As an ambitious app founder, it's only natural that you'd like to learn how an already established app brand found its success. After all, knowing how others succeeded offers valuable insight into making a successful app of your own.
But how did a British Buddhist monk and a fed-up marketer build a multi-million dollar brand around an app? What are Headspaces' features that endear the app and the brand to millions of users in over 190 countries?
In this article, you'll discover the features, user interface (UI) elements, and user experience (UX) principles that the Headspace founders, in partnership with our app development agency, applied to bring mindfulness to the world at large through a passionate, user-focused app that drives growth.
Table of contents
- The vision: What were the objectives of Headspace?
- The delivery: How did Headspace achieve its objectives?
- The design: Headspaces' UI and UX concepts
- Warm, reassuring and friendly: UI elements
- The tech: What drove the Headspace app?
- Wrapping up
The vision: What were the objectives of Headspace?
As an app founder, knowing what you want to achieve with your app gives you purpose, direction, and clarity.
Without a clear goal for your app, there is no way for you to formulate a strategy or even identify a target audience. Having a set of well-defined objectives is essential to creating a successful app brand.
Clear value proposition
For the founders of Headspace, a key objective was to give their target audience quick, unobstructed access to meditation during a busy day. As Shona Mitchell, former COO of Headspace puts it:
We wanted it to be on the go. We saw the opportunity for meditation as being part of your daily life...we took a lot of inspiration from running apps at the time (circa 2010) and how they were supporting users with statistics and notifications. That was where we saw the opportunity.
This objective was to become what Headspaces' brand value proposition is today:
By clearly and succinctly defining the intention for their app, the Headspace founders (in partnership with our app development team) gave themselves tangible goals to work towards.
- Personalisation : Make an app that could be personalised according to the users' mind, mood and goal
- Accessibility : Readily available for any situation, at any time
- Usability : Include step-by-step, easy-to-digest instructions to help users benefit from the practice of meditation
Many app founders understandably focus on creating an app that can grow and be profitable. However, these should come as secondary objectives to the primary goal of making an app seamlessly part of your users' daily lives.
Growth and profitability as secondary objectives
Successful app brands prioritise creating an app that delivers value to its users. To achieve this, you need to first identify the app's objectives (like the ones mentioned above) and then get to work creating a product that delivers on those promises.
This is where choosing an app development team suited to your project is essential for designing a successful app.
Of course, in order to build an app that has a chance of long-term growth and scalability, you need consistent adoption, revenue, and profitability. But you have to be smart about how you go about this.
For example, when we developed the first version of the app, we knew that users looking for peace and calm in a hectic day don't want to be distracted from their meditation practice by urges to purchase or upgrade.
So, how can you both deliver an out of this world user experience and make enough money to thrive?
By centring the brand value proposition (i.e. accessible meditation and mindfulness for any mood, any day) Headspaces' development team built clever design features, such as mindful moments, that both:
- Align with the brand value proposition
- Work to achieve user growth and profitability
As we dig into the Headspace app features in more detail, bear in mind what the app promises to deliver and notice how the features are customarily designed with the value proposition in mind.
The delivery: How did Headspace achieve its objectives?
After getting the app's essence down to a single sentence, the next step towards creating a $320 million brand was to develop in-app features that could deliver on their objectives while enabling growth and profitability.
To recap, the app needed to be:
They used various design features to meet these requirements:
- Accessible, simple, personalised. To meet the accessibility, simplicity and personalisation requirements, uniquely short audio content was used.
- Value. To bring additional value to their users, the Headspace team partnered with scientists and organisations to conduct their own research and create in-depth, valuable, and educational content.
- Scalable and profitable. The developers used persuasive design to come up with internal goal setting, social presence, and badge systems to scale user growth and profitability.
We'll take a deeper look at each of these facets here.
Short and engaging audio content
Headspace uses a series of short voice clips to achieve its goal of guiding users through meditations.
They represent the essence of what Headspace is—a sequential series of simple guided meditations from various coaches that lead the user through their mindfulness practice.
By choosing to deploy a sequential series of voice clips rather than lengthy sessions, the app simplifies the selection process and removes common barriers to carrying out a meditation practice.
Users can also personalise their experience by selecting their preferred coach and choosing unique goals for the mediation.
Voice clips helped Headspace to succeed in delivering on its primary objective of a succinct guided meditation. Next up, it was time to add supplemental value in the form of educational content.
Value-driven and educational written content
Headspace realised early-on that their users craved knowledge about how meditation works and why meditation is good for oneself. This presented the perfect opportunity to bring extra value to their audience.
As an in-app feature, they decided to include educational material to teach users both the principles of meditation and the history behind the practice.
But they didn't stop there. The team identified this as an opportunity to establish the Headspace brand as an authority in the mindfulness and wellness industry by conducting peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of using the Headspace app.
This content helps answer questions many users and speculative customers may ask, such as:
- Does this app help me achieve access to succinct, daily mindfulness moments?
- What benefits can I expect from using this app?
- Are the people at Headspace legitimate?
- How often should I use this app, and how soon can I start to see benefits?
When designing an app, founders and development teams must always have their audience's pain-points, questions, and desires in mind. It ensures the app is created for the user, not for the brand.
By directly addressing their audience's challenges, the Headspace team:
- Positioned themselves as authorities in their industry,
- Kept users engaged through valuable and helpful content
- Persuaded users that Headspace is undoubtedly a worthwhile companion for everyday life
After Headspace knew how they wanted to bring their users value, we then helped them work towards making the app scalable and profitable. For this, we turned to persuasive design and an exceptional UI.
Beautiful and persuasive design
Persuasive design is a methodology that uses psychology to understand how and why people interact with a product or service, and subsequently influences decision-making based on that knowledge.
Done right, persuasive design can remove friction from the user experience and make an app significantly easier to interact with.
For Headspace, influencing user behaviour revolved around making meditation, which is often viewed as a solitary activity, social.
By encouraging people to meditate together and showing users how frequently their peers engage with the app, Headspace was able to create a key social presence.
Developed as part of Daft and Lengel's media richness theory, social presence hypothesises (and demonstrates) that people are better engaged with technology when they are aware of other people using the same technology.
This stems from a lack of interpersonal and verbal cues from computer-based communication, which can lead to a sense of disengagement and isolation—something that Headspace addresses most effectively.
First and foremost, Headspace provides a sense of companionship through their voice clips. Secondly, to create a sense of human engagement amongst its users, we helped Headspace create the 'everybody headspace' feature, which unites meditators from all over the world to pursue a common goal—finding headspace.
Goal setting and badge system
We then used goal setting, a widely accepted theory of cognitive science, to help users set and achieve their desired outcomes.
Headspace immediately engages its users by asking what the user would like to achieve with their meditation. Then, the gamified badge system further encourages users to open the app daily to continue their 'streak' (or the number of consecutive days they have used Headspace to meditate).
Combined, these features create a socially engaging app that encourages daily use.
Designed to scale user growth
This next collection of features Headspace used to promote growth and profitability were mindful moments, the buddy program, and direct invitation.
Mindful moments offer users the chance to share an in-app quotation or piece of information outside of the app.
This feature's beauty is that it seamlessly allows non-users to see what is on offer within the app while acting as top-of-funnel collateral for the free registration process.
Buddy program and direct invitation
The buddy program and direct invitation are more conventional growth features. Headspace users who successfully invite a new customer to sign up to the app receive a tangible financial benefit, such as two weeks of free premium membership.
Combined with clever use of psychological cues and social growth, one of the main reasons the Headspace app brand stands out from the crowd comes down to its user interface design.
Let's take a look at how these aforementioned features are presented to users in-app through UI elements and UX principles.
The design: UI and UX
It is painfully evident to many new app founders that some apps fall flat—even with clear objectives and well-built features.
These apps may disappoint for several reasons, but failing to meet your target audience's UI and UX expectations is a leading cause for app failure.
The difference between UX and UI
UX design revolves around creating a product that effectively gives users what they want. UI design is the aesthetic presentation of that product.
We have already looked at many of Headspaces' UX features, such as:
- Mindful moments
- Educational content
- Buddy system
- Goal setting
- Coach selection
These user experience principles achieve several goals, both for the user and the app brand:
- Encourage daily use. By demonstrating to Headspace users that they get the most benefit from the app by using it every day, the Headspace team manages to create a habitual experience chock full of daily benefits while also securing an opportunity to grow as a profitable business.
- Gamify the user experience. By setting in-app goals with a rewards system, the Headspace app further encourages consistent app use because it's fun, challenging, and ever-evolving.
- Freedom and control. Allowing users to feel like they have control over their in-app experience, such as choosing the problem they wish to solve (whether it be anxiety, stress, anger, or lack of sleep), is empowering and further encourages engagement.
All of this said, if the aesthetic experience is unenjoyable, users will not engage with your app. For this reason, the aesthetic presentation of the app and its features is crucial to creating a profitable and successful app brand.
And an outstanding UI design is arguably the most endearing facet of the Headspace app.
Warm, reassuring and friendly: User interface elements
Headspaces' users are looking for serenity amidst a hectic setting. Whether they are commuting to work, picking up their kids from school, or in between lectures, they want a moment of peace and relaxation.
This means that when they look at the Headspace app, they need to see calming, reassuring, warm colours, typography and imagery that sets them at ease and prepares them for their meditation.
Using shades of just two different colours that come across as soft and gentle, Headspace presents an image that emotes happiness, calm, and enthusiasm.
In keeping with the goal of the app of offering "Headspace", it's no wonder the team went with a simple logo:
The UI design team cleverly repurposes the logo and uses it again as a visualisation tool and an avatar, which is omnipresent throughout the app design and at critical touchpoints in the user journey.
After all, which call-to-action are you more likely to engage with? The call to action with the reassuring avatar?
Or the one lacking engaging and eye-catching imagery?
The font, spacing, and layout of the Headspace app are also designed to achieve simplicity and accessibility.
With only ten words on-screen, the app UI leaves no room for confusion or diverging from the objective—quick and easy meditations.
As you can see, the Headspace team stayed true to its value proposition at every stage of the app development process. This creates a consistent user experience that delivers what it promises at every point in the customer journey.
This is something that successful app brands excel at—creating a reliable, predictable, desirable ecosystem.
However, one piece of the puzzle remains: building out these ideas and concepts with a tech stack that is scalable, secure, user-friendly, and aligns with the value proposition, vision, and end-goals
The tech: What drove the Headspace app?
To bring an app to life and present your ideas as a tangible product, it's necessary to work with a development team with the technological know-how to make it all happen.
To give you an idea of what goes into making Headspace the app that it is, let's take a look at some of the applications, data, utilities, and DevOps the brand uses in its tech stack:
- PHP: A popular general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited to web development
- CloudFlare: The web performance and security company
- Apache HTTP Server: The most popular web service on the Internet since April 1996
- Amazon S3: Store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web
- Amazon EC2: Scalable, pay-as-you-go compute capacity in the cloud
- Amazon CloudFront: Content delivery with low latency and high data transfer speeds
- CentOS: The community ENTerprise operating system
- Google Analytics: Enterprise-class web analytics
- Stripe: Payments for developers
- Twilio SendGrid: Email delivery. Simplified.
- Mailgun: The email service for developers.
- Optimizely: Experimentation platform for marketing, product, and engineering teams, with feature flags and personalisation
- Parcel: A fast, zero-configuration web application bundler
It's important to note that Headspace was built in the early days of the App Store economy. Both iOS and Android were brand-new systems and nobody was even close to thinking about available SDKs and internal APIs within the OS.
Apple App Store Review guidelines weren't mature enough to cover the user experience that an app like Headspace provides. And in-app purchases as a subscription were nearly impossible as the App Store economy didn't yet support recurring payments.
Therefore, initially, you could only sign up for a Headspace subscription on the website. This led to high user-friction during the transaction and a suboptimal experience.
Nowadays, we do have the tools and APIs necessary to create subscriptions within an app. The moment we introduced in-app purchase subscriptions (a few years after the initial launch) sales and revenue within the app sky-rocketed.
Technically, the biggest challenge we faced when building Headspace was to create a player experience. While the original implementation is long gone, some features in the current app do resemble this initial application.
In terms of technologies, both iOS and Android apps used to be built using the true standards of that period: Objective-C and Java.
It was always a process to ensure everything ran smoothly with the latest OS updates, which were iterative based on Apple and Google releases. We consistently made adaptations to ensure the application ran efficiently and seamlessly on both iOS and Android devices.
As is evident, conceptualising an app and creating the product are two different ball games. Depending on the development in question, app founders might need to get some outside help to make a winning app brand of their own.
The Headspace app enjoys its success for several reasons. By and large, the brand was able to:
- Capitalise on a gap in the market at the right time
- Formulate a clear, concise objective for the app and brand
- Align features, user experience principles, and user interface elements with the objective
- Provide true value to their users
- Develop features that allow for scalability, continued growth, and profitability
As an app founder looking to create the next Headspace app for your niche, always remember to put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Follow Headspaces' example and create a product with the user in mind, and you'll be well on your way to creating a $320M app brand of your own.