Wellnest is a gamified journaling app created by college students who were tired of old, clinical mental health tools. The app receives an average rating of 5 stars, won an Airport Design Award, and was distributed at schools like UPenn, Boston University, and Carnegie Mellon. I worked with Reade Plunkett, Mars Hovasse, Drew Pilat, and Tommy Searle to design the app and visual identity.
When we looked at the journaling apps out there, we saw lots of blue and purple. They looked great but felt cold and clinical. We thought journaling needed to be much more welcoming and joyful. The Wellnest brand is made up of vibrant colors, fun characters, and a sometimes humorous tone to make journaling more exciting.
We experienced the mental health crisis first hand as college students. Our friends and classmates were stressed and anxious, the university counseling department was swamped, and many students weren't seeking clinical help because of social stigma. We asked university therapists about common tools that they recommend to students, and they told us about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) worksheets and journaling.
These methods get people to write out their thoughts and feelings in order to cope with stressful situations. They are effective, but we found them unapproachable as college students. When we talked to some friends who had tried journaling, they had two major complaints that kept them from continuing:
"I don't know what to write."
"Journaling is boring."
We wanted to know how we could make journaling more enjoyable, and turned to our peers for guidance. In a series of focus groups, we learned more about our friends' experiences with mental health, what they struggle with, and how they cope. These discussions helped us hone in on specific situations that students need help with like moving away from home, failing an exam, or getting over a breakup. We also identified day-to-day needs like managing busy schedules and finding time to unwind.
We first focused on helping people start writing. Using responses from the focus groups, we created deep dive question sets on key issues that students face. These sets, much like CBT worksheets, prompted students to write down their thoughts on a given topic in order to move forward with a clearer understanding of the situation. We started with 12 journaling courses, vetting them with a board of psychologists before testing with students.
Navigating Life at School
You and Your Family
We also knew that students struggled to stick with journaling because of how monotonous it could be. In order to make the habit easier to keep up on a daily basis, we created an alternative to the deep-dive question sets that was composed of just a few questions about what was happening that day. We also introduced a reward system where students could earn coins and use them to buy new characters.
After testing the idea with a website and two beta versions, we released Wellnest on the app store. The app got a great response from students all over the country, and surprisingly a lot of adults. We rounded up some of the most devout users (making 4-7 entries a week) to ask them about their experience, what they found useful, and what they struggled with. Here is what was important to them:
Ease of use
People valued the ability to create a routine that was good for them and only took a few minutes. Additionally, the more the app could deliver good journaling prompts to the user, the better. People were less willing to search through a library of prompts every time they sat down to journal.
People liked being able to customize the look of their journal, but also wanted to customize the kinds of prompts that they receive every day, finding repeating a certain combination of questions to be beneficial.
Unexpected, thought provoking prompts kept the experience interesting, people were more likely to come back if they new the experience wouldn't be the exact same each time. Our most popular feature was Daily Conversation, which delivered three random prompts each day.
Journaling can help create a productive mindset. People liked to set their intentions for the day in the morning, keep track of long term goals, and process busy days in the evening.
Evidence of Progress
A pain point that we quickly noticed was that people had a hard time knowing if they were making progress or not. To aid this, we celebrated important milestones like making 10 entries, resurfacing old entries to show a change in thinking, and delivering reports to see how things like mood change over time.
Sense of Community
Although most people enjoy a private journaling experience, it was motivating to know that other people were doing it too. Displaying the number of people using the app made this clear for people. Hosting discussions and developing journaling courses with popular therapists and psychologists also contributed to the feeling of community around the app.
Unfortunately, development of the app was stopped shortly after its release due to a company pivot. We hope that these learnings may be helpful for future projects in the space.
Our social media channels were used to share bite-sized information about mental health and inform people about new app features.