This design didn’t win any awards, but it did save somebody’s life

This is a story about an unassuming piece of work, something that I worked on a few years ago as a creative director. It didn't win any awards, nor did it receive any accolades from fellow designers. And yet it is probably one of the most important pieces of work I'd ever done and have been a part of. A project that clearly demonstrated the human side of design, its impact and something that made me almost cry.

It was a site called eheadspace - a youth mental health organisation that does truly amazing work. The site is a service that provides support for young people. And connects them to clinicians who specialise in helping young people with mental health issues.  We did a redesign of their existing site at the time. Their current site at the time was done in flash, which meant a good portion of the traffic and users coming to the site couldn’t access it on their phones. And the analytics showed this. We went through various workshops and vigorous testing. 

In the end I know the site is not a particularly beautiful site. But it functioned beautifully. In this instance the design effort and details is in how it works and how it connects with users looking for help. A lot of testing was done on the information architecture and the flow of the site. The team that worked on the project did a great job. 

When the site launched I was proud of what we had accomplished. I knew that it would help people. But even so, everything at that point was just an abstract idea a number, a statistic. Like when you watch the news and you hear the facts and figures. 2 people died in a car crash. We feel something for a fleeting moment, then forget and carry on with our lives. Because they are nameless and faceless. 


Fastfoward to October 2015 almost 2.5 years later

I was driving and on my way to pick up my wife from her workplace. Normally on this drive I’d have my car synced with my phone and playing Rdio. But I decided to have the local radio on instead. It was 5:30pm. The channel was tripple j – a radio station here in Australia. It just so happens that it was a week bringing awareness to mental health. And they were promoting this issue on their station.  After some tunes they went to their segment.

A caller had then called in to tell her story. She had suffered from depression and had contemplated suicide many times over. Like many in her situation she felt alone and isolated. She didn’t know who to speak to. And it was hard for her to seek help because she wanted to be discreet. Unfortunately there is still a big stigma about mental health in our society. School bullying and social pressures both online and offline all escalate the problem. So like many young people she looked for help on a platform most familiar to most people her age. She jumped on her phone and started searching. 

Think about how many times we’ve tried to self diagnose ourselves on Google, we’ve all been there. Had we had not updated the site and allowed mobile access perhaps she never would’ve found a service that made her comfortable enough to speak to someone. And to be able to resonate with her. To show that it was anonymous and discreet. To allow the experience to be simple enough so she could get in touch with one of the AMAZING clinicians at headspace. Not enough good words can not be said about the people that I worked there. Who I also got to meet and chat to during our discovery process. In the end after a year or so she could see herself getting better. And her self esteem started rising enough to talk about the issues she’d face. And that finally she could foresee a brighter future for herself among the dark clouds. 

Our work was the invisible interactive layer that enabled her to reach the people at headspace. We are not the heroes in this story, the people who do the amazing work are. We are the side characters, the invisible people that assisted in making that wonderful change to occur. And that’s ok with me.

After the segment finished it nearly brought tears to my eyes, something very simple that we did really did make a difference. Because it made a difference to her. She got the help she needed thanks to a medium called the internet. The abstract numbers now had a face and there are countless others like her. 

So I’d like to part with something pretty simple, but equally powerful. Put in your best effort even though no one is watching. Even though you will not get praised, no one will know your name but your effort always makes a difference. Even if it’s not glamorous work. At the other end of the spectrum. Behind the screen is a REAL person, just like you and I. Not a number, but someone with hopes, dreams and aspirations. And who knows you may just save their life.