Lifeline: Supporting the Supporters
A digital replacement for an antiquated system - we created an easy to navigate and intuitive tool for Lifeline volunteers to efficiently find relevant support services and share them with Help Seekers calling Lifeline’s suicide prevention line.
Every year, over 1 million people reach out to Lifeline for support. The Crisis Supporters who help people going through their darkest moments give referrals to free and low-cost local providers of support options, such as clinics, shelters and other helplines. Their online system was clunky and difficult to search - so much so, each Centre used their own version of a paper folder rather than try to navigate the system. We needed to create an online tool which enabled Crisis Supporters to quickly find and share resources, adding more value than their current paper ‘cheat sheet’.
User research User experienceUser testingUI designFullstack development
Informs data provided to RBA on financial distress callsInforms data provided to NSW Gov on trends of call topicsThe first 2 weeks recorded:32,750 searches from 2,045 users962 referral plans sent1,293 referral plan views - showing Help Seekers returning to them and starting their journey of self-directed care, a crucial measure for Lifeline’s success551 support services contacted
Good Design Awards - Best In ClassAnthem Awards - Silver Winner
During a typical four hour shift, Lifeline volunteers will take several calls from people going through personal struggles, and looking for help. Often, during these conversations, a referral for a relevant support service will be shared by the Lifeline volunteer, so that the caller may continue their care after they hang up. However, the online system used to search for referral services which was part of the volunteer’s software was confusing and clunky, and didn’t empower them in the moments when they needed to quickly find a suitable service, usually while multi-tasking and carrying out a serious conversation. It’s intense work, and the gaps in the existing online setup meant that volunteers were instead relying on print-outs bursting from plastic folders on their desks. It was time for a change!
Our challenge was to create a tool that was just as simple to use as a paper flipbook, to ensure adoption by volunteers, giving Help Seekers more reliable referrals.
Our UX phase was by far the most intensive phase of the project. The navigation and IA was refined further and further over a period of months, testing with Crisis Supporters in centres, to ensure the tool was in the simplest and most intuitive form possible. To meet our project goals of making it easier to search, filter, shortlist and share results, the tool needed to be instantly and unambiguously understood by any volunteer who logged in at a Lifeline call centre - be they 18 or 80.
The content comes from an existing national database, Infoxchange, and so we needed to be meticulous in the way the content would be pulled through, via API, into our designs, and have options which catered for all use cases - e.g. no available thumbnail image to pull through for a specific service.
From a design challenge perspective, there are existing (and strict) design systems in place at Lifeline Australia that have been developed in collaboration with clinical advisory groups and cannot be deviated from, to a certain point.
In technology, the temptation is always to over-bloat the product, to cram in as much as possible because the assumption is that bigger is better. However, when you go back to the user problem you are trying to solve, you usually find that the simple solution is the superior one.
Our design innovation takes an existing behaviour and moulds the tool to it. We turned the volunteers' old ‘analogue’ way of searching and browsing for services into a more intuitive and efficient digital experience.
Integrated our tool with the existing Infoxchange API, we made it much more accessible to volunteers, adding relevant filters and surfacing more contextual results from search queries.
From research with volunteers, we found that there were several, national level services that they were referring to frequently, so we created a ‘Quick Lists’ panel on the left hand side of the tool, which showed these services grouped by topic in one tap.
To make everything as simple, accessible and intuitive as possible we incorporated other clever product features, such as the ‘drag and drop’ of the services into the referral plan, the tooltips on hover when service names get too long, and quick lists ever present on the left hand side.
The ability to create a referral plan is a standout feature as well, where the Help Seekers can receive their support services via SMS, email or link. The Help Seeker receives a link to access their personalised page, populated with the recommended services from the Lifeline Crisis Supporter, and able to be accessed later to help with their ongoing management of their recovery.
Needing to align with Lifeline’s corporate palette, the design system is functional with minimal fanfare. The real solution to the problem lies in the UX. Taking principles from the paper version being used, we created an improved version online, where Crisis Supporters could access popular shortlists, bookmark frequently searched services, and easily share these.
The UX took into account all information the Crisis Supporter needed at a glance, based on our user testing. We featured a simple onboarding, to cater for volunteers aged 18-80, ensured WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, incorporated drag & drop functionality, tooltips on hover and keyboard shortcuts.
After the call, the Crisis Supporter shares a unique link with the Help Seeker, via SMS or email. The link takes them to their personalised page of support services, populated with the recommended services from the Lifeline Crisis Supporter. This link is able to be accessed at any time, to help with their ongoing management of their recovery.
As a suicide prevention service, Lifeline’s metrics of impact are not tied to market share, profit or sales, but are measured by how we might create a better and safer future for our fellow humans.
Lifeline measures success by the number of calls Crisis Supporters are able to attend to. The efficiency with which our tool enables Crisis Supporters to find and share support services reduces time spent on the call and increases the potential number of people helped.
The long-lasting positive impact of the tool cannot be understated - it plays a core role in the experience of both Crisis Supporters and Help Seekers. Finding from our field research that Crisis Supporters themselves often felt frustrated and helpless when they were unable to find the right support services for Help Seekers, this tool alleviates this issue to help both the volunteers and the people reaching out to them for support. This tool noticeably improves the current system and is the change 10,000 Crisis Supporters have been waiting for.
The tool has also become an important mechanism by which Lifeline keeps the government (both NSW Government and the RBA) up to date with changes in Help Seekers' geography, trends on call topics, and data pertaining to the volumes of distress calls - enabling a clear picture of how government decisions are affecting real people, every day.