10 – Reflect + Propose


As mentioned in my previous posts [08 and 09] I came into this week’s tutorial session with a fairly sound proposal in mind, one that I already felt quite strongly about pursuing. In essence, this design responds to the association of ‘choice’ with mental health and seeks to defy the limitations placed on the identity of those who are ill.

When proposing the functionality of the generative website it was suggested that a level of curation will still need to be involved. The purpose of which wouldn’t be to limit responses to those that I personally agree or identify with, but rather to determine whether they are indeed related to the issue and respectful to the actors involved.

Whilst explaining the intended digital and physical output of my generative design proposal it became evident that as a curated design, the postcard series does also fall within the sphere of poetic data visualisation.

The most interesting aspect of the postcards is the idea of combining statements to illustrate an intriguing, humorous or critical point. Furthermore, the continued engagement beyond the parameters of the original design would be interesting to explore. A hashtag could be attributed to the project to encourage sharing of stories and further increasing the reach of the work, which ultimately seeks to provoke open discussion and prompt genuine understanding. By including a hashtag on the postcards further statements can be sourced to feed back into the original generative website format.

draft proposal sketches
Draft proposal sketches

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09 – If in doubt, try again


Wk6 in class brainstorm
Wk6 in class Five W’s and brainstorm

Culminating the research phase of the project, the focus our group sessions shifted to exploring potential design responses for our issues. To facilitate this discussion we initially framed the problem within the scope of the Five W’s – who, what, when, where and why. Specifying the context within which the problem exists established a sound foundation for the proposal to be developed.

Whilst such a format is incredibly useful in translating the conclusions drawn from research into a design context, without a fairly specific direction in mind, the exercise will merely described a vague or overly broad context. Although I had clearly found the use of language in media dialogue around mental health to be problematic, I felt that my answers to the Five W’s were still quite generalised.

When attempting to thoroughly explain the context of my issue to my group I found that I could not identify a specific element to focus my design response. Without a refined direction in mind, and a very limited amount of time remaining to the class, it then became difficult to benefit from the group brainstorming process. Had the Five W’s been completed prior to class, perhaps a clearer understanding of the shift from research into design would have been established and thus a more productive exploration into proposals engaged.

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08 – Getting to the point

After weeks of research, the project had now come to the point where it was necessary to shift the focus to developing a single, refined problem within the immensely broad topic of mental health. For me, the language surrounding mental health in media dialogue has been a particularly provocative issue, and hence has informed most of my research thus far. To inform the development of potential design proposals which would respond to this issue, it became crucial to write out precisely which factors are pivotal to its existence.

Five W’s

Who – journalists, television/radio presenters (news and entertainment), producers/editors of productions/publications, doctors, medical practitioners, medical/scientific researchers

What – the problem is bound in outdated understandings of mental health, which are based on a lack of existing/developed scientific knowledge. A basic understanding of the role and importance of the brain is a very recent scientific discovery, especially when viewed within the grander context of human history. The continuation of this boundary is facilitated by inconsistent education systems and differing cultural customs.

When – the problem begins from a child’s developing years as they come to understand the world based on the teachings of others and personal experiences. The problem is often present in any discussion mentioning mental health. Such discussions are not necessarily verbal, but can also be communicated through disbelieving glances or scoffs, as well as the developing digital language of emojis, acronyms, hashtags and gifs.

Where – In conversation between friends or strangers, in televised/broadcasted discussions/commentaries, in published articles (academic, news-focused, topical or opinion-based), in comment sections across all forms of digital platforms (i.e. blogs, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), in advertisements (print and digital), and also in film (discussion point or core plot/character development).

Why – The existence of careless and uninformed language around mental health promotes the continued prevalence of stigma through society. This in turn limits the availability of services for those in need, as well as further research into the field. Such limitations are a result of inequitable government funding and poor charity funding, since the general public is less invested in the importance of mental health when compared to physical health. Furthermore, these societal perceptions inhibit the willingness of individuals to be open about their problems and seek help, or the ability of those who are actively seeking help to feel accepted and not ‘other’.

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07 – Benefits of Collaborative Mapping

The process of collaborating on several issue map exercises was undertaken across several weeks. The role of which was to augment and consolidate previous work with a refined and specific focal point on the problems within mental health. Whilst the content of these maps did tend to overlap, the manner through which the various approaches were presented allowed for fresh perspectives and ideation.

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06 – Twitter says…

Having undergone a substantial amount of research into the dialogue around mental health in more traditional formats, such as scholarly journals and newspaper journalism, this iterative process moved on to the analysis of data generated online, particularly through the social media platform Twitter.

Why Twitter?

twitter language

For this exercise I have chosen to focus on Twitter over other social media platforms, as I was particularly interested in people’s responses to those who actively voiced their support for mental health sufferers or shared their personal experiences. Twitter is a social media platform that allows users the world over to freely share updates from their life, provide insights into their interests and values, and become connected with communities of like-minded individuals. The premise of the platform is that a single message is limited entirely to a total of 140 characters. By enforcing such minimal statements, users are forced to engage with language in different forms in order to convey their message. Alternative means included emojis, hashtags, acronyms, memes and pictures of larger bodies of text.

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05 – Ethnographic Research

Mental health is a vastly broad topic that not only has such significant impacts upon society but whose complexity is not yet entirely understood by the medical community. In order to gain a more holistic understanding of the ‘real world’ presence of and dialogue around mental health this stage focused on two forms of design-led ethnographic research.

Semi-Structured Interview

Never having had researched mental health and its implications on the individual and community, my interviewee’s responses were based off their perceptions and opinions around the issue. Often beginning or ending a statement with ‘I guess’ conveyed their reluctance to proclaim any statement as fact. When discussing the relevance of mental health issues for our age group, 18-25 year olds, they mentioned statistics stating our age group is affected the most by mental health issues. However, when prompted they could not recall where they’d sourced such a figure. I found it interesting to consider how many ‘facts’ we as individuals and as a larger society ‘know’ about mental health without actually being able to state their source.

“I think it has a very great impact on our age group. Mostly, I guess, because I know of statistics of our age group, just coming out of adolescence, that kind of thing, it really I guess effects us most. … No, I don’t know exactly where [I got those statistics from] but I guess it’s something I read somewhere.” [Interviewee response to question of impact of mental health on age group 18-25 year old]

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03 – Interconnectivity and Visual Language of Mental Health

Mental health is an incredibly broad topic, with implications and impacts spanning innumerable aspects of life. In order to broach the subject and develop an initial understanding of its depth, extensive research began into how mental health and illness is presented in news articles and academic papers. Analysing and discussing the portrayal of content across these outlets then lead to the development of participant mapping in groups.

Human & Non-Human Participants Maps


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04 – Can we please just talk about mental health?

Having began researching various avenues through which designers, photographers and other creatives have contributed to the topic of mental health, I came across an article discussing a designer’s approach to tackling the stigma surrounding open discussion of mental health issues. The project is entitled ‘Let’s Talk About Mental Health’ and was begun by Jessica Walsh after being inspired by her work with Timothy Goodman on another project, ‘12 Kinds of Kindness’.

1 in 4 suffer from a mental illness
This minimal, two frame gif created by Jessica Walsh [2015] is simple, yet effective in delivering the widely unacknowledged fact that 1 in 4 people suffer, at some point in their lives, from a mental illness. Therefore, what’s such the big with talking about it?
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02 – Personal or professional, language matters

NSWMHC A matter of justice_infographic 3
‘Living Well’ Report Infographic generated by NSW Mental Health Commission [2014a].
Of the various scholarly articles read on the issue of mental health, the three I have focused on specifically discuss its portrayal in mass media, as well as its researched links to criminality. Each takes an investigative approach, either developing their own research or collating and comparing the efforts of others. All three also stipulate the limitations of their findings, whether due to the data being selective, incomparable or dated. This conveys a high regard for objectivity, along with a sense of responsibility not to further accentuate existing stigmas and inaccuracies.

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01 -Who said that? A look at media’s dialogue around mental health

Leunig Mental Health Week
Michael Leunig’s cartoon in response to Mental Health Week [Leunig 2015] features a person seeking help from two ducks and a bird. The use of these animals may be a reference to the colloquial term ‘quack’, “A person who dishonestly claims to have special knowledge and skill in some field, typically medicine” [Oxford Dictionaries 2016]. Thus Leunig is potentially commenting on the inadequate services in place for individuals struggling with their mental health.
In preparation for this subject, Socially Responsive Design, I sought to gain as broad an understanding of the current discussion surrounding mental health as possible. Of the dozens of articles I have read, here follows a brief analysis of the few that particularly caught my attention.


‘The global community is failing to address mental health’

by Patel, P. & Soudi, L. 2016

The two authors of this article both have strong links to the medical and mental health professions. Laila Soudi work at Stanford University School of Medicine as a researcher, whilst also filling the role of director of mental health at the Syrian American Medical Society. Vikram Patel is the co-founder of Sangath; a not-for-profit health oriented organisation, as well as being the Wellcome Trust principal research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Together, these professionals have written several articles for The Guardian focusing on humanitarian world news. The background of these individuals in medicine does add some authority to their writing.

I believe an expert can be understood as an individual who has devoted a significant amount of time to the study or contribution of the topic upon which they are commenting. The term expert does imply a particularly high standard and depth of knowledge. By this standard, I would consider Soudi and Patel to have a sound understanding and valid perspective on the impacts and importance of mental health.

This article has a basis in fact and expounds upon the potential impact of the lack of assistance to those most in need. It does not contain a great amount of specific detail or examples, but seeks to generally convey the presence of a problem in how the international community ignores the mental health of refugees.

The strongest opinion expressed in this article is the need to be “actively working to normalise” the situations of these displaced populations. Soudi and Patel believe that by integrating refugees into society, through work and education, their mental health will be better for it.

Continue reading “01 -Who said that? A look at media’s dialogue around mental health”