Imagine a world where mental illness is as openly talked about as the common cold.  Where healthcare professionals come together effortlessly, seamlessly to provide the best outcomes for even the most seriously affected. Where ‘mental wellbeing’ is given as much thought and emphasis as we give to our physical condition.

This was the vision which motivated and carried us into our Health Hack on Friday 20th January.  Our mission: to innovate new products and services that would transport us into a world where there are effective tools and services to help everyone achieve optimum mental wellbeing. Accompanied by co-creators from NHS Scotland and voluntary sector professionals, those affected by mental health issues and some friendly comrades from design and data agencies, we launched into a frenetic and fruitful day of really big ideas.

There are many things that we learned in the hack which we will take forward, both into our innovation sprints and into our work in the healthcare sector.  

We’ve created a summary of the five most interesting things that we learned from the hack. The first two offer an insight into the trends that could be leading the way for mental health interventions in the future. The other three are pointers to running effective innovation sprints, hacks or brainstorms – no matter what sector you’re working in.

  1. Everybody has mental health

The first activity of the day (after making badges and introducing ourselves) was to brainstorm facts to work on. Time and again, the fact that ‘mental health’ or wellbeing is something that everyone experiences came up and became a common theme across all of our groups.  

Mental health is stigmatised as a negative affliction or ‘illness’.  This is despite the knowledge that 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental ill-health, and every one of us has their own mental health to maintain. The time has come for us to acknowledge and accept that everybody has mental health.

As a result, it became a key provocation: how can an innovation change people’s perception of mental health from a special problem, to a matter-of-fact, everyday thing that we all maintain? To transform the treatment of mental health, we also have to transform the perception of it.

  1. Intervene early, intervene often

Most problems – not just in mental health – are an accumulation of a whole series of small, sometimes microscopic fails.  

More often than not solving these problems results from finding out what these pain-points are, and, critically, why they are a problem to the person who experiences them.

Currently, the point of interaction with those suffering from mental health issues happens too late. Many people wait a long time before seeking help for mental ill-health. This is when their mental health has already declined – to a point that they feel they can no longer deal with it on their own.

One team explored ways that individuals and healthcare professionals could connect with these small blips together, track them, assess them, and think of ways to alleviate them before they mounted up into a much bigger issue. It’s not just early intervention that makes the difference, it’s frequent, small interventions and solutions that support this will go a long way to helping many people keep their mental wellbeing on an even keel. This principle has widespread potential applications, and not just within healthcare.

  1. Twist what exists

We all know what we should do to stay physically healthy; eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, but how do you maintain good mental wellbeing?

The success of the national campaign for to improve public health and encourage healthy eating habits makes healthy eating seem simple – eat ‘5-a-day’ for better health. This simple heuristic makes choosing healthier food easier for all.  

Working on the proposition development tool of ‘twisting what exists’, one team built on what has been a fabulously successful campaign for the body, developing ways it could work for the mind.

  1. Don’t bank on all the ideas

Early on, the provocations led to a huge array of potential ideas to be taken forwards into development.  We had only 4 teams, however, so some basic concepts didn’t make it. How you select the ideas that make the cut is usually based on which ones people like best, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right ones to take forward. In a one-day hack there just isn’t time to reflect on or use data to evaluate which ideas are worthy of further development.

For example, one healthcare professional said an idea would be ‘gold dust’ if anyone could make it work, but it wasn’t popular enough on the day. As a result it’s best to keep a bank of ideas, so that there are things that could be worked up into concepts after the hack. Where possible it can also be a good idea to split hacks out over time to allow for quantitative and qualitative evaluation and validation. If you’d like to develop a product or service in this space with us, we’re happy to share these ideas with interested businesses and organisations from within the sector.

  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation

Like good Girl Guides and Scouts we came prepared, and the day ran very smoothly – but we’re always looking for incremental improvements. So if we had our time again, we would place more emphasis on facts and trends at the start of the day. What’s happening in the sector, the target audiences, current technologies etc would all have given our teams more context to work with and build their provocations and ideas on. These facts build a foundation and bring participants together – providing common knowledge in a room full of diverse expertise and experience.


All in all, it was an excellent, illuminating (and exhausting) day and we have much to work with as we enter into several innovation sprints with some of our healthcare clients.

If you’re interested in hearing about more of our adventures in the health and wellbeing space, watch this space, or better still, sign up for our newsletter.

Author: Kate Bordwell, Head of Design Research.