Developing a social network app to support a King’s College mental health study

In July 2020, as part of our health-themed hackathon, King’s College London teamed up with Black Pepper to create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) as part of a study into risk factors of mental health in children born preterm.

The study and supporting application (designed for children between 8 and 9 years old) aimed to discover if there was a connection between abnormal cognitions, behavior and experiences in children who had been born preterm and their social networks.

The Beginning

King’s College London is one of the world's leading research universities. King’s consistently produces world-class research, tackling important issues in society, with the aim of making the world a better place.

The Objectives

  • Create a simple and user-friendly app
  • Integrate a unique ID for each participate child
  • Keep the survey completely anonymous

King’s College London presented the challenge during Black Pepper’s 2020 health hackathon. A team of 4 developers spent 24 hours developing the idea working in close collaboration with researchers at King’s College London. By the end of the 24 hours, the team had created a system sample that captured and demonstrated most of the requirements necessary for the research.

My project involves looking at mental health outcomes and brain development in children that were born preterm. We wanted to look at children’s social networks for one aspect of the study, and one way we wanted to capture that was through an app that was engaging for children.

PhD Student, King's College London


The challenge was to create a fun and engaging environment adapted for young kids. Although existing systems did exist they had failed to engage children due to a number of factors:

  • being very old
  • hard to use
  • produce data in non-standard formats
  • unsuitable for children’s use

What we did

The application was designed to allow children, participating in a controlled KCL study, to quickly and easily show their network of friends and how they interacted with them on different social media platforms.

A simple drag and drop interface lets the children quickly and anonymously describe these complex networks and see them appear on screen as a live diagram.

These networks could then be analysed as part of a larger, long term KCL study.

KCL Case Study

Black Pepper team worked closely but remotely using Google+ Hangouts.

For the front end we used the lightweight, open-source javascript library: React with Firebase which allowed us to make rapid progress with the prototype.


Following the hackathon, Black Pepper invested a couple more days worth of effort into the application to finalise the app. We enhance the application with some change requests from King’s College London.

The end result is a production-ready system, specifically designed for children to use. The system is pre-loaded with all of the questions necessary for the world-leading researchers at King’s to carry out their study.

Black Pepper listens to what the client imagines and would like to have, and they try to take it into account. The team really tries to find solutions to anything that makes it more difficult to achieve the goals. They were good at problem-solving and coming up with creative ideas to tackle any problems along the way. Additionally, they were very friendly.

PhD Student, King's College London

Read KCL Clutch review here