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Inhale, Exhale: How Headspace Improved the New User Experience

Jonathan DeFaveri and Joann Park take us through how their teams utilized dscout to get new user perspectives and keep the wider organization aligned.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Jarred Kolar

Meditation isn't a skill everyone is able to adopt on their first try. It may seem as simple as closing your eyes and clearing your mind, but like every new routine—it takes practice.

To ensure that new users could discover the full benefits of everyday mindfulness and meditation, the Headspace team needed to better understand their motivations for joining as well as life stressors they were dealing with.

Jonathan DeFaveri, Lead Design Researcher and Joann Park, Director of Audience Development saw an opportunity to better understand new users as well as a chance to bring together various stakeholder groups to create a shared empathy and understanding of the user.

The conjoined teams took on a series of projects where they utilized dscout tools to tackle these initiatives.

The approach

Headspace wanted to balance an empathic research practice with the iterative nature of the team's task. To capture a variety of inputs, they conducted unmoderated and moderated research.

They recruited participants via dscout's "scout" panel, which offers the chance to learn more about candidates before selecting them for the study. This was particularly useful as they wanted to find individuals who were new to mindfulness and meditation practices, showed an interest or curiosity in Headspace, and who might truly benefit from their offerings.

It was important to the team to stay flexible and iterative, learn as they went along, and change course if the data suggested a different direction. In this way, Jonathan and Joann started with interviews via the dscout Live mobile tool, refining some concepts they'd developed to engage early users. These interviews were both evaluative and generative in nature.

The team had some preferences with what to test, but wanted to allow new inputs from scouts.

After settling on a few concepts, the team added participants to unmoderated Diary studies, where they could live first-hand with the new experiences over time and showcase marker moments: times when they were feeling stressed, when the app was helping, and what—if anything—might be improved.

These organic moments were critical to refining the concepts and pressure-testing them as real users would. The longitudinal approach allowed the team to experiment and see how engagement changed over time.

The team's scrappy approach meant they may have to reach back to their screener and solicit a new group of folks to test and retest. They were considerate in building a few screeners that mapped to core membership variables so that they could return again and again and hear from new voices, even as they refined, iterated, and tested along the way.

This flow of recruit, refine, test, and iterate went on for several weeks, giving the team more inputs to solve for. At the height of the project, the team was learning from a scout nearly every day through the variety of study formats they had running.

The impact

The cross-functional composition of the team was a boon for quick, multi-inputted research. It also meant they needed a consolidated approach to synthesizing learnings to continue deepening the team's shared understanding.

The centralized nature of the data—within the dscout platform, where everyone had access—helped democratize analysis. Team members from content to science could jump in and begin looking at videos and contribute from their perspective toward the goal of delighting and supporting first-week members.

That alignment led the team to quickly execute and experiment, including sharing out to the wider team at Headspace. Project readouts were done in comms channels, observers threaded comments and takeaways, leading to a rolling impact that unfolded over weeks.

That framework took the shape of mindsets, which allowed Jonathan, Joann, and the team to combine the diversity of inputs together into an actionable framework. Mindsets help teams across Headspace explore experience paths to fit members' different contexts and needs, while recognizing these can be fluid and change.

It also solidified bridges of empathy across teams who might approach an opportunity or question from different vantage points. Together the projects charted a path for future human-centered design work that can be both outcome-aligned and scrappy/iterative.

Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.

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