Guided Mindful Meditation: An Aspirational Use of Virtual Reality

Introducing a VR For Guided Mindful Meditation

What is an aspirational use of VR that makes a profound and meaningful impact on users? Our team came together in order to design something that embodies what we collectively think VR should be using A-Frame and the Google cardboard. Following our design process, building, and user testing in this design sprint, our team is happy to introduce our VR for Guided Mindful Meditation.

Our VR for Guided Mindful Meditation is a way to enter a new environment and listen to a guided voice that encourages mindfulness and relaxation as a break from the stressors of everyday life.

Here is our Project Repo and App! (Note: sounds could not work properly in IOS due to specifics of the system.)

The Design Process

Our team came together because of the balance of our technical and design skills and our interest in innovating on something that helps make one a better, healthier version of themself. Therefore, for the creation of our final VR product, our team identified our design goal that to us, represents a truly aspirational use of VR:

To create an immersive VR that improves the daily life of people by positively impacting their health and wellness.

Through brainstorming & ideation, prototyping, and formative testing phases of our design process, our team made sought to make design decisions that aligns with this design goal. We also greatly considered the challenges of and design concepts involved in making the VR immersive in order to make our design impactful and captivating for users.

Brainstorming & Ideation for Aspirational Uses of VR

After collectively defining our design goal, we started off the design process by brainstorming as many potential ideas as possible. We generated our ideas based on research and readings we have come across that introduce unique approaches to VR and how VR is solving challenging problems that impact people across the globe in positive ways. These inspirational uses of VR range from chronic pain and the opioid epidemic to therapeutic treatments such as neurofeedback for mental disorders and treatments for PTSD. Some of these readings that have served as inspiration are linked below.

Here is a collection of ideas that our team brainstormed.

Preliminary brainstorming

We thought about possible ways to implement a VR experience as well as strengths and weaknesses of each idea while keeping our design goal and an immersive VR experience at the forefront.

Designing VR for People With Disability: The idea at the forefront of each of our minds was designing for disability and creating a VR that can potentially help people with disabilities with their treatments. We considered use cases such as ADHD, dementia, PTSD, and physical disabilities. However, after discussing as a team, we realized that an important component for building a successful VR to design for helping those with disabilities involves extensive research and expertise of potential use cases of techniques of coping and recovery. Additionally, it would be useful to conduct multiple interviews with individuals who live with disabilities and experts in the field with an empathetic lens. We kept this idea in our minds as we explored others.

Designing VR for Accessibility: Another ideas was a VR application that allows people to experience need for accessibility. We found inspiration for this idea from our HCI class, in which we did an activity in which we identified problems with accessibility on Bucknell’s campus. However, considering that we want users to use our VR while standing in place or seated, we realized that it would be difficult to build a truly immersive experience.

Designing VR for Simulations: Along with the idea for designing a VR app for accessibility, we also had an idea to make a VR simulator that allows people to experience what it is like to have a disability. Rather than designing for helping the recovery of those with disabilities, the primary concept was for people to be able to empathize with living with a disability. For example, one idea that we came up with was looking through a VR simulator in order to experience what it is like to be color blind.

While brainstorming, we ran into a couple of roadblocks. First of all, since none us on our team actually have a disability, we would have had to consult many sources and interview people with different disabilities to ensure that what we create is true to the experiences of those living with a disability. The second roadblock was that our app would not be as interactive and immersive as we would like it to be since we envision the user sitting or standing in place. Balancing physical controls, such as controlling a wheelchair, and creating an environment for the user to interact, would prove to be a pretty immense scope. Therefore, we considered other aspirational VR ideas such as designing for therapy.

Designing VR for Therapy: Another potential option that we greatly considered was a VR app for some sort of therapeutic purpose. Some therapies that we thought about included physical therapy, pain management, anxiety disorders, relaxation, and meditation. However, we identified some challenges and roadblocks to consider. For example, one of the biggest obstacles for creating a physical therapy VR app is the fact that movement and physical controls need to be more dynamic than the simple clicking controls that VR using Google cardboard can do. Upon brainstorming design ideas, we realized that many therapeutic techniques would be difficult to implement effectively in A-Frame in a relatively short time period. In addition to designing an aspirational use of VR, we wanted to create something that our classmates would find value in for them since they are the end users. Therefore, we turned our focus to stress-relieving and relaxation techniques such as meditation.

Brainstorming ideas for Design VR for different types of therapies

Chosen Idea: Designing VR for Guided Mindfulness Meditation

Our chosen idea to design a meditative VR spawned from our previous idea to implement something therapeutic for the user. However, through ideation of potential therapeutic uses of VR, our team decided on meditation because it can provide health and wellness benefits to people in all walks of life, including often-stressed college students, our ultimate end users for our Design for Future Demo Day.

Example of someone meditating in a VR setting

While researching types of meditation and brainstorming potential aspects of meditation to incorporate, we were able to brainstorm many ideas that are relaxing and stress-relieving since meditation comes in many forms. Additionally, there are no set “right” and “wrong” ways to practice meditation, giving our team more creative freedom.

We ultimately decided to create a guided, mindful meditation for the following reasons:

  • Certain forms of mindful meditation urge users to keep their eyes open and be present in their surroundings.
  • People can do it almost anywhere.
  • Mindful meditation is extensively studied and there are many examples out there.
Elements of Mindfulness, an example being guided mindful meditation

After deciding to design a guided, mindful meditation in VR and conducting preliminary research, our team sought to learn even more through actually experiencing it. We attended a Mindfulness Meditation event at Bucknell (here is an example) as part of Mindfulness March and had many takeaways that helped us design our guided meditation in VR!

  • There is no right and wrong way to meditate. Even a few minutes a few days a week is beneficial!
  • Importance of breathing and relaxing your body during the meditation
  • Mapping your surroundings and focus to your internal thoughts

Next, we thought about how to apply a VR to a meditative environment, which poses some challenges and constraints due to the technology we are using. Some challenges and questions that we considered included are described below.

Considerations for designing a meditative experience in a VR environment

We considered each of these components of the guided mindful meditation experience in VR during the prototyping stage.

Prototyping

After ultimately deciding to focus on designing a guided mindful meditation for our VR, we had to choose the components that we wanted to encompass in our VR through prototyping. Prototyping was conducted through sketching and utilizing the A-Frame technology to create and add 360 video environments. The two important elements of the experience to prototype were environment and the guided audio voice.

A-Frame

Environments: For the environments, we immediately chose to prototype designs that incorporate 360 degree videos. Meanwhile, we picked environments that we thought would be immersive for meditation. We also sketched ideas for the flow from environment to environment as the user progresses through the guided meditation.

Sketch of flow of environments throughout the meditation. Our team modified the order and the choice of scenes for the final VR product.

Guided Voice Audio: After sketching and prototyping environments, we also identified and designed guided voiceovers to overlay each environment in order provide the full meditative experience. We wanted to choose scripts that encourage awareness of surroundings, promote relaxation, and help people reduce fixations on negative emotions. We consulted mindful meditation scripts such as those from mindfulness exercises and wrote drafts of our own scripts.

Part of the Meditation Script incorporated into the final VR Product

Formative Testing & Feedback

While prototyping designs for our guided mindful meditation in A-Frame and through sketching, we iteratively tested and asked users for feedback in order to make design decisions for our final product. Users provided valuable insights on what environments they truly felt were the best to meditate and relax in. While we didn’t have our recordings of our written meditations complete, we conducted Wizard of Oz testing with our chosen environments and other meditation recordings. In “Wizard of Oz” testing, developers define a set of actions for game input for the participant and act as the controller while the participant uses those actions to interact with the game.

User testing with Google cardboard

In addition to getting user feedback on the environment, guided audio, music and sounds, we also did formative testing with the equipment (VR Head Piece) to ensure that it was comfortable enough and provided a relaxing environment for users. In order to enhance the meditative experience, we also wanted the VR head piece to be hands-free with good-quality sound so that users can focus without distractions. After asking users to try a variety of options, we decided to use VR Box goggles with Beats headphones. Users felt that this combination for vision and sound provided the most immersive experience.

User testing with theVR Box

Building the VR

For incorporated guided meditation audio, we recorded three separate narratives to fit each scene using Audacity. Inspired by Professor Peck, we decided to switch between different environments as the users close their eyes and look down. We needed to ensure that we have fine control over stopping and switching between videos and sounds.

The hardest part of implementation was getting the VR built in A-Frame working on mobile and browser.Since we decided to switch between different environments, we needed to ensure that we have fine control over stopping and switching between videos and sounds. The hardest part of implementation was getting the VR built in A-Frame working on mobile and browser. It took us three iterations to get to the demo day version.

Guided Mindful Meditation Iterations

The first iteration switches between meditation scenes by changing web pages. Although this method gives us more control over what is playing what is not, there is a significant gap (about three seconds) between the transition. Even though we asked people to close their eyes while switching scenes, we felt that the three seconds lag could worsen the user experience. Therefore, we decided to make the transition by hiding and displaying the elements.

From iteration 2 to iteration 3, we separated the video and audio and made some enhancements using Final Cut and Audition so that the videos could be playing at the background since sounds were easier to load and control.

Iteration 1: We could see the white blank transitions between scenes
At iteration 3, the transition is seamless

After making sure the the videos, audios and transitions move smoothly in a PC browser, we went on testing on our iphones. We noticed a limitation of the browser in iOS in which sounds do not play automatically and requires a click input by the user.

The IOS Browser limitation

Therefore, we used an Android phone for testing and deploying.

Demo Day & More User Feedback

After going through many iterations of the design, testing, and building, we presented our Guided Mindful Meditation VR on Demo Day and received more feedback from users. Overall, the feedback we received was positive. One of the major highlights was the overlaid, personally recorded meditation. Users felt that the sound quality was great and the voice was soothing. Users also appreciated the ability to choose which portal you can enter and the seamless exit from each scene.

While users were intrigued by meditative experience, they also had some features that they wish we had added. Many wanted higher resolution environments. Users also hoped for more choices for environments to meditate in and the ability to turn off the voiceover if they desire. Our team received insightful feedback on Demo Day in order to make improvements for future iterations.

Conclusion & Reflection: Creating an Aspirational Use of VR

Through designing a VR for guided mindful meditation and keeping our design goal in mind throughout our design process, our team collectively created a VR experience that we see as aspirational. Our product went through multiple iterations and utilizes VR technology to benefit peoples’ mental health and well-being. It provides an escape from stressors of everyday life in the form of a meditative experience. Our hope for the future is that rapidly-advancing technologies such as VR can be used in ways that promote health and happiness.

20-something Associate Product Manager from Philly @ WSJ, Barron’s. Writing about what I’m learning! • Tech, Media, Personal Finance, Self Development, Health •