The art of mindfulness in product design

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing. In recent years it’s become an increasingly popular topic and moved from its deep roots in the Buddhist tradition into leadership circles, boardrooms and even primary school classrooms. But behind the hype, there’s real, tangible value – it helps you build better products by engaging in active observation, mindful listening, and conscious collaboration.

This talk will explore the concept of mindfulness and how you can apply it in the ideation, research and design phases of product development. After this session, you’ll walk away with strategies to effectively use mindfulness techniques like present-moment attention and non-judgemental awareness to transform the way you run your next user research or design critique session.

Remya Ramesh – The art of mindfulness in product design

When you are “present at work” are you really present?

Although initially skeptical, Remya found that with practice mindfulness really took hold and helped her manage feelings of stress. But then why was that confined to home? Why not at work?

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness focuses on the present – we do not have control over the past or future, we only control the moment.

Meditation is one form of mindfulness, but it is only one way. You can do something as simple as paying proper attention to what you are doing – instead of using your phone during lunch, actually stop and enjoy what you are eating.

Remya then found the science behind mindfulness was also fascinating – mindfulness can literally change your brain. Two interesting points:

  • Activate your Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) with mindful meditation – this helps you make decisions
  • Meditation fortifies the brain’s memory vault, the Hippocampus

People spent 47% of their waking time thinking about something other than what they are doing!

Things people can do:

  1. Micro meditations
  2. Conscious collaborations
    1. Mindful listening.
    2. Active observation.
    3. Purposeful presentation.
  3. Design with intent

Micro meditations are quick exercises that take 1-3 minutes, that you can do several times a day. Try a breathing exercise first thing in the day, instead of immediately grabbing your phone and thinking about the coming stresses of the day.

Think about the way people ‘listen’ to each other while doing something else. Drop any judgements, maintain eye contact (although don’t give them a full on stare!), work hard on being present, provide non-verbal feedback.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. – Stephen R. Covey

Observation… clear your mind, observe others without any assumptions, stop multitasking.

Multitasking demonstration:

  • count 1-26
  • list a-z
  • now work all the way through 1a, 2b, 3c…

1-26 and a-z are easy and you can do them quickly, but it’s much harder and slower to go 1a, 2b, 3c…

Presentation… facilitate conversations (be self-aware and ensure everyone has room to contribute), be prepared, provide feedback, manage emotions.

Design with intent. Apply principles of calm technology, create positive influence and change, value human attention, avoid dark patterns.

A word of caution: we are in an age when mindfulness is being taught in schools and corporations are setting up mindfulness programs. But you have to ask, does a company really care about you as a person if they are setting up mindfulness programs? Or are they just trying to make the unbearable bearable? Also beware of avoidance risk, groupthink risk and the corporate mindfulness bandwagon.