Technology has quickly grown to become a vital part of our life. It's estimated that 91% of the Swedish population used the internet daily, according to The Swedes and the Internet. Apps, websites and games are all designed to keep you coming back to them and not - god forbid - to their competitors.

Despite knowing all of this, it's still so difficult to turn away from your phone or computer. After all, the majority of your workday may require a computer, and you have interests that require using various technology. That's a lot of hours of your day spent in a digital space!

But let's not lose hope just yet. Technology does not have to be all bad, and there are ways to create an oasis in the vast space of the internet. This is what I call mindful tech, technology that adds something to your life and creates a beautiful, calming experience. And as a designer, you can learn a fair bit from it.

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Mindful and stress-free design

Mindful tech has long been something that fascinates me, and I've tried it in many different forms throughout the past few years. As a combination of a tech nerd and an optimist, I see so much potential in how tech can improve our day-to-day life. But that requires that it is designed in the right way, with the user in mind.

Social media uses infinite scroll, suggestions and social satisfaction from likes and favourites to keep you coming back. Sure, it increases numbers and clicks, but it doesn't positively contribute to our lives. With all of this at our fingertips, it's no wonder we get distracted. Mindful tech, however, isn't designed to waste as much of your time as possible. They're tools; built to help and support you - nothing more, and nothing less.

The easiest way to discover good ways of applying this in your work is to learn from what other products and services do. Let's look at some examples of mindful tech in the form of apps, websites and add-ons.

Headspace - Taking the pressure off the user instead of pushing

Headspace is one of the most popular applications for meditation and mindfulness. They've long been a big name in the world of mindful tech. Recently, they've been focusing on calming meditations and home exercises to help people with their physical and mental health at home. Headspace also allows you to connect and stay in touch with friends and family through their app.

Headspace previously focused on meditation but have recently started including movement and workouts.
The app is designed to be very beginner-friendly, with a good onboarding and by introducing new concepts at a slow pace. There are no annoying notifications, no stress, and no guilt-tripping for not using the app for two days. Headspace takes the pressure off to keep their users encouraged when building a new habit.

To help you build a consistent habit of meditation and mindfulness, these tools often have a streak system, encouraging you to come back daily. However, the key is that the user is not punished for missing a day here and there. Headspace encourages the user to return by embracing and guiding them during their visit, without receiving 20 missed calls as soon as you haven't used the app for a day.

Calm - Guide the user into the right mindset

Calm is an app that is mainly focused on relaxation and mindfulness. It offers soundscapes, music, meditations and sleep stories (basically a bedtime story for adults).

Calm has a clutter-free and relaxing design.
Calm is - true to the name - a very calming experience. When opening the app you are welcomed by a minimal startup-screen prompting you to "take a deep breath". After loading in, the home screen displays a peaceful animated scene with an associated soundscape.

All of this combined helps the user to start feeling relaxed even before they've started interacting with the app. Since feeling calm and relaxed is the target emotion for Calm's experience, it can help create a positive experience even faster if you're guided into the right mindset from the get-go.

Playne - Using gamification without unnecessary punishment

Playne is technically classified as a game, which makes it different from the other examples. In Playne, your guide is the fox "Wolf", that will help you make meditation a daily habit. And by doing so, you will help bring the world of Playne back to life. By keeping up a daily streak, you will slowly see how the initially barren land turns into a beautiful forest.

Playne takes meditation to another level, through interaction in a 3D space. Photo from playne.co

A game might feel like an odd example when talking about mindful tech since games are notorious for their high pace, dramatic effects, addictive design and violence. It is, however, a great platform for storytelling and immersive interaction. This is what makes it such a great tool for making meditation a daily habit. It doesn't just tell a story, but it directly involves the user throughout the process, making them feel like their actions have an impact.

In Playne there are two modes. The player can choose to lose their progress if they miss a day and ruin their streak if that helps them build habits. In the second mode, it's no biggie if you miss a day. You won't return to find the forest you've helped restore engulfed in flames or completely reset. Instead, they can choose to just keep going without being discouraged from losing progress.

Current - Help and support the user through subtle reminders

Many have the habit to keep opening new tabs in the browser, ending up with over 40 tabs open simultaneously. Thanks to the Current addon for chrome, each new tab becomes a subtle push to practise mindfulness. All of the exercises are short and sweet, making it easy to practise some spontaneous mindfulness.

Current greets you in a welcoming way with each new tab, making meditation a natural part of your workday.
Current has a beautiful, minimal design that brings a sense of calm just from its simplicity. It doesn't scream for the user's attention as they open a new tab, or guilt the user for ignoring it. Because let's face it, it is kind of off-putting when you're punished for simply choosing to spend your valuable time elsewhere.

The point is to let the user do what they came there to do and then proceed with their day. If the user wants to make a habit of part of your experience, you can offer subtle nudges to support them on the way. While numbers may be important in the world of IT, respecting the user by showing you value their time builds trust. Each of the exercises is around 1-2 minutes, making it easier to fit into your schedule.

MyNoise - You don't have to be in-your-face to be useful 

Sound is a great way to help silence racing thoughts and find some calm in your day-to-day life. Sometimes Spotify's top 100 isn't what you need to listen to, but something that is designed to be non-intrusive and that will help you relax. Most music is designed to get your attention and not to fall into the background. If you want some background noise that won't try to distract you, myNoise is a perfect alternative.

MyNoise lets you set the scene for whatever mood you're in.
What makes MyNoise great is the ability to tweak each part of the soundscape to your preference. Love the sound of the ocean, but have a crippling fear of birds? You can easily mute the bastards while keeping the rest of the beach to yourself.

MyNoise is a website for sound. It's not the fanciest website, but it's simple and straightforward. The sounds are organised in a great way. Rather than sorting them based on the type of sound or in alphabetic order, it's sorted based on statements, such as "I want to sleep", "My room is too quiet" or "I need to calm down". This makes it so much easier to find the kind of sound you need in the moment.

MyNoise played a huge part in me finishing my bachelor thesis. I found my normal combination of Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers way too distracting when reading articles all day. Letting me tweak the soundscape until certain sounds no longer annoyed me, and having it fade into the background helped me loads.

Wysa - AI that guides the user without being just another digital butler

Wysa is an app that lets you talk to an AI about your emotions and day with your new AI coach, the penguin Wysa. It's a chatbot that helps the user sort through their thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. By letting the users vent or talk things through, Wysa can suggest exercises to improve their day-to-day mental health.

Wysa is an AI you can talk to any time of the day to sort out your thoughts.

Not only is this a helpful app, but it's got a beautiful design. Wysa has the kind of simple, minimal design that makes for a very clutter-free experience. That, however, does not deprive it of personality. Illustrations are clean, yet quirky, and are used consistently throughout the application both as main focal points and in micro-interactions and loading animations. 

AI can't replace human interaction - at least not yet. And it shouldn't try to until it's ready. Wysa handles this subject with care and makes sure to refer to professional help for the more complicated stuff. It is something they offer directly in the app for a weekly fee.

Summary

Modern technology gets a bad reputation, and in many cases rightfully so. By taking a look at mindful tech, you can learn how to design services that add to users lives, without stealing anything from it.

  • Built trust by respecting the users time and space. Don't be too in-your-face. Use subtle pushes as reminders rather than a forceful shove.
  • Don't punish or guilt users. Pestering your users for not using your service enough is equally effective as a nagging parent asking a kid to do their chores.
  • Don't use gamification just for the sake of it. Using streaks, trophies and achievements are fine, but make sure there is a purpose behind it.
  • Set the scene. Use colour, animation, sound and guiding copy to help users get into the right mindset for an ideal experience.

I'm planning on writing another article based on mindful tech, but with a focus on stress-free UI-design. If you found this article interesting, stay tuned for that.

Cover photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash