The Optimised Self: What’s next for design?

category - society
sector - health & wellness
sector - media & technology
type - opinion
We’re all familiar with trackers that monitor our physical health. But as we take our mental wellbeing more seriously, how will product designers respond?

Our daily mental and physical wellbeing used to be seen as separate entities, but are now rightfully merging, as people recognise the extent to which one affects the other. This has entered mainstream discourse, and connotations of the term ‘mental wellbeing’ have advanced beyond vitamins and spa breaks, instead now encompassing our state of mind, relationship with our bodies, work/life balance, and much more.

Like most trends, the pandemic has hugely accelerated this shift. People saw the effects a lack of physical movement had on their mental wellbeing, leading Headspace to evolve its mindfulness platform to cover physical movement; recognising that the two realms are interconnected.

So how might trackers like an Apple watch quantify this in the future? Physical fitness has a more obvious connection to empirical data, but this gets tricky when it comes to mental health. You can’t ask someone multiple times a day to evaluate their mental state, because mental wellbeing is personal, complex, and subjective.

A solution to this will be to combine measurable data points about the user with wider behavioural learnings in order to make predictions. For example, heart rate, sleeping patterns, scrolling time, blood glucose levels and even environmental factors can be used to identify patterns of likely mental health outcomes, facilitated by algorithms that are constantly learning based on the individual.

Published by:

3 May 2022

Author: Christel Errill Wolthoorn

Image: ChromaYoga, London


Embr Wave app

At LovedBy Consulting, we design innovative health products, having conducted years of research on design principles to guide companies in the wellbeing space. These principles are:

Habit building

Small, realistic steps to build habits will be essential in guiding users towards specific wellbeing goals and outcomes. Duolingo executes this well, with nudges and gamification elements that push users towards manageable goals. We’ve applied similar principles to our Nudg platform, offering personalised nudges directly into the social media feeds of our Gen Z target audience.

Relatability and Personalisation

People don’t want to feel restricted by binary labels, particularly when it comes to a topic as personal as their wellbeing. This has to translate into product design so that people feel properly heard by experts. FemTech products have made great strides on this front, using insights in a targeted and personalised way. In the future, wellbeing-first product design, psychometric questions during app onboarding, relatable language and machine learning will help to deliver this.

Transparency and Trust

Technology has become so advanced that expectations are only getting higher. Users now assume that inputting data results, as if by magic, in action, but there are a raft of complex processes that go into making data relevant and actionable to the end user. Wellbeing tech is such sensitive territory that developers will need to be clear from the outset what can and can’t be done, if they are to win people’s trust.

It's imperative to recognise some of the obstacles that come with measuring wellbeing in this predictive way. For example, using these models to predict data risks generalisation, which in turn can create prejudices. Organisations need to be razor-sharp as it's such a vulnerable space. If data tells you that someone is suffering, you have an obligation to help them. As a brand, are you prepared for that?

Designing for wellbeing has moved from trend to big business. If companies exist in the consumer technology space, they must recognise that wellbeing is complex, but it also creates opportunities to understand and help people in new and exciting ways.

Christel Errill Wolthoorn is the managing director of LovedBy Consulting, a human-centred business, data and technology consultancy and software for healthcare, education and financial services.

‘If data tells you that someone is suffering, you have an obligation to help them. As a brand, are you prepared for that?’
Christel Errill Wolthoorn, Managing Director of LovedBy Consulting

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