Mental Health x Design

Collaborating with NYC high school students to spark mental health dialogues through visual design and storytelling.

A vibrant, geometric pattern featuring an array of colorful squares and rectangles in red, yellow, blue, and green. Each shape contains unique designs such as lines, dots, and grid patterns, arranged in a diagonal checkered layout.

The challenge

Our built environments have a huge impact on social-emotional development, especially during adolescence. How can New York City public schools’ physical spaces, long dogged by inequities stemming from systemic racism, be reimagined to promote and improve mental health?

Several young people sit around a rectangular wooden table, engaging in group activities. In the foreground, a girl with glasses writes in a notebook, holding a pen. Others are engaged in conversation, and various office supplies, books, and papers are scattered on the table.

The opportunity

Organized by the city and spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray, NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene launched an innovative pilot project to create transformative experiences for 30 students from 15 schools. Each school was represented by two students, awarded a $10,000 stipend, partnered with an architecture firm who designed and managed construction of their projects, and collaborated with Hyperakt to learn about branding, storytelling, and campaign-building.

A series of five colorful graphic designs on a black background, each featuring different abstract patterns and black text. The colors are green, yellow, red, and blue, with some text panels overlaying the designs. The text includes "HEX," "LAB1," "LAB2," and "LAB3.
On a bright yellow background, there is a vibrant orange and pink book titled "High School of Applied Comm." next to an open binder containing a printed document titled "Mental Health & Design Student Development Lab.

Students take the reins

As the resident design experts in the multi-pronged initiative, Hyperakt designed a three-session interactive workshop teaching students how to craft a mental health campaign for their schools. The opportunity was unique for students in many ways. It exposed those who wouldn’t otherwise have been to design and creative thinking as a potential career path. It gave them the unique opportunity to work alongside a renowned design firm as “clients” with decision-making power. And each student received a stipend for their participation, meals at each session, and transportation to and from the lab.

Two students sit at a table, focused on writing in their notebooks. One, with curly hair, writes intently while the other, with long wavy hair, smiles and looks on. Both wear grey sweaters and hold purple pens, with a white background featuring stairs.

Session 1: Start with a strong foundation

To kick off the workshop series, students started by exploring and then defining the mental health challenges they experienced with their peers at schools (the most common was stress & anxiety). Once clear on what issue they were trying to tackle and why, they tried their hand at crafting a tagline or campaign slogan: a pithy, memorable statement to capture the attention of their fellow students. With the problem and tagline solidified, it was time to start experimenting with visuals. They crafted moodboards that represented the emotional tone of their campaign and communicated their vision to Hyperakt designers.

A collage of nine materials on orange background, including worksheets on crafting taglines, giving critiques, community considerations, defining problems, and moodboard creation. Each document contains text and some have sections for written input.
Two people sit at a table in a brightly lit office. One wears a Brooklyn Nets jersey and the other a pink shirt. They are talking, with papers and notebooks in front of them. Behind them, the wall is covered with various charts, sticky notes, and diagrams.

Session 2: Create attention-grabbing visuals

The second session kicked off with the unveiling of the first draft of the posters that Hyperakt created for each of the 15 schools, based on the students’ moodboards. Students focused on giving constructive feedback and direction in order to refine the posters to better match the strategy they outlined in session one. With poster revisions underway, students then switched gears to preparing their campaign story and activation plan. They worked within a storytelling framework to craft their campaign pitch and used an activation planning worksheet to map out when and how to use their campaign posters and stories to raise awareness of their peers and broader communities.

Two young men are seated at a table engaged in crafting activities. One is holding a magazine and the other is using a glue stick while focusing on a piece of paper. Both wear name tags and casual clothing. Various craft supplies are scattered on the table.

Session 3: Share it with the world

In our final session, student teams received all the components of their communications campaign, including storytelling elements and final posters. In our final celebration, we hosted a storytelling slam and invited each student group to tell their story and share their posters to the group. This exercise was a great opportunity for students to put their work into the real world and see how people responded.

Two smiling students stand indoors in a bright, workstation-filled space. The taller student on the left holds two books titled "International School for Liberal Arts" and "World Literature." The student on the right holds a vibrant yellow poster that reads "More Platano Power!.
A bright yellow poster with red text and pop art-style images of bananas and plantains. The poster reads: "LESS STRESS. MORE PLATANO POWER! Vea nuestra nueva 'sala de escape' (sala de salud mental) en el primer piso de I.S.A. ThriveNYC. Come and see our new mental health 'scape room' at I.S.A. on the first floor." The background is a vibrant pink.
Poster with the text "FREE YOUR MIND". An illustration shows a brain with lines and patterns. Growing from it are clouds, hearts, a flower, sun, and leaves, symbolizing positive thoughts. Below, the text reads: "Check out the student retreat room at Gotham Professional Arts Academy.
Two smiling young women stand side by side, holding posters. The poster on the left reads "Free Your Mind" with a drawing of a brain and flowers. The poster on the right reads "Gotham Professional Arts Academy" with a geometric pattern. A bookshelf is in the background.

Advocates for their schools and peers

Our goal was to empower each and every student to start important conversations and ask critical questions in order to create the change they want to see in their communities. Over the course of three sessions, we watched the students blossom into advocates for mental health in their school environments.

A collage of various colorful posters and flyers on a wall. In the center is a green-themed poster featuring icons of plants, trees, and bicycles with the text "GREEN. FRESH. HEALTHY." Surrounding it are posters advertising events, tours, and performances.
A collage of 15 colorful posters advocating mental health awareness. Each poster features unique designs, illustrations, and motivational messages. The themes vary from nature and calmness to empowerment and support, promoting positive mental health. The bottom right poster reads "MH by Design: Mental Health by Design.
Surrounding ourselves with new people was fun and made me more open to meeting new people. The Hyperakt team broke down the steps and made it relatable to our daily life.
Participating Student
A diverse group of 16 people, including men and women, pose together in a well-lit indoor space. Some are holding colorful signs with messages like "Be Different." They appear happy and relaxed, with smiles and casual poses.

Project Credits

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