The Ah Project
Design, Digital, Print, Education, Mental Health,
Storytelling, Interactive, Community Involvement,
Sappi, The Jed Foundation
"The first word, Ah! blossomed into all others.
Each of them is true."
–Kukei, 8th century Zen master
Thesis advisor: Brian Collins
The Ah Project is a non-profit initiative for adults (primarily 18–25 year olds) to express how loving someone with a severe mental illness has affected their lives. The intent of The Ah Project is to help rid the sense of isolation that accompanies mental illness and provide support for loved ones, while making the realities of a mental illness easier to discuss and accept for family members and friends.
The Ah Project began as my thesis project at SVA MFA Designer as Author and received a 2010 Sappi: Ideas that Matter grant in partnership with The Jed Foundation.
The center point of The Ah Project is the website, which serves as a venue for the audience to express the emotions (guilt, frustration, anger, sadness, loneliness, relief) associated with being a sibling, child or loved one of someone with a mental illness.
Users upload their artwork, photographs, videos and text, and utilize tagging as a way to sort and view others’ content by emotion, relationship or form of media.
The site maintains a design sensibility that is light and youthful, and uses language that is clear and personal to provide educational resources and an outlet for emotion to the intended audience.
The Ah Project gathered quotes from friends and family members and with the help of the Sappi: Ideas that Matter grant, The Ah Project partnered with The Jed Foundation to produce postcards for placement in student health centers across the country to inform the audience of the online resource.
The available resources for family members of someone with a mental illness are websites with acronym names such as: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), MHA (Mental Health America), and IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization). The missions of these organizations are noble, and they provide a wealth of information, but the visual and verbal language can often feel overwhelming, clinical and uninviting.
The current resources available acknowledge that they have difficulty reaching transition-aged adults – 18 to 25 year olds.
Within the current online resources, text is heavy and overwhelming.
Language is clinical and impersonal.
Imagery is depressing.
Colors are bland.
The Audience and Approach
18 to 25 year olds do not often feel comfortable with traditional support groups. Without relatable online resources, this demographic has nowhere to turn.
The available online resources address symptoms and treatments, and how to help care for someone with a mental illness; none of these organizations primarily address the needs of friends and family.
In contrast, The Ah Project approaches mental illness with an honest tone and an un-authoritative point of view, empowering users to focus on their needs.
The letters 'a' and 'h' imply a variety of different meanings when paired together. Depending on the pronunciation, positive and negative feelings are immediately associated with the simple sound. The name provides an all-encompassing, and therefore empowering method of describing mental illness – the moments of frustration, the moments of relief, the moments of anger and the moments of surprise.