Designing for Mindfulness : An Exploration of Interaction Design with Biodata Inspired by Chinese Aesthetics

Abstract: The Quantified Self (QS) movement and self-tracking technologies in personal informatics are opening up opportunities for users to manage their health and wellbeing. Until now, researchers have explored how to monitor health and change people’s behaviors through bio-sensing technologies. From a perspective of design, interaction design with biodata has many possibilities.There is an increasing level of interest in mindfulness for its potential benefit as a wellbeing practice to improve quality of life. The mindfulness movement, which advocates viewing the body, self and life with an accepting and non-judgmental attitude, brings a perspective of attentive awareness in the present moment. Over the last few years, technologies related to mindfulness and research endeavors in HCI have increased dramatically, as can be seen from the growing number of academic publications in this field. Moreover, researchers have started to explore mindfulness integrated with interaction design from different directions and for different purposes.In this thesis, I attempted to explore interaction design with biodata from a mindfulness perspective. By analyzing previous research, I found some opportunities in 1) a design space of non-judgmental awareness of the body, 2) a design approach inspired by Chinese aesthetics, 3) a design medium of physical interactive artifacts. In order to explore workable design tactics for practicing the concept of mindfulness, I drew on inspirations from Chinese “Wu Hua” aesthetics and the approaches used in some related artwork. Beyond that, “Wu Hua” provides a view of seeing the body as an inseparable part from the rest of the natural world and living with it harmoniously in an aesthetic experience. These inspirations triggered me to probe into more possibilities of design.I aimed to investigate the following research question:How can we design with biodata for mindfulness inspired by Chinese aesthetics?In short, my work makes two main contributions. The first contribution is a conceptual contribution. Specifically, I have integrated mindfulness and Chinese aesthetics into interaction design to inspire ways of viewing the body and designing with biodata. The second contribution is a practical contribution. I practiced the idea of Chinese “Wu Hua” aesthetics and the approach of “externalizing the self to an incarnation” in two design projects. As a result, this thesis contributes to a design concept of “non-judgmental interaction” and some design tactics. Non-judgmental interaction means that 1) the representation of biodata avoids producing subjective judgments of bodily conditions; 2) the interaction between artifacts and participants avoids provoking strong emotional reactions. I have formulated three design tactics of designing physical interactive artifacts for non-judgmental interaction: 1) designing aesthetic representations to match the properties of sensed biodata, 2) engaging rhythmic bodily interaction, 3) setting a quiet and proper space.Based on the Research through Design (RtD) process, in-situ studies and autobiographical design, I suggest externalizing bodily rhythms in aesthetic forms and designing non-judgmental interaction with physical interactive artifacts to hold people’s interest, anchor their attention and increase engagement, especially for novices to mindfulness practice. I put my designs into real use in certain settings (e.g. an everyday-use scenario in a home setting and mindfulness meditation group). This practice was intended to investigate how the designs could support people in experiencing their lived bodies mindfully, without conscious judgment, instrumental manipulation or goal-setting activities. Moreover, I shared the failures and insights from the practice for reflection and discussion. As a whole, this thesis attempted to explore the interaction of design with biodata for mindfulness, which might inspire future research.

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