Human-Centered Design Approaches in Digital Mental Health Interventions: Exploratory Mapping Review

JMIR Ment Health. 2022 Jun 7;9(6):e35591. doi: 10.2196/35591.


Background: Digital mental health interventions have a great potential to alleviate mental illness and increase access to care. However, these technologies face significant challenges, especially in terms of user engagement and adoption. It has been suggested that this issue stems from a lack of user perspective in the development process; accordingly, several human-centered design approaches have been developed over the years to consider this important aspect. Yet, few human-centered design approaches to digital solutions exist in the field of mental health, and rarely are end users involved in their development.

Objective: The main objective of this literature review is to understand how human-centered design is considered in e-mental health intervention research.

Methods: An exploratory mapping review was conducted of mental health journals with the explicit scope of covering e-mental health technology. The human-centered design approaches reported and the core elements of design activity (ie, object, context, design process, and actors involved) were examined among the eligible studies.

Results: A total of 30 studies met the inclusion criteria, of which 22 mentioned using human-centered design approaches or specific design methods in the development of an e-mental health solution. Reported approaches were classified as participatory design (11/27, 41%), codesign (6/27, 22%), user-centered design (5/27, 19%), or a specific design method (5/27, 19%). Just over half (15/27, 56%) of the approaches mentioned were supported by references. End users were involved in each study to some extent but not necessarily in designing. About 27% (8/30) of all the included studies explicitly mentioned the presence of designers on their team.

Conclusions: Our results show that some attempts have indeed been made to integrate human-centered design approaches into digital mental health technology development. However, these attempts rely very little on designers and design research. Researchers from other domains and technology developers would be wise to learn the underpinnings of human-centered design methods before selecting one over another. Inviting designers for assistance when implementing a particular approach would also be beneficial. To further motivate interest in and use of human-centered design principles in the world of e-mental health, we make nine suggestions for better reporting of human-centered design approaches in future research.

Keywords: design; digital mental health; human-centered design; mental health; user experience.

Publication types

  • Review