Meditation in VR
In this post, I decided to research UX possibilities for a guided meditation app in VR.
Guided meditation is a meditation led by a teacher, in person, via video or audio. In such meditation, the teacher would explain the dynamics of the mind and how it’s likely to behave during meditation. They may also take participants though meditation techniques, as well as how to use these techniques in everyday life.
In VR, a guided meditation can enhance a person’s sense of presence not only through an audio guide but also with immersive visual cues, haptic feedback and voice interactions.
I conducted competitor research and user interviews to see what VR meditation apps are available, as well as understand user needs. The results of the research showed the common trend for VR meditation apps was 360 videos or still sceneries of calm peaceful locations.
The interviews were conducted with people who regularly meditate and who have had some mobile or PC VR experience. Major needs for the VR meditation experience include:
Having a library with experiences for different situations (Sleeping was the most looked for meditation);
Being able to easily find meditation options;
Being able to easily select options;
Feeling comfortable, relaxed and safe;
Experience should be immersive and interactive;
Experience should support teleportation / moving in space and exploration;
Experience should have good quality audio, spacial sounds, pleasant voices;
Experience should have convincing, good quality visuals.
Platforms and limitations
The platforms that can be used today include:
Mobile VR — an easily accessible way to experience VR with Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Go. The downside of it is that it currently allows only 3 degrees of freedom, which means that users can’t move in space. And even though the meditation experience generally would not require much movement, user interviews pointed out the need in interacting with the environment to get immersed more.
PC VR— which require a powerful computer and a headset like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The plus side here is that users are able to experience 6 degrees of freedom and freely interact with the environment.
With the devices like Leap Motion, there would be possible to also introduce a more realistic haptic feedback to the experience. (I will try to soon post an article about the haptic glove experiment too:))
The new mobile VR platform Oculus Quest will allow users to experience 6dof too. I wonder whether cameras on the headset can also act like Leap Motion and introduce gesture based interactions for the users to be able to use haptic gloves?
Considering the competitor research, interviews and platforms, the key elements I decided to concentrate on are the menu, and the meditation experience itself. Keeping in mind the 3dof limitations, I wanted the app to be able to experience on any platform. However, some interaction elements would be much better to experience with 6dof controllers or even gestures.
I decided to keep the menu minimalistic, almost invisible — to be able easily access and navigate from any point in the meditation experience, yet not distract from the experience itself.
Main points I had to keep in mind:
This is a meditation experience and users will possibly be sitting (or even laying down) most of the time; so the menu has to be easily accessed from the sitting position.
Menu shouldn’t cover anything.
Menu shouldn’t distract from meditation.
Items in the menu should be representative of the experience they stand for.
Items in the menu should be easy to look through.
To meet these conditions, I came up with the blinds type of menu, where user drags down the library with different experiences depicted as bubbles. Blinds can serve as a metaphor and introduce a more intuitive experience that the user will not have to learn:
Seeing the string, users are very likely to want to pull it down.
If not pulled it up and inactive for a while, blinds can collapse on their own.
With a guided meditation, the narrator is trying to help the participants get more immersed into their journey. This narrator can be presented in a form of a spacial sound, or visually — as an animated character, a person or through visual environmental cues.
Guided meditations generally consist of steps such as getting comfortable, general relaxation, countdown technique, the journey itself, etc. [source].
The journey often presents the environment for the user to experience. In VR, a fuller immersion can be reached through involving multiple senses that are harder to engage through real life meditation:
The audio guide can describe what can be seen, smelled, heard and touched.
The visual cues can assist in taking users through different stages of meditation, set the right calm, safe and secure environment through colours and lighting, as well as establish the right breathing pattern.
The haptics can assist in receiving tactile feedback when needed.
Interacting with the experience with voice can also aid deeper immersion.
The more the user can connect their senses to the described environment, the deeper they will become immersed into the journey, and the easier it will be to reinforce relaxation. It is also important to keep the visuals pleasant and subtle, in order not to distract the user from meditation, and yet still guide them through the experience.
An animated character can act as a host or a teacher and show users around the app. With the gesture based interactions, it can allow users to follow and copy its gestures to learn interactions. Voice based interactions can also support communication and teach / show users around.
Additionally, a mascot can guide users through breathing patterns by allowing users to follow or copy its movements.
Using an animated character can also enable a virtual pet therapy. Allowing users touch and play with a mascot, receiving tactile haptic feedback, can enhance therapeutic activities. Similarly to the pet therapy, where patients can get comfort via the body contact with pets, we assume that interactions with virtual pets can aid in reducing stress and anxiety.
A guided meditation presents an experience for the participants to get more immersed into their journey to get relaxed.
VR can allow reach a much deeper immersion through auditory, visual, tactile cues and voice.
Current VR meditation tours offer backgrounds of the 360 videos, where as users expect more immersive and interactive experiences.
Certain types of interactions can enhance alternative types of therapies, like pet therapy. However, they heavily reply on body contact, and such VR experience would require haptic wearables.
Colouring experiences in certain tones can enhance different types of meditations.
Role: Research, Concept Design
Tools: Adobe XD