Mental Health Association of New York City and NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

Design Tools for Mental Health

How can human-centered design increase access to NYC's mental-health services?

Partners and Funders

The Challenge

NYC Well is the City of New York’s single-stop mental-health resource for residents. Each month, the service receives 25,000 to 30,000 calls, texts, and chats from New Yorkers seeking care. In addition to providing professional and compassionate short-term counseling, NYC Well provides behavioral-health referrals, mobile crisis team coordination, and follow-up services.

In partnership with the New York City Mayor’s Office and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Vibrant Emotional Health (formerly known as the Mental Health Association of New York City or MHA) is responsible for delivering these services through its robust contact center and text-messaging platform. MHA asked the Public Policy Lab to help them develop ways to further understand and respond to New Yorkers’ service needs.

The Outcome

Using findings from human-centered research, PPL and MHA co-created two design tools, a user journey map and a set of user personas, as well as a companion website and set of targeted recommendations for improving service delivery. These needs-focused artifacts will support the NYC Well team in making design choices about features, navigation, and interactions in current and future NYC Well services.


Design Tools

Personas and journey maps are powerful tools for ideation that can be used at all stages of a human-centered design process, from preliminary concepting to rapid prototyping to eventual testing and deployment.


Journey Map

The NYC Well journey map draws on research with the public, service providers, and MHA and City staff to represent a future state of service delivery. The map includes design prompts, keyed to journey phases, to help service and product owners explore how the service might better respond to the user preferences identified through research.



The NYC Well personas represent an intentionally divergent set of potential service users, from New Yorkers with good access to care simply seeking a referral or short-term assistance, to residents with significant ongoing mental-health issues and people in crisis.

Project Website

A project website enabled easy sharing of the design tools among our partners and the broader mental-health community. Creative Commons-licensed versions of the design tools were available for download by policymakers, designers, and other product owners interested in designing user-centered mental-health services.