Orb: Designing New Possibilities for Meditative Practice 

 

Design to Support Social Practice 

Use Kees Dorst's Frame Creation Model to structure an inquiry into the the process of onboarding into and maintenance of a social practice. Apply learnings from this exploration, as well as insights from a 10-day experiment engaging with the selected practice, to suggest an intervention that might encourage widespread adoption.

Context

  • Collaborative project with Allison Huang + Julia Petrich
  • Design Thinking Seminar, Fall 2015 (Instructor: Michael Arnold Mages)
  • My Role: Design Research, Persona Creation, Frame Development, Storyboarding + Future Scenario Creation
  • Credit: Photography by Allison Huang, Document Design by Julia Petrich


Envisioned Future

Orb is a beautiful, wearable device and accompanying app designed to ease a novice meditator into regular reflective practice. More a piece of jewelry than a health and fitness tracker, Orb fits seamlessly into a range of lifestyles emphasizing a unique, personal journey towards reflection and relaxation. Orb never prescribes activities or pushes a universal approach to meditation. Rather, the device's soft reminder nudges users to take time for reflection, in whatever form that may be.

Setting up the device is fast and easy. After a user has configured his or her unique preferences and defined personalized mediation goals, Orb's gentle pulse signals time for reflection at the moments or locations that best align with meeting those goals.

 

A light touch on either side of Orb's band is all it takes to accept Orb’s prompt to meditate, and the same interaction notifies Orb at the end of each practice. Users decide how long each meditation will last, and there is always to option to ignore or delay Orb's nudge. 

 

As soon as it’s put on, Orb begins collecting useful data like basic vitals, sleep patterns, and geolocation. Other information, like productivity levels, creativity, and efficiency, is entered manually by the meditator at regular intervals via the Orb app and survey forms built into regular email updates. Users may also check-in and update preferences at any time, through any of the device's digital touchpoints. Over time, Orb begins to learn a user’s unique pattern - when and where he or she is most likely to meditate, for how long, how frequently - prompting meditation at appropriate moments and helping to make it a regular part of the user's life.

 

The Frame Creation Process

Orb is the result of an extensive exploration into the ecosystem surrounding meditation as well as an analysis of the obstacles, stereotypes, and challenges associated with onboarding and maintenance into the practice. As primary research, myself and my teammates set aside time to meditate for 10-days. We experimented with different tools and methods, from guided meditation apps to websites and community forums, noting challenges we faced and insights that emerged. Using Kees Dorst’s Frame Creation Model, outlined in his book Frame Innovation: Create New Thinking by Design, we then dissected our experience, identifying relevant frames and interesting leverage points from which we might design a solution for adoption and maintenance of a meditative practice. Highlights from our research process can be found below, but for more details you can peruse our entire report here.

Understanding an Evolving Practice

We first explored the evolution of meditative practice, from its esoteric, spiritual roots to a popular component of the modern-day health and wellness industry.

 

Defining the Context + Field

With a sound understanding of its origin and evolution, we turned to the ecosystem surrounding meditative practice, looking at opportunities for intervention. As we mapped this complex space, we found four categories to be relevant for understanding the placement of, and relationship between, various elements in the space. These categories (spirituality, self-improvement, emotional balance, and focus) proved valuable throughout our research process. 

The Context (left) of meditation includes the various props and aids directly used or engaged in the practice. These constitute the what, the who, and the where of the meditation space. Meditation also exists within a larger intellectual, cultural, and social Field (right), which gets at the why and how of meditation. The Field includes results, or intended goals, as well as the means through which the practice is made available to meditators. This starts to get at the economics of creation and distribution of materials and ideas that shape and influence an individual’s meditative practice.

 

Identifying Themes + Developing Frames

We then began exploring the overarching themes that govern the obstacles to adoption and maintenance of meditative practice. From these patterns, we developed frames through which to examine our specific challenge area and design towards a more desirable future.

Simplification + Quantification

Complex and hard to quantify, meditation remains largely misunderstood. To make meditation accessible and motivate continued engagement, we took inspiration from health and fitness plans, yoga practice, and online learning tools that combine information from disparate sources, simplify complex tasks and demonstrate progress over time. From this learning, we understood that a successful meditation tool must similarly simplify the complex practice into its most essential elements, aggregate and deliver those elements in an accessible form, and help users quantify results and track progress as they improve.

Personifying Shared Value

The practice of meditation is fraught with stereotypes about what a meditator does, thinks and feels; what they eat, where they go and most importantly, what they value. We found it useful to map these stereotypes across a matrix (below), using the categories from the Context and Field to define "archetypal" meditators. Though a superficial accounting, these typologies were helpful in understanding the motivations and values that might bring someone to meditation. 

The Advocate approaches meditation for inner strength to share with and "enlighten" others. The Creative uses meditation to deal with stress and build more positive interactions. The Self-Starter meditates to be more effective and efficient. The Ascetic practices meditation for personal reflection and connection to a higher power.

To envision how these frames might translate into a future solution, we developed robust personas, mapping them across several parameters, including their position on our values matrix. This persona building exercise allowed us to "test" Orb as a solution against specific personality types, ensuring that our envisioned future would appeal to a diverse audience with unique goals, frustrations and abilities.