Design for Mental Health: Creating an Effective Response to Student Loneliness with Denise Ho and Andrew Baker — DT101 E60


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Denise Ho and Andrew Baker are our guests today. Denise is a design researcher practicing in the design space since the early 2000s and the Director of Design at Hope Lab. Andrew Baker is living and working at the intersection of technology and experience design. He’s the Vice President of Product at Grit Digital Health and teaches Experience Design at the University of Colorado. Denise and Andrew collaborated on a way to combat loneliness in college students. We talk about designing for mental health, Nod, an app that is helping young people avoid negative health outcomes associated with loneliness, and how college students were involved in creating Nod.

Show Summary

Denise and Andrew had very different entry points into design. Denise’s journey began with a love for people and cultures. She started her undergrad as an anthropology student, but she wanted to not just study culture, but to shape it. That led her into design. She studied product design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and landed an internship at IDEO, where she ended up staying for eight years while also teaching design at the California College of Arts. Denise opened her own design practice and started doing design research into younger generations — not just designing products for them, but also working to understand their way of seeing and experiencing the world. Now, she works at Hope Lab, where the focus is on creating digital technologies that help young people live happier, healthier lives.

Andrew’s interests were influenced at an early age by his father, a graphic designer, and his mother, a civic leader focused on social impact. He studied business and English literature at the University of Colorado, but also minored in technology, arts and media, where he studied software development and honed his self-taught graphic design skills. An internship at a Denver agency allowed him to continue developing that skill set, but also gave him the opportunity to dig into user experience and into understanding human behavior and using those insights to guide designing product solutions. He moved into a dual role with Cactus and Grit Digital Health, leading both companies’ creative technology practices before moving into a full-time position at Grit Digital Health, where the focus is on creating digital health solutions for college students designed to help them improve their mental health and wellness.

Denise and Andrew talk about designing for mental health and their collaboration to create Nod, an app for college students. Nod is designed to help students make social connections and relationships in an effort to address the loneliness many students end up feeling when they arrive on campus and begin their higher education journey.

Listen in to learn more about:

  • Designing digital health products for younger generations
  • The Nod app
  • How Nod was designed and developed
  • Co-creating with college students
  • Hope Lab’s work and projects
  • Grit Digital Health’s wellbeing tool and other projects

Our Guests’ Bios

Denise Ho

Denise Ho brings more than 15 years of creative leadership experience as a design thinker, strategist, and qualitative design research with expertise in healthcare, transformative technologies, and industrial design. She spent 8 years at IDEO, and is currently Director of Design at Hopelab. She leads a diverse team of design researchers, industrial designers, and creative strategists to create technologies that are engaging, sustainable, and scaled to impact as many lives as possible. Denise enjoys gardening and spending time with her twin daughters, husband, and puppy.

Andrew Baker

In his role at Grit Digital Health, Andrew inspires and guides the design of user-centered solutions across technology mediums and industry verticals. With a background in experience design and software development, Andrew and his team strive to develop wellbeing products that are rooted in research, behavior design, and business strategy. Outside of his role at Grit, Andrew is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, where he teaches user experience design in an MA program for Strategic Communication Design.

Show Highlights

[01:30] How Denise found her way to a career in digital design.

[05:08] Andrew’s journey into digital design.

[10:18] Denise gives an introduction to Nod.

[11:12] Andrew follows up with his “elevator pitch” for Nod.

[12:28] The question that drove Nod’s naissance at Hope Lab in 2017.

[13:25] The connection between loneliness and college students’ mental health.

[14:48] Denise talks about the early research and discovery stage of Nod.

[15:45] Nod’s unique problem space.

[16:58] Collaborating with college students using an early paper prototype of the app.

[18:19] Nod’s next steps forward in development.

[18:52] Andrew talks about reverse engineering health outcomes.

[20:01] The three categories of psychological health outcomes Nod targets.

[21:36] Successfully changing behavior requires small concrete steps.

[24:15] College students continued to play an important role in the development of Nod.

[25:30] The challenges of working on a solution for a very personal and private issue.

[27:16] Co-creating with students on Nod has been an incredible experience.

[27:56] Nod’s pilot phase with the University of Oregon.

[28:20] Service design and delivery is one of the biggest challenges for digital products.

[30:06] Nod’s pilot phase at the University of Colorado Denver focused on service design.

[31:31] COVID-19’s impact on the development of Nod.

[33:20] Hope Lab’s tri-discipline approach to collaboration and co-creation.

[35:19] Denise talks more about the randomized control trial at the University of Oregon and how it proved Nod was working.

[36:31] How people reacted when they heard about Nod’s development.

[37:48] Andrew offers insights into the rise and future of digital-only health and wellbeing design.

[39:15] Why Nod is such a special project and product.

[41:31] Where you can find Nod.

[42:22] Partnership with Snapchat to release Nod in 2021.

[43:31] How universities can participate in Nod’s pilot program.

[44:29] Denise talks about another project Hope Lab is working on, focused on identity affirmation of LGBTQ+ people.

[47:25] Andrew talks about Grit Digital Health’s digital personalized wellbeing tool.

[48:21] Grit Digital Health is hosting a panel at an upcoming Innovation Learning Network conference.


Denise on LinkedIn

Andrew on LinkedIn

Andrew on Instagram

Andrew on Grit Digital Health


Nod’s product overview

Press release on efficacy data for Nod

Hope Lab

Hope Lab Milk

Hope Lab’s LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health and Resilience Project

Grit Digital Health

YOU at College

University of Colorado Boulder, Master of Arts in Strategic Communication Design

Elon By Design

Fast Company’s "Innovation by Design" award (Nod was honored in 2 categories)

Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health: Smartphone App to Address Loneliness Among College Students: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

Other Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Mapping and Service Design + Implementation + Accessibility with Linn Vizard — DT101 E17

Launching and Leading a University-wide Design Thinking Initiative with Danielle Lake — DT101 E31

Designing Health Systems + Creating Effective Design Workshops with Sean Molloy — DT101 E44


Thank you for listening to the show and looking at the show notes. Send your questions, suggestions, and guest ideas to Dawan and the Fluid Hive team. Cheers ~ Dawan

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