elise sokolowski
elise sokolowski

Spiraling Up

brand identity & design / ux design / program development



Depression is hard to define and discuss, especially for young people who are in a time of transition.


How can we creatively get students thinking and talking about depression?


A high school program that helps students unpack depression through a series of analog books and a digital app.



In the US, approximately 16 million adults have had a major depressive episode, and young people (ages 18-25) are the cohort most likely to experience depression.*

The majority of mental illnesses manifest during the teenage years — over 75% of all lifelong cases begin between the ages of 14 and 24. Moreover, the average time between symptoms emerging and treatment is 10 years.**

The stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly starting to fade but it is still very difficult to discuss — with our friends, family, peers, and coworkers.

Mental illness, specifically depression, often surfaces at a young age and if teenagers don’t have the tools to effectively face it, the gap between onset and intervention will widen.

*Source: National Institute for Mental Health **Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Depression is often defined in a very clinical manner, one that is more useful to people treating the disease than to the ones actually experiencing it.

Winston Churchill likened the disease to having “a monkey on your back” which is arguably more relatable than the scientific definition of “meeting a clinically significant threshold of depressive symptoms.” How can we help teens recognize depression in a creative, engaging way?



If young people are comfortable addressing their mental health, they will identify the symptoms and seek help sooner rather than later.



Spiraling Up is a nonprofit organization helping high schoolers understand, identify, and discuss depression and mental health issues.

The program consists of a series of analog books, a digital app, and a website. The books and app help students discuss depression internally and externally, and the website provides program information for parents and educators.

spiralingupstyle guide-02.png

The Books

There are three books in the Spiraling Up program, the first book is distributed in the spring of junior year. The books contain creative vignettes (poems and prose) that help us think about depression and the feelings it engenders. There are interactive pages for students to write and draw their own thoughts, a gratitude list, a monthly goals section, and an events calendar page. Spiraling Up will sponsor group activities to help foster community between students and educators. On the back cover is a QR code that connects to the digital application.

Click through to read the first book.


The App

The digital app accompanies the books. The app connects students to peers across the country (from program-participating schools) and gives them the opportunity to chat one-one-one, engage in group discussions, contact their guidance counselors, and sign up for the events at their school.


Onboarding Process

When students open the app, they enter their name and school code to create an account, build a profile using a username and illustrated avatar (their full names are kept private) and answer some basic questions about their mental health.


App Features

Students use the app to access discussion threads, have one-on-one conversations with other students, contact their guidance counselors, and find resources for immediate help.


The discussion threads are user generated and allow students to have group conversations around topics of depression, mental health, and the stressors of high school.


Students can contact and schedule meetings with their counselors, and access a list of mental health hotlines if they need immediate help.


Students can register for Spiraling Up events at their school (the events are also listed in their book).


The conversation map indicates active users across the country (locations are tagged by school address) and students can click on the active dots to start one-on-one conversations.


The Website

The website is the digital face of the non-profit. Parents, students, and educators can use the website to learn about the organization, how the program is implemented in schools (via the book and app), what schools are using Spiraling Up, and resources for students and parents.


Users can search the Spiraling Up schools to discover their school’s guidance counselors and upcoming events.


The resources tab provides students and parents with mental health hotlines for immediate help and other organizations that can help them navigate the complicated waters of mental health.


Below are the about, program, and resources pages.

Click through to read.



User Journey & Persona

To ensure Spiraling Up supports all students — college and career bound — we crafted personas and journeys to help us structure the program.

Click through to read.


Style Guide

The Spiraling Up tone is knowledgeable and transparent yet also engaging and personable.


Brand Manifesto

The manifesto video is used as an introduction to Spiraling Up for educators, parents, and students.


Concept Feedback

Over the course of the project, we concept tested with friends and family members who cope with mental illness and/or have recently attended high school. This feedback guided the construction of the book, the app and its features, and the website utility. We created the website after we talked to a parent of a child with depression and realized we needed to have an external face for the brand where school counselors, instructors, and parents could learn about the program and discover resources.

We also user tested with Marcie J Walsh, PhD and Administrative Director of the College Behavioral and Emotional Health (COBE) at Virginia Commonwealth University. COBE is an educational organization that promotes emotional health of students through research, coursework, programming, and policy.

Dr. Walsh felt that Spiraling Up would be an effective program in high schools because it is “goal orientated and poses various career options post high school, and not just the college aimed goal that most students hear. Through the social interactions of the app and events, students will develop communication skills and learn how to alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety they might be feeling (even if they aren’t at a clinical level yet).”



Linda Kirova, Experience Designer Ben Gross, Art Director Patrick Lapera, Copywriter Elise Sokolowski, Experience Designer


Brand identity & design Program development User research Book & ux design Project management


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