Healthy and happy – how mental health apps benefit from UX research

Growth of mental health services

Even before Covid, demand for digital mental health services had been growing substantially – a trend that has only been strengthened by the pandemic. A lack of mental health practitioners, and new barriers to accessing care, have resulted in more affected, yet undertreated people. Consequently, the global digital health market is poised to grow (from $100bn in 2019 to $500bn in 2025) with the digital mental health market reaching almost half that size. Mental health apps are a rather new sector with market volume expected to grow 25% annually to about 3bn by mid-decade.

Mental health apps are focused on improving mental wellness by supporting awareness, good habits and positive thinking. Some of the major health obstacles targeted by these apps include: depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, personality or eating disorders, trauma or substance abuse. Because these are sensitive topics, apps need to do an excellent job of building trust with the user. As mental health issues need time to be resolved, apps need to keep users engaged which makes great UX imperative.

As one of the leading mental health apps, MindDoc requires users to log their health/mood on a daily basis in order to assess symptoms, recognize patterns and provide personalized resources. With a variety of courses and exercises, the technology helps users on their journey toward better emotional well-being. MindDoc can be used by itself, or as part of a treatment plan with a practitioner. The questions, insights, courses, and exercises have been developed by clinical psychologists and are aligned with international treatment guidelines for mental disorders.

UX-Methods applied in the study

Our goal was to improve the performance of MindDoc by responding to various health concerns, usage barriers, quality of the on-boarding process, user acceptance and intentions, and long-term added value. As an interactive product is perceived on a pragmatic/rationalist and a hedonic/emotional level, eye square used a “mixed method” approach by combining qualitative UX interviews, with ethnographic diary phases, and quantitative in-app surveys. Users with different levels of experience with the app participated.

What we found out

1) Design matters

A comforting design is essential for providing a “safe space” needed to work through emotional topics. Design and beauty are key in building trust, and first impressions deeply influence repeat use. Consistency, colors, layout and fonts, shapes and illustrations make the difference in helping users connect with the experience.

2) Interaction must be individualized

Contrary to other apps, frequent notifications in a mental health context are useful and not seen as a disturbance. Questions ranging from “How are you?” to deeper therapeutic reflections, reminds users to stay mindful and prompts them to stay connected with the app. Allowing users to personalize the frequency of contact is critical for success.

3) Multifaceted interaction is a must

Users of mental health apps seek frequent interaction and find it valuable. This is especially true for additional information or coursework. Also, while texts are found to be helpful, modern media habits require a greater diversity of media formats, i.e. availability of audio and video. Furthermore, “reading time indications” are generally expected by users.

4) Setting the tone

In a mental health environment it is important that overall tone is positive and motivating. This applies to word choice, questions asked, feedback and other interactions. Uplifting sounds and upbeat stories that amplify positivity are critical key features. In addition, a balance of personalized feedback (e.g. thank yous for interactions/input) and support delivered by the app increases progressive use.

5) Personalize, individualize and interact

Offering personalized tools within the app helps users improve self-awareness and overall well-being. Additionally, an individualized interface makes users feel welcome and motivated to use the platform. Interactive responses, feedback and suggestions should never be perceived as collective, repetitive or outdated; these functions need to be particular to the user.

Key Takeaways

  • Mental health is an extremely personal topic which needs to be reflected by a welcoming design, easy set-up and engaging user experience.
  • Positivity and empathy play a major role in the overall UX requirement.
  • Personal and individualized interaction is key, and is a must as mental health apps need to spark motivation and “work with people”.

MindDoc – based in Munich (office in Berlin), MindDoc offers online psychotherapy in Germany and an international app for mental health self-help. MindDoc is provided by Schön Klinik, the largest family-run hospital group in Germany, with specialty areas of mental health, orthopedics, neurology, surgery and general medicine.

eye square – based in Berlin and with offices in the U.S., China, and India, eye square is a full-service market research institute, pioneer of eye tracking solutions and a leading provider of human insights. Would you like to understand better how users experience your products, websites, or apps – and how you can optimize that experience? Get in touch!


This case study was presented by Carina de Lopez, Head of UX and Partner, eye square and Sabrina Schulte, Chief Product Officer, MindDoc during the UX360 Research Summit 2022. The full video is available with on-demand tickets here.

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QUAL360 North America, March 8-9, 2022 Washington D.C. | UX research with MindDoc

eye square

Based in Berlin and with offices in the U.S., China, and India, eye square is a full-service market research institute, pioneer of eye tracking solutions and a leading provider of human insights.

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