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encouraging youth mindfulness


My capstone team worked with the Headspace for Educators Team to help encourage youth to spend more time on mindful activities.


Through a participatory design process, we researched what makes youth motivated to start healthy habits. We then developed and executed a week-long social media challenge that encouraged youth to practice small mindfulness activities everyday. We evaluated the effectiveness of our challenge and provided insights that the Headspace team can use for their future campaigns.

Tools: Figma, Mural, Instagram, Zoom


Skills: participatory design, interviews, surveys, visual design, social media marketing

Role: participatory design facilitator, interviewer, Instagram account owner, designer, overall contributor

Time: 20 weeks, Winter & Spring 2021


Headspace wants to encourage daily mindfulness practices among youth (ages 14-22) through channels outside of their app.


A week-long Instagram challenge to educate youth on mindfulness practices, encourage small behavior changes, and foster community.

2-minute video that describes the entire project




My team started by reviewing research and literature regarding youth and mental health, including findings from past Headspace campaigns. We wanted to build a foundational understanding of youth's daily routines, stressors, and perceptions of mental health, as well as what other digital solutions exist in this area.

We reviewed the findings from Headspace's Snapchat campaign.


Based on feedback from Headspace, we narrowed our research to understanding youth's daily routines, their existing mindfulness practices, and how they approach conversations about mental health. We developed an interview protocol that contained 15 main interview questions, and we conducted 16 virtual semi-structured interviews over two weeks. I participated in 7 of the interviews as an interviewer or notetaker.

We then created an affinity diagram to identify themes.

interview affinity diagram

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Talking with others isn’t so much to have them help you, but to use them as support to help you think through things.
Interview 1.png
Positive mental health is about being able to handle your issues and problems.
Interview 3.png
Going on YouTube or Netflix to watch like running away from my problems. But it helps to manage situations.

To see if our interview findings represented a larger population, we collected survey responses from diverse youth across the country. We received 95 responses and determined that 45 met our youth demographic criteria. We spread our survey through personal networks, Reddit, and local survey sharing Slack channels. 

Youth want to improve their mental health but don't make room for mindfulness activities in their daily routines.


We used quantitative and qualitative data analysis to review the surveys and interviews, and we presented our findings to the Headspace team. Our high level findings are presented below. Many of these findings weren't said explicitly by youth, but they were deduced by how participants described their actions and decision making.


We wanted our work to fill Headspace's knowledge gaps as much as possible, so we let their team determine which of the findings they wanted us to investigate further. Ultimately, we landed on further researching what motivates youth to engage in healthy habits. Once we understand this underlying motivation, we can determine how they might feel inspired to incorporate mindfulness into their lives.


85% of survey respondents expressed a desire to improve their mental health, but many can't find the motivation to take the first step.

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10/14 interviewees mentioned valuing social support when navigating issues, but 64.4% of survey respondents fear judgement.


88.9% of survey respondents agree that they like having a sense of control over their daily routines, and 93.4% agree that uncertainty of the future creates stress.

Social media

Although few consider it a mindful activity, nearly every interviewee uses technology and social media to escape stressors.

Partcipatory Design



We wanted to involve youth in our design process in order to create the most effective solution for them. We developed a participatory design session that included 8 of our former interview participants to further learn about what motivates their healthy habits. 

Our session took place over Zoom, and participants completed white boarding activities on Mural. I facilitated the entire session.

Mural Board

The Mural Board I set up for our session


We started with three brainstorming activities. These were intended to be general (not focused on mental health) to help users think about their existing habits. We applied their brainstorming to the topic of mental health in the main activities.

Brainstorming topics:

What makes you do an activity or habit? What makes you want to share your hobby or habit with others?

Think about a habit that you know is good but aren’t doing. What would motivate you to start practicing this?

[These questions help identify underlying motivations for picking up new activities and habits.]

How would you convince your friends to engage in the same habit?

[This question acknowledges the importance of social support in youth's lives and hints at how youth might encourage their peers to engage in mindfulness habits.]


Working off the warm-up brainstorming, we had participants complete four additional activities that would directly result in potential solutions. 

  1. Come up with the worst idea you can think of to tackle/improve on the habits you have selected. Come up with the best idea you can think of to tackle/improve on the habits you have selected. ​​[come up with extremes to think out of the box]

  2. Generate at least 8 ideas for how you might encourage yourself and others to engage in mindful activities. [come up with several actionable ideas]

  3. Work in pairs to discuss your ideas and build off of one of them. [sharing of perspectives to validate ideas]

  4. Share your idea with the group. Everyone votes on the three ideas they think are the most promising. [receive feedback from participants to identify which ideas we should move forward with]

Brainstormed Ideas-2.png

Some design features that motivate youth to pursue healthy habits


We analyzed our participatory design session and found 6 interesting findings, which are listed. One of the most important observations I made was that the majority of the motivators that youth brainstormed already exist in the Headspace app, like daily reminders, progress tracking, and social connection. Even though we gave all of our interview participants a code for free access to Headspace, only 1 of the 8 people in our participatory design session redeemed it.


This shows that Headspace as a standalone app is not a desirable solution for youth, and we need to figure out how we can motivate them to participate in mindfulness in other ways.


Youth prioritize other healthy habits over meditation.


Activities are the most attractive when they're fun, involve self-improvement, and/or can be completed with friends.


Youth want new habits to fit in with their existing lifestyle.


Headspace has most of the features that were ideated, but participants still don't want to use the app.


Youth are motivated to stick to habits when they can track their progress and there are rewards and/or friendly competition.


4/8 participants mentioned that they would like to see social media challenges.



Based on the participatory design session findings and ideas, we storyboarded 10 potential design directions. We then narrowed down our ideas to two promising mediums:

Social media

  • Challenges or trends to participate in

  • Short stories competition

  • Story-driven animated shorts

School Campaign

  • University newsletter mental health announcements and tips

  • Free meditation events on campus

  • Mindfulness kit distribution - stress balls, Headspace codes, playlists, plushies

my storyboards


We shared our two design categories with Headspace. They were most excited about increasing Headspace's social media presence. We ultimately chose to develop a 5-day social media challenge that incentivizes youth to incorporate mindfulness activities into their everyday routines. ​This solution aligns with Headspace's goals, my team's capabilities, and youth's motivators.

Instagram logo



Creating a social media challenge to address mental health was tricky. Youth made it clear that social media was the best way to reach them and raise awareness, but they also recognized it can be addicting and toxic. Further, youth feel incentivized to make change through prizes and competition, but mindfulness requires a clear intention to be effective. Our challenge had to find the balance between these competing factors to best serve the goals of our stakeholders. 

I listed a few of our considerations. Our decisions were informed by our goals, our research, and other social media challenges we've seen. The exact rules can be found on our Instagram page.

5 days

Five days aligns with the length of a school week and allows time to develop a habit without losing interest.


We had participants comment completion because it is a low barrier to participation and encourages interaction among participants.

We also offered the option for participants to DM us proof of their activity to maintain privacy.

3 prize incentives

Three instead of one prize creates more chances to win, which can increase participation.


We recruited participants through our department's Slack channel, our Instagram followers, and research participants. We started with a small sample size of participants (at least 20) to test our challenge before having Headspace conduct it on a much larger scale.

3 Daily Challenges

The Headspace app has 3 primary categories: move, sleep, and focus. Our daily challenges aligned with these categories.

Pre- and post-surveys

We asked participants to complete a survey before and after the challenge to measure the challenge completion rate and how their attitudes about mindfulness changed after participating.


My team created our own challenge content and designs. The challenges were inspired by past Headspace campaigns and suggestions. We developed copy that conveys a friendly and supportive voice, and we designed graphics for each challenge based on Headspace's branding. 

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Insta post on phone

our Instagram content


We successfully conducted our challenge from May 17-21, 2021. Everyday we posted one challenge post and one repost of existing Headspace content. I gained valuable experience running a challenge, interacting with followers, and creating unique content.

Some stats:

  • 43 Instagram followers

  • 21 Instagram participants

  • 14 participants met challenge completion criteria

  • 117 total entries


of participants reported being more likely to practice mindfulness on a regular basis after the challenge



This project was extremely valuable for practicing research, marketing, and stakeholder communication. We started with the generalized goal to encourage youth to practice mindfulness, and with several research methods and participatory design, my team was able to uncover the deeper, unspoken problem that motivation is a primary barrier. We would not have been able to come to this conclusion without co-desiging with youth, and it showed the importance of involving users in every step of the design process when possible. 

It was also refreshing to work on a design solution outside of an app. As much as I wanted to practice UX design, that's not what this project called for. It was a good challenge to find a way to use social media as a solution to the problem it helps cause. Plus, I really enjoyed practicing outreach and marketing techniques.

Unlike most school projects, we worked with outside stakeholders. I practiced working with clients, and I enjoyed determining how to balance business goals with design practices. I'm excited that our findings will be used by the Headspace team and that our social media challenge positively impacted our followers. This project was rewarding from both a design and social impact standpoint, and I'm proud of the work that was accomplished.

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Visual Design


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