NB: All names have been changed or represent our personas, fictionalised characters created using research insights.
Amy’s hands are on fire. She’s supposed to be going to an ecotherapy group that she signed up for a couple of weeks ago but her arthritis is unbearable. The woman running it, Laura, seems nice enough and it’s been ages since Amy was in the fresh air. There’s even a minibus coming to pick her up.
But Amy doesn’t think that she can manage a session today. The group is due to be making beehives but she’s not sure how her hands will cope. Plus she’ll likely feel embarrassed in front of the younger members of the group.
She doesn’t reply to Laura’s text confirming what time the minibus will come. And she doesn’t answer the doorbell in a few hours’ time when Laura rings it. Amy carries on as she’s always done; she watches telly, gives her dog a belly rub and doesn’t see anyone else for days.
When designing mental wellbeing services, understanding those that got away can be the difference between someone flourishing or needlessly suffering. Whilst the economic cost of non attendance to out-patient appointments in mental health and psychological therapy services is £600 million per year, the human cost as always, is far greater.
Amy is an example of a persona: a fictionalised example of a service user based on research insights. In this particular case, Amy was created following interviews with prospective service users who ‘dropped off’ from the Myplace service at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. We conducted this research to tackle the following challenge: develop an understanding of why some prospective service users aren’t completing the onboarding process and design a solution to solve this problem.
As in all user research, we wanted to gather data from the target service users themselves to understand their own realities, experiences and stories as well as how they relate to the given service. We developed our research plan with a design justice lens as outlined by Costanza Chock which centres:
‘The voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcome of the design process.’
We wanted to share the process we used to create these personas as well as the personas themselves, as we thought they might be useful for any other teams exploring challenges involving service users who hadn’t completed the onboarding process, in a mental wellbeing context.
‘Dropped off’ service users are notoriously difficult to contact. GDPR restrictions aside, we were aware that these individuals may understandably ignore our attempts to contact them. To mitigate this we crafted our recruitment emails ensuring that:
We were delighted when prospects responded, however with the knowledge that these individuals could very well ‘drop off’ again, we did our best to meet them where they were. We were flexible in terms of our virtual meeting points and tools, times of day to conduct research and adapted to varying levels of digital connectivity and literacy. We discovered that sometimes a quick follow up call with the prospective respondent was all that was needed to reassure them and start to build a rapport.
This also helped us when carrying out our research which sought to understand our interviewees as human beings, not just in terms of how they interact with Myplace. Finding out more about our interviewees other than when, why and how they dropped off from the service gave us valuable context to the challenges our users are facing, their hopes and dreams. Not only is it likely that this context is analogous to a wide range of service users, but it makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable interview experience.
Once we’d completed and transcribed our interviews we used affinity mapping, the process of identifying pertinent quotes, emotions and behaviours to cluster similar elements together. The subsequent themes helped us to populate three empathy maps which got us to put ourselves in the shoes of our service users and think about what they might say, what others might be saying to them and what their ‘jobs to be done’ were with the Myplace team.
These empathy maps formed the foundations of our subsequent personas: Nicole, Brian and Christine. Whilst the empathy maps and personas are grounded in our research findings, they are fictional characters who incorporate the experiences of the users we spoke to. We created stories about our personas to bring them to life and make them the protagonists of the service we’re improving.
Nicole’s passion in life is drawing. She has stacks of art pads which she fills with science fiction drawings inspired by her favourite TV shows like Doctor Who. One day she hopes to be able to translate these drawings into tattoos and is looking to buy her first tattoo gun and some fake skin to practice on. When she’s not feeling well, she can’t draw as her mind is a blur. In fact when Myplace got in touch with her she wasn’t in a space where she could attend and blocked it out of her mind completely.
On the left, an empathy map which provided the basis for creating the Nicole persona. Empathy map template produced by Dave Gray at Gamestorming and on the right a persona map for Nicole, template by Nesta.
Brian has recently discovered Shakespeare and is playing two parts in a community production of Macbeth. He’d never really gotten into the Bard but after his mental breakdown he made a pact to himself to try new things. He’s also written a crossword which was pretty hard work but he’s glad he did it. Brian would like to go back to work, he was an electrician before and so he is working hard on getting himself back to where he was before. He’s been so busy doing all sorts of activities that he hasn’t had time to go to Myplace, especially not virtually.
Image to the left, an empathy map which provided the basis for creating the Brian persona. Empathy map template produced by Dave Gray at Gamestorming and on the right a persona map for Brian, template by Nesta.
Christine had been a nurse for 20 years before she started having panic attacks. She had to give up a job that she loved and focus on being a full time mum. Christine loves being with her kids but really needs something for herself, especially after her mum died. She got in touch with Myplace to do just that but the demands of raising her young family and her feelings of lethargy meant that she never attended a session.
Left graphic, an empathy map which provided the basis for creating the Chirstine persona. Empathy map template produced by Dave Gray at Gamestorming and on the right a persona map for Christine, template by Nesta.
Getting to know the people behind the drop off statistic is crucial to understanding the missed opportunities within the Myplace onboarding process. These opportunities form the basis of the solution that will help ensure that as many people as possible experience the benefits of ecotherapy. As we progress in our project, asking ourselves whether Nicole, Brian and Christine would benefit from what we’re doing, will help us to stay true to the design justice principle and develop a service that not only suits the needs of our users, but over delivers.
Understanding the diverse needs of our users is key. Tools such as Cards for Humanity are a great warm-up exercise before an ideation session to consider in practical terms, what users experiencing different challenges need from a service. How might we help someone who gets distracted easily to complete the onboarding process for example? Or how do we make sure that someone with dyslexia also feels included?
For us at Furthermore, these practices aren’t just about personas but about designing for every user of every service or product out there. It’s a mindset that we strive to adopt for all of our projects and we’re looking forward to integrating different techniques to understand the people behind the drop off statistic even better in the future.
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