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Field Reports

Motivating Mindfulness: Headspace's Cross-Functional Commitment to Delighting New Members

As new users turned to Headspace for mental wellness, Headspace turned to dscout to pinpoint their key motivations.

Words by Ben Wiedmaier, Visuals by Thumy Phan

With the general uncertainty and looming stress that accompanied the pandemic, it's no surprise that people began seeking ways to improve their mental health. Wellness tools like Headspace became a popular source for that stress relief people longed for.

But 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.

Enter Jonathan DeFaveri, Lead Design Researcher and Joann Park, Director of Audience Development and Publishing. Their teams not only saw an opportunity to better understand new users, but also a chance to bring together various stakeholder groups to create a shared empathy and understanding of the user.

The teams joined forces in a series of projects where they utilized dscout tools to tackle these initiatives.

The opportunity

Two factors opened the space for this project. The first was the pandemic and the dramatic increase in need for Headspace's product. Countless companies and individuals turned to mental wellness tools like Headspace to learn new ways to cope during the pandemic. Many of these individuals were trying meditation and mindfulness for the first time.

The surge of interest and demand met the second factor: an internal goal of building a shared human-centered design process practiced across teams. Headspace has long had a design thinking process running across teams—this was a chance to integrate cross-company design activities and align around an important opportunity space. Better yet to do so with actionable, empathy-generating data. Alignment and integration should spell broader adoption, with a better end-to-end experience for all Headspace members.

Jonathan, Joann, and their teams wondered if this unprecedented moment was an opportunity to learn and grow in an expansive way as a company, while aligning around their mission to improve the health and happiness of the world.

This project was a chance to bring together a broad coalition of teams (from science and engineering to product and content), align on critical product questions, and execute empathy-generating projects to meet the moment.

Past research revealed to Joann and Jonathan the importance of the first week on Headspace: learning what mindfulness and mediation might offer, and how Headspace can facilitate these critical practices for folks who might be new.

"We had full agency to run rapid experiments, test new content, and play with other ways of engaging folks new to Headspace and increase adoption of mindful practices.

We had a lot of freedom and cross-functional alignment, which offered us a ton of resources...with design thinking and human-centered principles driving our hypotheses and questions."

Joann Park
Director of Audience Development and Publishing at Headspace

The team wasn't starting from scratch either. They conducted research examining the motivations and expectations around new Headspace members. This included the general role stress played in people’s lives.

Whether people used a meditation and mindfulness practice or not, those contextual inputs were critical to creating interventions to meet their needs across a variety of experiences. New members face a range of potential barriers to establishing a new mindfulness practice and they wanted to anticipate that diversity within the Headspace ecosystem.

"The team's diversity helped us marshal more types of resources, which helped us iterate more rapidly, experiment more fully, and build what we needed.

Content, science, engineering, product, design—everyone had a seat at the table and that brought an efficacy to this initiative; we knew we could execute on just about anything.

Jonathan DeFaveri
Lead Design Researcher at Headspace

The approach

The Headspace team 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.

The team 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 for the team 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.

Beyond attracting people to Headspace, the team wanted to help people make the most of their early product experience, taking into account where they were on their own wellness journey (e.g., had they tried anything before) and where they landed in the app (e.g., what content did they consume and like, which areas are they exploring).

By asking the participants to spotlight what stood out as they explored, members had agency. The team learned what was motivating or inspiring, and also what might need to be iterated upon. They tried different content sequences and asked scouts how it affected their confidence in meditating and their interest in returning to the app (core outcome metrics).

"Being able to see folks in their natural environments, in the spaces where they actually use our experiences really adds an authenticity that increases our confidence. I've been on the other side of the one-way mirror during focus groups and even the best ones still felt stiff or contrived.

With the dscout's mobile Live interviews, you could tell folks felt comfortable sharing moments, experiences, and impressions more freely. There was a sense of intimacy and safety that's critical to what we're building."

Joann Park
Director of Audience Development and Publishing at Headspace

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.

How did a sequence of content affect a user? What areas of the experience were they drawn to? Since the team’s goal was behavior change over time, this allowed them to let members live with an experience in their world for a few days to see how they actually might use it.

At the end of one of the unmoderated studies, the team would ask participants to reflect on what was most impactful, what had helped motivate them to stick with their practice, and what might not have been as useful in certain moments.

The Headspace team was taking in a variety of data streams and syncing regularly to identify the market moments that mattered most consistently to this new member base.

"After we refined our concepts, the Diary moments allowed us to test them against our critical outcomes: reports of feeling less stressed, more comfortable with certain practices, and the feeling that the experiences were supporting them in the right ways. I found that these moments were so honest, especially as the study unfolded.


We'd see someone's tone change and that confidence coming through in the videos. And then we'd have them reflect at the end of the trial and folks would report a sense of relief, of perspective, of what they gained.

When we heard those sorts of things we knew we were onto something and went back to refine and test again. It was this empathy-backed, iterative approach."

Jonathan DeFaveri
Lead Design Researcher at Headspace

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.

Leveraging the dscout's Recruit tool in a panel format kept them nimble and saved time. If the content, science, or product representatives on the team came back with a new experience or sequence to test, they could tap these screeners and find new participants who were already qualified, broadening the voices they heard from and the experiences they built for.

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.

Along the way, they were always experimenting. At one point, Jonathan and Joann harnessed a co-creative activity where participants designed their own mindful rituals.

"In addition to the critical consent inputs, we were able to collect all of this useful contextual data. When did you reach for something? When was it top-of-mind? When you started something, how long did it take you to complete and what was that experience like?

The diversity and variety of inputs we collected from the Diary moments will really go a long way supporting our members as they embark on this journey and—most importantly—how, when, and where we can support them."

Joann Park
Director of Audience Development and Publishing at Headspace

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. Staying aligned and holistically building and solving for the driving goal of the first-week experience was paramount.

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.

"Everybody was very active. The science team, the content director, everyone was accountable to watch the videos themselves. That really helped get us out of silo thinking, because in order to make any changes to benefit our members, we had to work together, in unison.


If there were ever moments of debate, the participant and their position and insight usually won the day; the member broke the tie—we cut the time of debating from 10 to 1.

That was a powerful outcome: the fact that having access to all these member data points in near-real-time really helped move things along."

Joann Park
Director of Audience Development and Publishing at Headspace

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.

There wasn't a strict share out cadence relative to a day, but the team knew they were expected to share learnings as they collected data. All the while, Jonathan and his team were working to build a framework to capture the nuance he, Joann, and the team observed with the project objectives.

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.

They organized scouts along key characteristics and motivations, sourced from the videos, interviews, and concept work. Just as important for Jonathan and Joann, however, was the experience of bringing a large and diverse coalition of stakeholders together at the "research table," focused on a single opportunity space like the first-week experience.

Folks newer to the research process gained insight into what new members feel, think, and ultimately how they engage with the Headspace product.

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.

"An important outcome related to the work we do at Headspace was the position of design thinking and user research. Specifically, that we can do it in this scrappy and iterative way earlier in our processes, looping in folks as and before they start building things. In this way, we're proactive and taking in context as we create experiences for our members.


This showed us not only that this is feasible but that more and new stakeholders really benefit from this hands-on approach. This project has created a blueprint that we'll be using for other product spaces and opportunities."

Jonathan DeFaveri
Lead Design Researcher at Headspace

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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