Background: During the past decade, there has been a rapid increase of interactive apps designed for health and well-being. Yet, little research has been published on developing frameworks for design and evaluation of digital mindfulness facilitating technologies. Moreover, many existing digital mindfulness applications are purely software based. There is room for further exploration and assessment of designs that make more use of physical qualities of artifacts.
Objective: The study aimed to develop and test a new physical digital mindfulness prototype designed for stress reduction.
Methods: In this case study, we designed, developed, and evaluated HU, a physical digital mindfulness prototype designed for stress reduction. In the first phase, we used vapor and light to support mindful breathing and invited 25 participants through snowball sampling to test HU. In the second phase, we added sonification. We deployed a package of probes such as photos, diaries, and cards to collect data from users who explored HU in their homes. Thereafter, we evaluated our installation using both self-assessed stress levels and heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) measures in a pilot study, in order to measure stress resilience effects. After the experiment, we performed a semistructured interview to reflect on HU and investigate the design of digital mindfulness apps for stress reduction.
Results: The results of the first phase showed that 22 of 25 participants (88%) claimed vapor and light could be effective ways of promoting mindful breathing. Vapor could potentially support mindful breathing better than light (especially for mindfulness beginners). In addition, a majority of the participants mentioned sound as an alternative medium. In the second phase, we found that participants thought that HU could work well for stress reduction. We compared the effect of silent HU (using light and vapor without sound) and sonified HU on 5 participants. Subjective stress levels were statistically improved with both silent and sonified HU. The mean value of HR using silent HU was significantly lower than resting baseline and sonified HU. The mean value of root mean square of differences (RMSSD) using silent HU was significantly higher than resting baseline. We found that the differences between our objective and subjective assessments were intriguing and prompted us to investigate them further.
Conclusions: Our evaluation of HU indicated that HU could facilitate relaxed breathing and stress reduction. There was a difference in outcome between the physiological measures of stress and the subjective reports of stress, as well as a large intervariability among study participants. Our conclusion is that the use of stress reduction tools should be customized and that the design work of mindfulness technology for stress reduction is a complex process, which requires cooperation of designers, HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) experts and clinicians.