Integrating User Experience and Evidence-based approaches to Design

Both Australia and NZ suffer from distressingly high youth suicide rates. Much of the work and research being undertaken to address this centres around the potential of online technologies to connect with young people in new ways, and to enable the delivery of new kinds of health and wellbeing interventions and services. Online services create the potential for self-directed and anonymous engagement and move the conversation to “where young people already are”. They also require quite a different design approach to interventions delivered within a traditional clinical setting.

Co-designing these services in collaboration with the young people they are designed to benefit provides the opportunity to learn more about how young people experience these issues, and ensures that what is designed has relevance in the world of young people. The presentation above, delivered for UXNZ in November last year, describes our journey to bring together user experience design and participatory approaches with the evidence-based models which traditionally underpin health promotion, intervention and treatment.  The presentation was developed in collaboration with @MariesaNicholas and @KittyRahilly and it shares insights and learning from work with the Inspire Foundation and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre in Australia. The goal of these organisations is to develop effective evidence-based online, youth mental health and well being interventions in collaboration with the young people they are designed to benefit.



The presentation explores our experience integrating evidence-based and participatory, user experience based approaches. It demonstrates the differences we identified between the two design approaches, some of the challenges in bringing together these two practices and the tools we developed to support this. It also identifies opportunities that are created by their integration.

The presentation demonstrates for example, the ways in which participatory and user experience approaches help to contextualise, inform and sometimes challenge models from the evidence-base. It also highlights the tensions created by the different ways in which success is measured in each discipline.  In an evidence-based context success could be defined as: the model applied as intended with a positive result that can be correlated to the intervention. In a user experience design context success might just be that the system is used and people engage with it. Which perspective has greatest influence can shift depending on the context of the intervention. The presentation also highlights that while both approaches generate forms of “evidence”, this data is conceptualised and managed quite differently. This is partly a philosophical challenge, medical ‘evidence-based’ approaches traditionally rely on quantitative, statistical data and clinical trials, whilst user experience approaches have traditionally emphasised qualitative data, rich in context and focused on the particular experience of individuals. If you have been trained to see one as evidence (and not the other), moving to a different view requires some collaboration and open thinking.


In the presentation we argue that while there are inevitable tensions to be negotiated, the benefits of an integrated approach are significant. Being able to enrich the application of medical models and theories around mental health and wellbeing through an understanding of people’s everyday lived experience of these issues, as well as their expectations and behaviours around technology, greatly increases our chances of building products and services that will actually be used and have impact.

In the conclusion of this presentation we note that it is common for human-centred design approaches to be marketed as a wholistic singular process and set of methods that can be picked up and applied to any problem. Our journey to build up a process and tools for integrating evidence-based and user experience approaches to the design of online youth mental health suggest an alternative value.  That is the potential to integrate the human-centred tools and values of user experience design into existing processes and models that already have leverage within organisations. Organisations and businesses already have a range of existing approaches and ‘design models’ (or approaches to change) such as Six Sigma, and other forms of behaviour change, change management and process improvement. One of the opportunities of design is not to replace these models, but to leverage the traction these already have in organisations, and work out ways to build on these, bringing the value of more designerly and human focused approaches, which open up new opportunities at the intersection of these models and ways of working.

Audio of this presentation will be available soon. Audio of this presentation is now available via the conference website

For more information in Integrating Participatory Design approaches to develop evidence-based online youth mental health interventions please see the Participatory Framework developed in collaboration with the Inspire Foundation and the Young and Well CRC.




  1. Wow, this was very inspirational to read. I am very curious to listen to the audio presentation. When will it be available?

  2. Hi Leann, glad it was helpful. You can cite the paper mentioned in article, which is now located here:
    Hagen, P, Collin, P, Metcalf, A, Nicholas, M, Rahilly, K, & Swainston, N 2012, Participatory Design of evidence-based online youth mental health promotion, prevention, early intervention and treatment, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne.

    The YAWCRC has closed down since this blog and I need to update the links. I look forward to reading your article once published.

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