Mapping research at the intersection of design and mental health

Sarah Kettley, Rachel Lucas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter outlines the intersections of design research with mental health in the UK and Europe, and considers challenges and future directions for designers working with the mental health service sector.

In discussing our own research (An Internet of Soft Things 2016), we noticed a frequent conflation of mental health with special needs and dementia, and a confusion of professional care practices and theoretical models in reports of design research projects. This provided the motivation to conduct a literature review identifying and describing the intersection of mental health and design research, intended to map the current state of play and lay the grounds for future work.

This review aims to map the overlaps between two bodies of literature: the mental health sector has a history of using creative and co-design methods to improve services, while design is keen to contribute participatory methodologies, and service design approaches to the field. The literature of each domain, that is, mental health and design, is experienced as inaccessible to the other, and very infrequently used (Chamberlain et al 2015). A recent review of the involvement of young people in the design of e-mental health services has also been undertaken by researchers in Australia (Orlowski et al 2015), but as far as we were aware, when we commenced this research in early 2016, there was no meta study available at the intersection of design with mental health undefined by population.

A descriptive analysis of the review suggests: a lack of critical reflection on the theoretical models being used, either by the project team, or by diverse stakeholders; under-reporting of the potential personal and ethical impact for researchers working within design; a predominance of research concerned with technological solutions and the design of assistive digital devices; and strong interest in the benefits of participatory and creative practices. Key challenges include the need to develop models of design based not only on need, or a lack, but on potential at both a practical and philosophical level; a widespread use of misleading or generic terminology across mental health services; and the complexity, fragility and dynamism of the care provision domain in the UK and Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesign for Wellbeing
Subtitle of host publicationAn Applied Approach
EditorsAnn Petermans, Rebecca Cain
ISBN (Print)9781138562929
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2019

Publication series

NameDesign for Social Responsibility


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  • An Internet of Soft Things

    Kettley, S., Brown, D., Briggs-Goode, A., Kettley, R., Lucas, R., Heinzel, T., Glazzard, M., Bates, M., Harrigan, K. & Battersby, S., 31 Aug 2016

    Research output: Non-textual formDesign

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