A comprehensive human-centered design strategy leads to the first consumer-ready brain sensing technology.
Muse: the brain sensing headband is a daily use tool that helps you do more with your mind by training you to calm and settle your mind. Muse senses the activity of your brain, much like a heart rate monitor senses the activity of your heart muscles, and provides real-time feedback through a connected Android or iOS app. When the project started, we had a research prototype of the hardware and an algorithm that could detect and quantify the changes in brain state associated with focused attention exercises. Our UX team had to develop an application from the ground up which established a mental model that would help users understand and engage with the complexities of the technology while offering a positive user experience. We did all of this with a small team and limited resources applying user experience methodologies in unique and novel contexts. In one year, we analyzed UX data from 134 participants engaging with 62 product iterations in 21 user studies. We used collaborative design thinking exercises, lean UX processes, rapid iterative testing & evaluation, and long term journal studies. Our data shows that the resulting system helps people understand the technology (near 100% acceptance of our metaphor-based mental model), teaches people how to fit the headband and get good signal on the first try (over 90%), and offers an engaging and rewarding user experience that keeps them motivated. At the time of this submission, we’ve just started shipping and are thrilled with the positive response: “Muse is the first device that has the potential to bring brain enhancement to the masses. And that makes it the most important wearable innovation on the market this year.” - VentureBeat “Within two days of using Muse, I had my family and friends asking me what I was doing differently. [It’s] teaching me how to control my head, something I have never been able to do before.” - User Feedback
This is a story about a startup applying rigorous user experience methodology to help optimize a new and complicated technology platform for real people. Consumer-focused brain sensing technology is a completely new space. There are no human-centered best practices or interface design patterns for the hard challenges we faced in this project (for example, testing and designing features around EEG headband fit and signal quality). Our video submission highlights how we managed to keep users in the center of our process to find innovative solutions to these complex and novel problems. Our approach was comprehensive, including user research, design thinking exercises, requirements gathering, information architecture, lean UX sprints, rapid iterative testing/evaluation, and journal studies. We systematically analyzed all this research data and used it to shape how people perceive and experience every aspect of the product, making it more usable and relatable with every iteration. As a small startup, It’s important to note that we completed this project on very limited resources. We worked as a core team of 2, one product manager and one UX specialist. We recently hired an intern and also had occasional support along the way from colleagues and contractors. Since many tech startups ignore UX until it’s too late, it’s important that stories like ours reach the community to help evangelize the field. Our work is a shining example of how devoting early resources to a lean UX process can bridge the gap between innovative new startups and everyday life. Finally, consider how most technologies contribute to today’s always-connected, stressful world, where attention is constantly shifting, and users’ well-being is sacrificed for efficiency, organization and communication. Muse is in a much smaller category of digital products which truly embody user experience in a more philosophical way. Not simply improving a user’s experience while they engage with an externally-focused application, but actually improving the user’s daily experience of life beyond the product; in this case, by helping them manage stress and train their brain. As stated by a journalist after using the product for 10 days, “I found myself thinking about my calm levels even when the band wasn’t on. I think it’s in this awareness that Muse holds real value.”