In a world where we are constantly hit with digital stimuli, we all just need to take a moment to relax. Mobile apps might seem like unlikely allies in silencing all that noise, but in fact, the self-care trend in mobile apps was is booming. One of the apps leading the charge is Headspace.
Headspace is the brainchild of former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, who returned from a Tibetan monastery with a drive to spread the word about meditation, and advertising executive Richard Pierson, who needed a way to relax from the stress of his job. They decided to do a skill-swap, and Headspace was born. The Headspace app now ranks as one of the top 10 apps in the Health & Fitness category and has over 30 million users and 1 million subscribers.
Headspace explains meditation in terms to which anyone can relate. It fulfills Puddicombe’s wish to demystify meditation by implementing a fun-loving, modern look, quirky illustrations, and never-boring microinteractions. It also offers subscribers a huge library full of different meditation sessions ranging from 1-minute to 20-minute sessions for sleep, productivity, mindful eating, stress relief, and more.
The Appsee inbound marketing team had the pleasure of meeting Frank Bach, lead product design at Headspace, while attending MobileOne in Paris last year. We were excited to hear about his career journey so far, his thoughts on product design, and Headspace’s unique design and empathetic UX strategy. Check out his insights below.
How did you get started as a product designer, and what led you to your current role at Headspace?
I originally trained in brand and graphic design. That’s what I went to school for in northern Canada, in the pre-iPhone days. The web was still in its infancy back then and as new technologies were coming out, things started to get really exciting.
Naturally, I’d design websites as part of brand packages for clients and eventually, that led to an interest in e-commerce, editorial, and apps. Once I learned about product development and how to build in user research and insights into the process I couldn’t look away. I’d never worked in that manner before, and I immediately set a goal of only doing projects that would push me further down the UI/UX path for the next year. My partner and I then shut down our design studio and set our sights for LA.
Working at Headspace, well, I was a user of the app and it was part of my discovery of meditation. I have so much respect for the teachings, the co-founders, the team, and it seemed like a dream job. I was working on projects for Red Bull at the time, which was an incredible learning experience — but a little too high octane for me — and I ended up chatting with one of the designers here and that eventually led to interviewing… the rest is history. It’s been almost 3 years now and I’m still so grateful.
I’ve always been hyper-driven, and sometimes it’s at my own detriment. I’m better at gauging it now, mostly due to paying closer attention to my health and meditation, but in my early career I was stressed and overworked, and moments away from either a panic attack or heart attack. It wasn’t a good situation. I needed to build a wellness routine and treat myself better, and meditation was the first piece of that puzzle.
Describe some of your responsibilities at Headspace. What does your day-to-day entail?
Day-to-day, anything from strategizing product and growth initiatives, contributing to the design system, defining processes and tools, team mentorship, discovering new ways we can innovate across the organization, some meetings, and a couple of good healthy breaks to read, catch up with a friend, or deepen my meditation practice.
Headspace utilizes empty states in multiple instances within the user experience. Can you elaborate on the strategy behind including them in the app?
We use empty states in our app experience to inform the user. Whether that’s a list without results, a page without content, or the app on first-use. We see them as an opportunity to inspire and engage with our users, all the while communicating what is important and relevant.
Can you share some details/insights on the process of creating Headspace animations, such as the Blue Sky animation?
Some are ‘Wisdom’ videos, which share Buddhist teachings, and others are ‘Technique’ videos to share tips while on your meditation journey.
They’re storyboarded by our brand team, considering all aspects of production from the audio overlay to the playful animated characters. We worked with Nexus in LA to bring them to life and bring motion into them. Our members love them so much.
What has been your favorite project at Headspace so far?
Headspace, to me, is one big project with many micro-projects within. As my role has changed over the years, I’m contributing in new ways like strategy and mentorship, which I find just as challenging as designing screens for the app.
If I had to pick one project, I’d say launching V3 of the app, where we evolved from a linear meditation journey to a meditation library and set the foundation for a more robust content and user experience.
In its Best of 2018 roundup, Apple named self-care apps the App Trend of the Year and mentioned Headspace as an example. What are your thoughts on this trend?
It’s about time. We’re seeing the taboo aspect of mental health slowly eroding. People are more open to discussing these topics and better understanding the importance of self-care, too.
We’re getting busier, more bombarded by information every day, in a way that our ancestors never have — and we’re discovering ways to cope with that. I’m proud to be a part of this trend.
Speaking of self-care, one of the challenges of self-improvement is keeping it up. How do Headspace’s product design and growth strategy encourage users to stick to it?
We approach this in several ways, since people are all motivated differently. Metrics people like run streaks. Some like a friendly reminder notification. Others enjoy emails when we release new content.
Whichever method you prefer, we aim to be your companion, to live a happier and healthier life.
Another tech trend we’re seeing is “digital wellness” – keeping our screen habits under control. How does Headspace manage to balance its medium, a mobile app, with the relaxation needs of screen-weary users?
We realized a long time ago that we need to meet people where they’re at. Devices are a part of everyday life, and it’s by changing our relationship with them that we regain control. That’s our approach.
We’ve also got some meditations and sleep content available on Google Home and Alexa for those who would prefer to meditate sans-phone.
What can we expect from Headspace for 2019? Can you reveal a little secret or two?
We’ve just released a Family Plan, as well as a Student Plan. We’re getting new content into the app very regularly. One of the major projects we’re working on is Headspace Health, where we’re working with the FDA and medical community to create digital prescriptions. Think of a future where your doctor could prescribe you Headspace.
As a design team, we’re constantly iterating and trying to create the simplest and frictionless product experiences.
What’s your mobile design pet peeve? Something you notice in apps and really dislike?
The status quo. I love what Google has done with Material Design but my background in brand makes me highly critical of apps that are purely functional. I think we can strive for better as an industry overall. Try something different! Be bold!
Can you share some essential advice for mobile product designers who are trying to break into the field?
Become obsessive. Read about it every night. Listen to all the podcasts. Follow on Twitter, read on Quora. There are so many resources out there where you can learn.
What are your favorite blogs, communities, and/or influencers to follow?
Designers, developers, artists and creatives I enjoy in no particular order: Duane King, Daren Magee, Erika Hall, Bruce Mau, Pieter Levels, Everette Taylor, Micah Carroll, Andrew Chen, Helen Rice, Tanya Tagaq, Daniel Romano, Chad VanGaalen. There are so many talented people in the world.
Got any expert tips for those trying to make meditation part of their lives, especially the busy and probably stressed-out mobile app professionals reading this?
It’s called meditation practice, not meditation perfect. Approach it with lightness and don’t be hard on yourself.
Top item on your bucket list: 3,2,1, go!
- Have coffee with Bruce Mau
- Visit the Samye Monastery in Tibet with my wife
- Accept my own mortality
Thanks for chatting with us, Frank! 🙂
Click here to learn more about how health apps use Appsee app analytics to increase sign-up completion and retention rates.