Part 1 - Open Labs: Research and Analysis

Understanding the Needs of Tech Workers with Mental Illnesses

User Interview participants

User Interview participants





  • Created research plan

  • Recruited participants

  • Distributed surveys

  • Conducted stakeholder interviews

Analysis & Synthesis

  • Identified analysis method

  • Synthesized research

  • Facilitated workshop

Advised by Andrew Benedict Nelson, Innovator in Residence at University of Southern California School of Social Work

Assisted by Sarah Ballard, University of Colorado School of Public Health



I took the overarching design challenge statement, “How might we rethink the work experience for tech employees with mental illnesses?” and broke it down into more specific research questions to better understand the needs of both users and customers. Some questions included:

  • What is the market demand for mental health solutions?

  • What are the customer and user personas?

  • What are the customers' and users' biggest needs?

  • What are the solution requirements?

After conducting research to better understand the landscape for people working in the technology sector with mental illnesses, I was equipped with vast amounts of research that needed to be analyzed and turned into insights so we could begin creating solutions. I focused on the type of research that produced the most insights - interviews with people with lived experience. I learned that value creation for the customer necessitates creating value for the end user. Because of this, the focus groups targeted users (people with mental illnesses) over the customer (organizations providing them with products and services) for this first stage. 




We found that organizations were designing solutions without the input of their end user. The primary cause was fear and shame in talking about experiences with mental illness. We identified the key stakeholders and tools necessary to create a safe environment for reducing the stigma and opening these lines of communication between solution designers and end users.

From this, we also identified a clear problem statement and focal area - it is not acceptable to share about mental health. Sharing was a keyword in the discovery process. Simply disclosing, instead of sharing back and forth between the two parties, produces negative outcomes. Armed with this insight, we sought to design environments that promoted sharing.


"Creating solutions for brain conditions without the intimate knowledge of those who live them is like building an airplane without knowing how to fly."

- Interviewee

Listening to an interviewee explain his experience with a mental illness

Listening to an interviewee explain his experience with a mental illness





Primary research

  • Interviews with employees with mental illness

  • Interviews with executives at companies with neurodiversity initiatives

  • Surveys of employees with mental illnesses

  • Expert interviews

Secondary Research

  • Review of existing solutions (tools & services)

  • Literature review

  • Desk research

Collaborative Research Survey with Open Sourcing Mental Illness

Collaborative Research Survey with Open Sourcing Mental Illness



Analysis & Synthesis

Facilitating using Innovation Dynamics analysis method

Facilitating using Innovation Dynamics analysis method

After a preliminary review of the research, it was clear that the richest insights came from people with lived experience working and thriving with a mental illness. Because of this finding, Innovation Dynamics was utilized as the primary method to analyze the research.

In addition, throughout the design of Open Labs, we periodically revisited our lean canvas. We decided on a multi-sided lean canvas, which helps evaluate the requirements of both the users (people with mental illness) and the customers (the companies that provide them with products and services). The analysis workshop helped us to better refine the first version of lean canvas and identify key stakeholders, who would later be involved in the co-creation process. 

Multi-sided lean canvas (intentionally blurred)

Multi-sided lean canvas (intentionally blurred)




Other Open Labs Work