Alternative habit building solutions for calmer minds


Meditation app Balance wishes to increase user retention as they are facing significant drop-off. We were asked to assess potential collaboration with a brainwave headband company Muse.


Through user interviews and industry research, we identified the inadequacy of the mainstream habit-building system based on rewards. Instead, we shifted the focus to facilitating intrinsic motivation and tested the ideas of journalling and brainwave feedback.

My Role

I led user research and conducted user interviews, research synthesis, sketching, wireframing, prototyping and usability testing.

Project Type

Concept project


3 UX designers


User experience, visual design, wireframing, prototyping


Figma, Slack, Trello


2 weeks

The Business Context

Balance is losing users and wonders if collaboration with Muse is the solution

Despite the boost of the meditation industry during the pandemic, the use of meditation apps saw big a big falloff in 2022, affecting major players like Headspace and Calm.

Source: Apptopia

Business objectives

According to the brief, the same decline happened to Balance, a meditation app offering personalised programmes. The 3 main objective for Balance are:

Stop the decline and increase user retention

Enhance habit building to increase retention

Evaluate the collaboration idea with a brainwave headband company Muse

Spotting assumptions & aligning the focus

I was so excited when receiving the brief, as I just entered my spiritual awakening phase. But immediately I realised there were multiple assumptions. Are the other 2 team members also aware of this? I became worried as we weren’t familiar with each other’s style of working.

To my relief, our views on the brief were the same. We agreed on the following points:

Facilitate habit-building for long term business gain

First of all, there might be different reasons for user drop-off, for instance the subscription model, and accordingly different fixes. However, facilitating habit building would be the most beneficial in the long term.

Evaluate ideas under the habit building framework

Second, any solutions will be evaluated against the long term habit building framework, including the collaboration idea.

The Problem

Users lack motivation when external circumstances change

So exactly what is the problem? We interviewed 9 regular meditators to understand their habits, preferences and challenges. 

Despite their various purposes and experiences, all interviewees find it hard to keep the meditation habit. It usually happens when one’s schedule suddenly changes. Momentum lost, a sense of defeat and a lack of motivation to go back.

Habit building obstacles

Change of  external circumstances

“It’s very easy to lose the habit especially when you have other things going on in your life”

“I lost the habit because one day I couldn’t get up early”

A sense of defeat

"I fell out of the habit and haven’t recovered from the failure for 2 months"

Designing for perceptive users

I advocated categorising insights based on user needs and emotions rather than existing app functionalities. This approach allowed us to discover another layer of user needs: psychometrics. It’s important as emotion regulation is often the purpose of the users and negative feelings often accompany habit losing.

Guidance and care should be felt throughout the habit building journey we craft.


“Visual is super cute, love the caring voices”


“I meditate to regulate my mood”


“I'm not an expert at it, so I need some guidance”

A Crucial Moment

To converge or diverge from the mainstream practice

Habit building is not a new topic in UX design. The mainstream solution is inspired by the hook model, where rewards (streaks, badges, coins etc) are received to lure the brain to reinforce desired actions and form habits.

Does being mainstream equal being correct? The problem of the reward-based habit building system is twofold. 

What’s the problem with the reward system?

Ineffectiveness in the long run

First, as suggested in the decline of Balance and user interviews, rewards might hook users temporarily, but not in the long term. 

Ethics & intended purpose of meditation

Second, regarding the nature and intended purpose of meditation, are rewards compatible with the zen feelings or is it another capitalist productivity tool?

Scientific studies further indicate that meditation actually dampens the brain reward system by reducing the signals predicting rewards*.

*Mindfulness meditation modulates reward prediction errors in a passive conditioning task. U. Kirk & P. R. Montague

Will the team agree?

To me, diverging from the reward system is more considerate of users’ wellbeing and likely to generate more business gain in the long run.

Will the team agree on the risky proposal? I was ready for another heated debate but to my surprise both team mates were excited about my findings. We chose to favour internal motivation over instant gratification.


Qualitative and quantitative feedback to enhance motivation

How might we help users strengthen intrinsic motivation to maintain meditation habits despite change of external circumstances with care and guidance? 

We sketched different ideas including monthly check-ins to adjust goals and group meditations to have social accountability. Inspired by users’ comments, we decided on testing qualitative and quantitative feedback which are the most beneficial to the meditation journey itself.

Ideas carried forward

Muse headband collaboration

The Muse headband collaboration idea was carried forward, as the biometric data can quantify brain activity and the depth of the practice.


We also explored journalling as a self-reflective method to deepen the motivation.

Wireframing & Usability Testing

Testing the ideas with main screens of the features

Will users like our supposedly more humane approach? What if they find the features useless? 

Creating a mid-fidelity prototype for usability testing was the most stressful moment. Only the main pages were designed, but discussions to add, change or strip off elements were floating around.

The tension peaked when I realised we lacked focus and reminded the team to refer back to the core user needs. At the end of that day, I had to rebalance myself with a 10 minute guided meditation. 

Mid fidelity wireframes. Only main screens were created to test the ideas

With much uncertainty, we finished the prototype, aiming to assess ease of use and more importantly usefulness. We asked users if they would subscribe to the app with the proposed features.

Would they?


Better onboarding, readability, interconnectivity & accessibility

Our confidence were boosted when all 4 users expressed they would be happy to subscribe to the app. 2 users were particularly interested in the brainwave feature.

We continued to flesh out the features in high-fidelity. I tried to light up the conversations as I realised what happened was a culmination of tension rather than actual conflicts. The team finally established trust and for the first time we split the tasks.

Together, we addressed the most common issues.

Key findings & Iterations

Added onboarding screens & tutorials to inform and guide users

All the users were confused about the functions of the headband and the data. We added onboarding screens and detailed tutorials to ensure users can feel confident using the features. 

Increased infographics readability

We also redesigned the infographics for a more straightforward visual representation of different brain states based on brainwave data.

Improved feature interconnectivity

Users questioned the connection between the mood journal and the meditation sessions. To enhance interconnectivity, we integrated meditation reflections in the daily journal entry.

Improved icon accessibility

The mood icons were designed to align with the app style. However, users found them indistinguishable when small. We reworked them to be more distinct with higher contrast.

Final Design

Muse device detected & connected

Meditate as you prefer

Meditation made easy with Muse

View Muse metrics


Enter self-reflections

Simple diagrams & personalised feedback to deepen the practice

Log your mood, reflect on your practice & stay calm

In the End

I am proud of the ethical design and renewed my view on teamwork 

I am proud of the final design as we took the courage to approach a complicated problem differently in favour of user wellbeing. 

From (fear of) clashing to trusting, I learned when to insist, when to let go and how to use everyone's strength to increase team efficiency. This renewed perspective of teamwork proved to be very helpful in the next project, where I became much calmer and strategic facing a larger team and more complex challenges.