Click on the keyword to get to this part of the case study directly.
Product ThinkingEcosystem MappingUser ResearchUser StoriesUser Flow DiagramPersonality Sliders & Future Press ReleaseWireframesPrototypingUser TestingVisual IdentityMockupsProduct Outlook


My tasks in this project were the following:

  • Outline the Products Potential and Journey
  • User & Expert Research
  • User Testing
  • Creation of Low- & High-Fidelity Screens


The project was engaged with the help of the following tools:

  • Figma (All Deliverables & Prototypes)
  • Google Forms (Survey)
  • Zoom & Skype (User Interviews & Testing)
  • Maze (User Testing)

Product Outline

Before approaching the first phase of the design process, a general thoughts and assumptions about the product were made.

The general idea of the project is a native mobile app that enables people affected by mental health issues to reach out to both a professional and emergency contacts when in crisis.

Business & User Needs

In this case the business need was assumed to be the following:

The Business needs a way to attract (statutory) health insurance companies in order to sustain and grow.

The user needs on the other hand are (prior to research) the following:

Persons with mental health problems need a way to contact a professional and/or trusted persons in cases of a mental health emergency quickly in order to feel safe and receive quick help.

Value Proposition & Iceberg Canvas

To find out more about the impact a product like this can have and on whom, a value proposition canvas was made. The findings of this canvas were then transfered into an iceberg canvas to categorize the findings and see both the visible and invisible impacts of the product.

Preliminary Product Outlook

During the product exploration, first assumptions and outlines of the product were made. The following points were visible and had to be further explored as part of the first stage of the design process:

  • Different purposes & problems of professional vs non-professional help
  • Threshold to reach out in a crisis situation
  • Accessibility of help
  • Short term vs long term help


Step 0

Product Thinking

Holistic approach to the products overall vision, target audience & implications


Ecosystem Mapping

To empathize with the user and make out other people relevant to the products ecosystem, a preliminary ecosystem mapping was done. Besides the user itself, the users personal environment and the underlying health insurance (system) were found to be relevant to the product.


User Research

With the ecosystem mapped, further steps to empathize and understand the user base could be taken with the ultimate goal of crafting meaningful user personas.


In order to move from assumptions to facts, a survey was run that targeted both people affected by mental health issues directly and indirectly (e.g. having a close friend or family member with mental health issues).

In total 33 people participated of whom 75% stated to have or have had mental health issues before. While most of the participants affected or having someone affected in their proximity are or have been receiving professional help, the general accessibility (waiting time, costs etc.) varied heavily between the participants.

A big part of the participants stated, that they would have wished for help from their personal environment in crisis situations related to their mental health but that they didn’t know how to reach out properly.

In general there seems to be a great awareness of the underlying stigma, issues and discrepancies. Problems around the treatment / help with mental health issues seem to be present regardless of continent / country.

User Interviews

The survey led to a basic understanding of the user base. To converge and ultimately arrive at meaningful user personas, user interviews were conducted with three participant groups:

  • People directly affected by mental health issues
  • People indirectly affected by mental health issues
  • Mental Health Experts

Assumptions made based on the survey were mostly confirmed by the interviewees however they surfaced more detailed problem statements that were not recognizable through the survey. One of the takeaways, that was very striking, was that while some crisis response resources are available to some of the interviewees, most of them had a negative experience with these as they are heavily overloaded and often just not functioning available immediately but with a heavy delay.

User Personas

With the insights from the interviews, user personas transpired. While the first two groups of the interview sessions were materialized as personas, the group of experts were not as these were meant as a guide to prevent mistakes in the handling of mental health issues and to double check which kinds of help are suitable for the product.

“I was lucky that I was in the position to afford the therapy as it was quite expensive – not everyone can afford it.”

“Talking with my family about it is hard as in our cultural background MHIs are still considered a weakness.”

“Even though I cared a lot for someone with MHIs, being an emergency contact would really feel scary.”

Step 1


Gaining insights into the problem & emphasizing with the user

Problem Definition

With user personas present, the next step was to define the underlying problem the product is to solve.


User Stories

Knowledge gained through user research and the ultimate definition of user personas already led to an understanding of the problems that users face when having a mental health crisis. The user stories were formulated to better understand and narrow these problems down.

User Flow Diagram

Following the statement of user stories individual user flows were derived and connected to an overall user flow diagram. This diagram served as the first deliverable to build upon in the next phase.

What was already clear at that point was, that the main solution of the product must be very simple. Besides setting up the app and maintaining emergency contacts, the average user would most likely spend most of the time in this app when in distress and therefore the flow must be very simple and most things need to happen automatically.

During user research it also became clear that the role of emergency contacts would make it necessary for them to confirm that they are able and willing to act as such. This derived from both the fear expressed by the users themselves to not get any response when they reach out and the responsibility that some of the people felt that would act as an emergency contact.


Personality Sliders & Future Press Release

In order to define the personality of the product, both a future press release and personality sliders were made. These acted also as a basis for later stages where decisions about the visual identity had to be made.

Step 2


Narrowing the scope & focus area to make a problem statement

Solution & Validation

Low-Fidelity Wireframes & Prototype

With a user flow diagram present and the problem statement made, first sketches were done in low-fidelity. Beginning with a session of Crazy-8s, followed by a transition to very raw digital wireframes a first prototype was produced in a short amount of time.

User Testing: Round 1

With the help of the prototype, several sessions of moderated usability testing were done to see if the sketched userflow would meet user expectations and needs and also how users reacted to the product in general.

While the overall flow and concept was clear to all users and there were only small problems in terms of navigating the prototype, the amount of text on the onboarding & setup screens were perceived with mixed feelings by users. While some users stated that the information given was really important and necessar, others still read through but were concerned with the amount of information. The overall feeling was that the text could be condensed at some points. 

Some users also made suggestions on how to enhance certain points further by e.g. adding a minimal rating system at the end of a conversation with a professional or having a copy of the conversation send to them via email afterwards. Suggestions that were feasible for the MVP were considered and implemented after this round of user testing.

Defining the Visual Identity

After the iteration of the first prototype, the transition into high-fidelity was prepared by creating a mood board that would help define the visual indentity. 

When handling mental health, the psychology of colors plays an exceptionally crucial role. While the main colors were chosen to be a shade of black and white for the sake of simplicity and accessibility, the main highlight color was chosen as a very desaturated green. Green is heavily associated with health and optimism and therefore very suitable for this product.

Complementing the very clear and simplistic interface of the app, original illustrations for the onboarding process and one point in the emergency flow were created to add a more personal feeling to the experience. The illustrations depict humans underlining the situation that the onboarding is describing. When having an emergency, the illustration of the woman breathing and calming herself will feel familiar to the user from the onboarding process.

High-Fidelity Wireframes & Prototype

After making revisions to the first prototype, the screens were transitioned into high-fidelity with the help of the prior defined visual identity.

User Testing: Round 2

The second round of user testing was conducted unmoderated with the help of Maze. The source of the testers were mainly the people interviewed in the discovery phase and some additional people that fit the target audience.

This test had two goals:

  • Re-validating the user flow after the changes made after
    round 1
  • Testing the general feeling towards the product

The test concluded with a high usability score of 80 out of 100 possible points. However some of the results were slightly flawed by the technology of the test platform as some of the automatic microinteractions were not displayed correctly and therefore seen as a deviation from the desired path by the platform. For future testing such interactions would need to be tested beforehand or be excluded for this kind of test.

The general feeling towards the app is a very positive one with 90% of the tested persons stating that they would use the app. This is congruent with the statements made in the survey & interviews.

Step 3


Finding & Testing solutions

Final Product

Final Prototype

Following the last round of testing & improving the product through the evaluation of user testing results & use of a general feedback loop, the very final prototype for handoff was constructed.


In addition to the mockups of the main application a few examples of the secondary user flow of the emergency contact information were done to show how the conversation flow could look like.

Step 4


Filter viable Solutions & acting on them

Product Outlook

The discovery phase showed that the need for an affordable, simple and instant solution to help with mental health issues is present. While the backgrounds and health care systems of the people asked varied heavily, most of them said that they have no proper resources that could help them in a crisis situation and that the few resources available are often overloaded.

From a business perspective, the professional help part of the app needs to be funded / supported by health insurance carriers or healthcare systems such as the NHS. The emergency contact service acts both as an additional help resource but also as an incentive to try the app.

For a second iteration of the MVP the following things came up during the discovery phase and later stages of testing:

  • In-app articles about mental health & strategies to cope
  • Access to the app for emergency contacts with resources on how to help best
  • Companion app for wearables to have immediate access to the basic functionality of the app

All of these points seem viable from a product perspective but would need further testing.

Another point for further testing would be to properly design the conversation happening between the Signal chatbot and the emergency contact when confirming if they want to act as such.

Step 5

Product Thinking

Holistic approach to the products overall vision, target audience & implications

Thank you for your interest!
Do you like what you just saw?
Then let's talk!