User research and user testing for an online mental health service


The brief

Healthlocker is a digital service that promotes communication and transparency in care. This project documents user research and user testing undertaken as part of the alpha phase of development.


Working with a multidisciplinary team over two years, over 800 users were engaged with.

This resulted in:

  • an understanding of the different needs of service users, carers and clinicians
  • a coherent digital experience that responded to these user needs
  • buy-in from frontline staff, a critical success factor for any new NHS product or service

more than

440 clinicians

provided feedback to improve the design


800 hours

spent conducting user research and user testing


Discovery Phase

Healthlocker was designed for three key user groups:

  • service users (people accessing mental health services)
  • carers (loved ones, family or friends)
  • clinicians

Different user research methods were used in the discovery phase. Primarily, these involved getting out into the community and meeting people where they were.

Methods used to gain user insight included:

  • Contextual interviews
  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Card sorting
  • Journey mapping
  • Presenting at conferences and MDT meetings

The user research was documented and shared with the wider design team through presentations. 


The user needs were then translated into sketches and interactive prototypes. These designs were immediately put in the hands of users again to continually build, test and learn.

Users were asked to complete tasks - demonstrating how they would approach key user journeys.

User feedback from this prototyping phase enabled features for develeopment to be prioritised. 

HL prototype.jpg


Healthlocker is pioneering how technology is used in mental health services:

  • Providing tools, resources and contacts for self-management
  • Enabling service users and carers to directly message their care team
  • Integrating with the electronic health record (EHR) to authenticate users
  • Prioritising data security and aligning with information governance regulations

Healthlocker has been built in open source code to enable other NHS Trusts to build on and share improvements to the platform.