October 7, 2021

Trends in Mindfulness App Design

Trends in Mindfulness App Design

It may not shock you to learn that between 2015 to 2021, around 2,500 mindful apps launched. That’s a lot of mindfulness!

Brands like Headspace and Calm have stood out due to partnerships and big advertising budgets. But a quick search in the App Store reveals many more, each claiming a unique spin on reducing stress, increasing sleep and staying present. 

With so many apps to choose from, we thought it would be fun to see who really stands out from the crowd and what (if any) unique design and UX elements exist out there. 

There’s money in the mindfulness market

Even before the pandemic, Americans were pretty stressed. Contributing factors included a 24/7 toxic news cycle, national divisiveness, climate change, economic uncertainty, the rising cost of healthcare, the mental health crisis, and the list goes on. We were among the most stressed in the world, with 55% reporting feeling stressed the day before answering a survey compared to 35% of global respondents (Gallup 2019). And this is pre-pandemic! 

With such a strong (and growing) need, you can see the business opportunity in this space. In fact, the top 100 mental wellness apps generated $1B in revenue in just the first ten months of 2020.

A dreamy blue sea of sameness

When you visualize a mindfulness app, a few key things probably come to mind because that’s how many have looked over the years.

Visual design cliches include:

  • A cool, calming color palette with blues and purples

  • High-resolution nature imagery, with relaxing scenes of lakes and sunsets 

  • Mostly flat design with subtle gradients, to create depth while feeling light and airy

  • Illustrations to add a bit of playfulness and levity, creating a welcoming effect for new users who may find meditation intimidating

Calm started this trend in 2012 as one of the first meditation apps on the market. (Now it’s valued at over $1B with investors like Ashton Kutcher, and new partnerships.) There are countless imitation apps that look pretty much the same, with similar features.

How to stand out in a crowded market

Most apps offer a free version with an option to upgrade, so it’s common for users to download and try multiple apps at the same time until something sticks. Here’s how some stand out from the crowd.

1. Bold, consistent pops of color 

A few brands take a unique design approach. For example, look at Ten Percent Happier by author Dan Harris. The lavender background is offset by bright red icons, buttons and microcopy, offering a look that’s fresh and bold without straying too far from category norms. The effect is soothing minimalism, with a focus. 

Headspace’s signature brand elements include an orange circle for the logo, and illustrations of a brain-like character doing exercises, as a visual metaphor. The company was created by a former monk with a background in marketing, a recipe for success for a meditation app. Of course, partnerships with Netflix, the NBA and WNBA and Nike contribute to its mammoth brand awareness, coupled with a distinct visual identity.

2. Community & social audio

Some apps place less emphasis on visuals, and more on audio. InsightTimer launched in May of 2020, and claims to have 18M users who meditated for 5.6B minutes throughout 2020 - 5x that of Calm. It offers a completely free library of timed meditations, recorded talks and live group meditation sessions - available 24/7. You can see how many people are using the app at a given time, for an instant sense of community. It’s a social network and community space inside a mindfulness app. Sort of like Clubhouse for meditation gurus.

3. Interactive, accessible websites 

A good website can bring to life the in-app experience, before hitting download. Relax Melodies lets you mix and match over 150 soothing sounds to create a personalized bedtime mix, and their website simulates this experience with sliders to sample different sound effects. This includes binaural beats and ASMR sounds, in addition to the nature sounds offered by other apps. You can combine sounds to create a perfectly relaxing experience, and the website lets you sample this for free. Plus, the site has an in-depth accessibility component with a variety of options, which we always love to see. 

4. Apple Watch integration

Most apps had Apple Watch versions, with common UI elements like sound players, timers and menu cards. With such small real estate, the experience itself matters more than visuals, to create a lasting impression.

5. Creative push notifications 

In general, push notifications can feel intrusive and unwelcome. And they are, if you didn’t opt into them or weren’t aware of how frequently they’d arrive. But there’s something oddly satisfying about little reminders encouraging you to take a moment to breathe, return to the current moment or even put your phone down. We haven’t seen one go far yet, but it’s likely that with the rise of ethical design and the popularity of mindfulness apps, self-aware messages like this will become more common. 

6. AR/VR elements

However you feel about AR/VR, it’s worth mentioning the possibilities in terms of mindfulness and meditation. Flow VR provides apps for both mobile and VR devices, and offers a multisensory experience featuring music by Sigur Ros, GusGus and Jonsi & Alex. Chakra VR helps you learn about and heal your chakras through a 360 guided meditation. 

Setting the bar for human-centered design?

As we can see, it takes more than blue backgrounds, quality imagery and nature sounds for users to tune in and stay tuned in. When “engagement” is defined as turning inwards or even falling asleep, a unique set of design and UX challenges present themselves. For that reason, meditation apps of the future will set a new standard of human-centered design. Whether you’re reading this as a user, designer or investor, hopefully this sets the stage for what’s to come. It’s a competitive market, but it’s one worth watching for anyone interested in the future of UX design.

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