exhala

The global pandemic has pulled us apart and changed the way we interact with each other, including using technology to stay connected when socially distanced. How can we reimagine digital socialization to bring us together in deeper, meaningful ways?

PROJECT
createSC, honorable mention
Year
2021
Role
Project Manager, Lead Designer
TOOLS
Adobe XD, Figma
Heading
How might we facilitate meditation in group settings that fosters community and long-term engagement in the form of mutual accountability and inclusive wellness practices?
project timeline for gnito
our team

For this design challenge, my team consisted of my colleague, Moe Hay Mar Kaung and I. As project manager and lead designer, I developed our product concept and created our prototype, managing all UI and UX designs. Moe Hay was lead UX Researcher and Strategist and did a wonderful job gathering insights and developing our qualitative research process, and handling our final pitch deck.

project context

Our team was asked to design a mobile app in response to the current struggle everyone was becoming too familiar with: social distancing. Our prompt was, “How might we imagine future events and new ways to stay connected with others while abiding to social distancing standards? Design a mobile app that enables users to build and maintain a sense of community.

The first ideas that came to mind were obvious options: event-planning, instant messaging, and some sort of social-media platform. However, we wanted to focus on the idea of “imagine” and thought about reimagining. What experience could be done both socially and digitally, but we don't have the a single digital platform for yet? What do we not currently view as a community-building experience, but could be for the better?

Exhala is a social meditation app for all types of users looking to connect with old and new friends, while bringing forward the parts of their identities not prioritized in popular mental health apps. With a myriad of communities and meditation rooms, users receive curated experiences that improve their well-being while building meaningful connections with their own communities and cultures.

maslow vs blackfoot nation hierachy of needs

I'd like to also acknowledge the Siksika Nation (Blackfoot), the indigenous tribe whose beliefs and practices inform the First Nation's Hierarchy of Needs that influenced the basis of our product. Modern day self-care and mental health programs are colonized and appropriated versions of indigenous practices, and the competitive analysis that we conducted revealed a Maslow-influenced guide to self-care. The First Nation's approach to care is community-based rather than hyper-individualized, which is the core of what we hope to facilitate with our product. Beginning with self actualization and leading to cultural perpetuity, the Siksika's teachings are crucial to our goals with Exhala.

ideation + desk research
research learnings included exclusivity and lack of accessibility, lack of self-accountability tools, and lack of social aspects

We interviewed 6 college students about a) their mobile device habits and b) their communities. We brought the COVID-19 pandemic into question, too, and discovered what new routines were being integrated into people’s everyday lives, with or without community, amidst a new isolated, socially-distanced world.

As students overwhelmed with schools, jobs, and internships, we recognize the need for mental health check-ins and self care time. Thinking about healthy ways to stay connected in what has been a year full of unprecedented stresses concerning all areas of life, we decided to create an app that reinvents how we socialize when apart by connecting in a deeper way.

We conducted a competitive analysis on existing meditation apps, Headspace, Calm, and Healthy Minds. We discovered 3 major pain points that users looking for a community-centered self care app might find in existing ones.

This lead us into our problem discovery that allowed us to define our solution.

problem discovery
solutions include personalized communities, access to group sessions, and the encouragement of user-generated content

Users loved the idea of having an app to help create a routine for their self care habits. Or... “soon to be, but end up dying after 3 days that it just stresses you out more, completely defeating the purpose of downloading the app in the first place” habits.

Our interviewees described their use of self care apps with a range of experiences, but all faced the same few problems (explained previously in pain points). We saw a perfect opportunity to combat users’ frustration with digital and algorithm-influenced apps by translating the relationship between human and technology from human-technology to human-human enhanced by technology.

We focused on utilizing the features of mobile experiences to create community when separated. We used information received through our interviews and research to bring desired in-person moments to a digital platform and give users opportunities to create their own experiences based on their unique and evolving interests and needs.

user personas

We created two personas based on the two main groups of users we could define through our research: Routine Rima, who is looking for better self-accountability and culturally-relevant groups, and Friend Frances, who prefers to combine socialization and meditation for a more fulfilling self care experience.

user flow
user flow
user journey
user journey
style guide + logo
style guide and logo: user of calm, muted colors and exhala means exhale in Spanish

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FINAL SCREENS
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DESIGN DECISIONS
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OPTIMIZATIONS

One of Exhala's unique strengths is that its experiences are highly user-generated, however future optimizations should include better content and opportunities for equally personalized experiences for solo meditation or new/low-effort communities.