Telempathy (INF1602 — UX Design Case Study)

Posted 5 December 2019 by Joshua Shum

Telempathy is a personalized mental health care navigator developed as part of the Fundamentals of UX Course (INF1602) at the University of Toronto. This course introduced me to the UX design-thinking processes, and the terminology used in this field. In collaboration with the Innovation Hub at the University of Toronto, I worked with three other students to design a project that began with identifying and examining a problem space at the University of Toronto, to developing a medium-fidelity prototype of an app.

Our design team chose to develop a student-centred online platform for facilitating the access of University of Toronto students to available mental health resources and services. Telempathy makes use of the university's existing information infrastructures and frameworks to help users find and choose between a narrowed down list of options based on their preferences. Users can also book appointments through their phone, cutting out the long and arduous waitlists currently experienced by students seeking mental health services.

Most importantly, Telempathy acts as a mediator — a navigator, or personal librarian — between the end user and the resources and services offered by the university, guiding and enabling users to reach out for the help they may need.

Introducing Telempathy

Our challenge: How might we facilitate the barrier-free access to timely and personalized mental health care for University of Toronto students?

This exercise in design thinking and user experience design was carried out in four phases:

  • User Research & Analysis
  • Requirements Analysis
  • Prototyping
  • Evaluation & Next Steps

Telempathy helps UofT students by doing all the hard work — identifying, searching, and refining options — for students who are already experiencing stress and anxiety.

School and life is already hard enough. Finding mental health resources shouldn't have to be too.


Phase 1

"I felt like this was basically all my fault for coming to get help."

In this phase, we focused on secondary and primary research to identify our problem space and to emphasize with users. We knew we wanted to tackle mental health—but we weren't sure about what the actual barriers to accessing these resources were.


To narrow our scope, we looked at:

It isn't just a few. It isn't about more programs and services.
Students often encounter a support system wherein they feel they are “bounced around” between networks and services, contributing to feelings of frustration and confusion for both the students and the staff involved and sometimes leads to students dropping out of the process.


We asked 8 UofT students to share their experiences and concerns in semi-structured interviews, and conducted 7 task-based user observations. Here are some of the highlights of our findings:

  • 8 of 15 participants identified mental health as a concern.
  • 5 of 8 interview participants were aware of the Health & Wellness Centre as a student service.
  • 3 of 7 usability test participants failed to complete the task.
"The fonts are really small. They put way too much information on one page. But what if I just want to make a counselling appointment? I give up."

All participants expressed or demonstrated difficulties navigating the Health & Wellness Centre's website for access to services and resources.

Based on our research, we created the user persona Lee Tanner-Wong as a representative for our user base, for whom we would design this project:

Meet Lee, a young international student in his mid-twenties, who started his master's degree at the University of Toronto in September. Recently, he has been struggling with balancing his studies and life. Homesickness, loneliness, desperation, and other bad feelings have been weighing on him. He doesn’t really understand why he’s feeling like this, but feels like he can’t talk to his friends and family about it, as he doesn’t want to worry them.

Through Lee and our primary and secondary research findings, we established basic user needs and pain points in the context of accessing the University of Toronto existing and available mental health resources and services, information portals (e.g. Student Life website) and methods of communication.


Phase 2

We analyzed our findings to identify our persona's needs, and to generate ideas that might address them. From our initial set of ideas, we evaluated and discarded several ideas based on ethical, legal, or privacy concerns that our design team felt we would not be able to feasibly overcome.​​​

In total, we retained 11 "big" ideas and narrowed our focus to two main features:

  • Mental Health Care (M.H.C.) Navigator: a feature that can guide Lee to appropriate mental health resources
  • Immediate Help: like an "Easy" button from Staples, this feature would allow Lee to quickly call for help with a press of a button


Phase 3

Now that we identified our main features, we prototyped our design concept in two stages: a low-fidelity paper prototype and a clickable medium-fidelity wireframe prototype. After we sketched our paper prototypes, we conducted a lean evaluation with them using guerrilla usability testing methods. Using the feedback gathered from our low-fidelity prototype testing, we created a clickable medium-fidelity prototype using Balsamiq.

Paper (Low-Fi) Prototype: Sequential Storyboard

Click image to open or download in a new window.


Phase 4

Click image to open or download in a new window.

After developing a clickable medium fidelity prototype, we conducted usability testing and semi-structured interviews with three representative users (current University of Toronto students). These tests were conducted at locations of their choice, to best emulate the environment in which we imagined Telempathy users would be most likely to use the app.

Participants were asked to carry out three tasks with one test moderator to conduct the test and one observer to take notes. Following the usability tests, we conducted a semi-structured interview to elicit feedback, suggestions, and questions from our participants.

Once our study was completed, we evaluated the collected data to identify areas of improvement and change that our project would focus on, if development had continued.

Usability Testing & Next Steps Report


Outcomes & Challenges


Through this course, my team and I developed a clickable prototype for a mental health care navigator app designed for University of Toronto students. Influenced by ongoing and recent events highlighting the worrisome state of student mental health, our design team aimed to bridge the gap between students and university-provided resources by facilitating the access and awareness of the latter through one centralized platform, available to all students through their UTORid.

The design-thinking and development phase of Telempathy lasted for a short period of eight weeks, in which I was able to rapidly bring UX design-thinking theory into practice, make use of industry tools (e.g. Balsamiq, Figma, xtensio, etc.) and present every stage of our project to a panel of industry judges invited by our instructors, Prof. Olivier St-Cyr and class teaching assistants. Thanks to their constructive criticism and feedback, we were able to tackle this difficult, but important topic of mental health care to great success.

Challenges & Solutions

With our chosen topic of mental health, each phase came with the challenge of considering not only UX and human-centred concerns of development, but also the legal, ethical, and privacy concerns associated with the subject.

Broaching the topic of mental health required an intentional research design that respects the personal and ethical boundaries of participants. To our surprise (and dismay), most participants immediately identified the issue of student mental health, and were eager to discuss it.

Another challenge was the issue of feasibility and effectiveness of Telempathy. Ultimately, Telempathy was developed with a single user persona, Lee Tanner-Wong as our focus, representing the entire student population. As such, we naturally encountered a difference of opinion during user testing, particularly regarding the concept of speaking with an AI for mental health support.

As much as we attempted to balance our design decisions between feasibility and impact, every individual's situation is unique — and thus, a major challenge in this project was accepting that our solution — and perhaps, no solution — could ever be perfect.

Closing Thoughts

Our primary objective was to develop a tool that would facilitate the access of University of Toronto students to mental health resources and services available to them.

In this regard, we consider our efforts — supported by our usability report data of initial feedback from users — largely successful. University of Toronto students are a diverse population with a diverse variety of mental health care needs and concerns that requires a unique solution catered for each individual.

Personally acknowledging the need for support is the first step in the solution, and overcoming real and perceived barriers is the second. Telempathy role in this solution is to enable our peers to reach out for help in a manner that suits their own preference and comfort level.

School and life is hard enough. With Telempathy, finding and accessing mental health doesn't have to be too.



Joshua Shum

Roles: Project manager, documentation, development, usability test design & analysis (med-fi evaluation), prototype design (low-fi & med-fi), primary & secondary research, storytelling, and presentation planning & design.

Vicky (Jinghui) Yao

Roles: Project development, prototype design (med-fi), presentation planning & design, visuals, low-fi evaluation design, usability test design & user testing (primary research, low-fi evaluation, & med-fi evaluation), and data analysis.

Ann (Xin) An

Roles: Project development, prototype design (med-fi), presentation planning, user testing (primary research, low-fi evaluation, & med-fi evaluation), data analysis, and video designer.

Julie Younghee

Roles: Project development, usability testing design & user testing (primary research), presentation planning, storytelling, and data analysis.