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Beyond the px — Headspace’s François Chartrand on design, mindfulness and music

It’s becoming increasingly important for not only designers, but everyone who stares at a computer all day to look after our health.

This isn’t limited to running 5km once a week, or increasing your water intake throughout the day, but looking after our minds and overall wellbeing.

Team yoga is picking up as a ‘must have’ work perk and we’re seeing a shift, especially in the tech scene, from after work drinks to lunch hour workouts. It’s this shift that demonstrates a opportunity for companies like Headspace to capitalise on our awareness of the necessity to look after ourselves.

I caught up with Headspace designer François Chartrand 🌞, who lives and breathes both wellness and design in his work, and we chewed the pixel over everything from design hacks to work-life balance.


The floor is yours François, how did you get into design?

I grew up in a small mining town in northern Canada. Lots of beautiful nature, long winters and hot summers.
I completed a Masters Degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, USA. It was a very unique experience, going through both the CA and US systems. I’m thankful I had that opportunity.
I grew up skateboarding and listening to punk rock: Minor Threat, Black Flag, Cro-Mags, etc. I loved Ed Templeton’s art and recently had the opportunity to meet him.
That kind of adolescence led to me discovering design and I never considered another path after that.
Sudbury, Canada — Photo: Richard Munn

What does your typical morning look like?

I wake up around 8 a.m. and try not to reach for my phone (always a struggle).
Lately I’ve been messing around with cryptocurrency and it’s seriously addictive. I’m working on stepping away and practicing patience with that.
In the mornings, I try to take time to practice gratitude… for health, family, my dog Pomme, and fiancée Terrie. I truly believe that waking up every day is a gift and am conscious that one day I won’t.
I know it sounds dark, but it’s very positive and motivating for me.
After getting ready, I drive on the freeway and head to Santa Monica to the Headspace HQ.
Mornings here are quiet. I’ll make myself a latte and settle in, have some chats, work on my projects until our morning meditation at 10am.

Does design inform your approach to fashion, music and outlook on life?

I would say my life aspirations have affected my career. Growing up skateboarding and yearning for the endless summers of California — here I am.
Idolizing artists of all types and finding interest in craft — I create things every day.
I have trouble picking colors and fonts — my entire closet is black and white.

Do you think your friends could describe your job?

My non-designer friends would say ‘designing apps and websites’.
That’s what I always tell the Lyft drivers.
Moving to LA from Canada and not knowing anyone here means I haven’t made many friends outside of my colleagues at Headspace.
I like to keep the circle small.
Part of my 2018 resolutions is to spend more time on relationships that are meaningful.

Were you into mindfulness before Headspace?

Before using Headspace, I was very stressed at work, unsure of many aspects of my life, and needed to consider where I was heading.
I started using the app as a possible solution for the stress and anxiety, which led me to reconsider my career and plan a move out to the West Coast.
After a year of being in Los Angeles, things lined up and I joined the Headspace team!
It was kind of kismet.

What does your design stack look like?

Paper, pencil and a whiteboard for ideation and sketching.
Sketch as a primary tool, Abstract for version control and libraries, and InVision for lo-fi prototyping.

Do you have any core design principles?

• Listen (shut your laptop during meetings)
• Do your research
• Have a vision (moodboard, Pinterest, whatever works)
• Be intentional (answer the ‘why’)
• Get into the right mindset for creativity (meditate, walk, listen to music)
• Ideate without judgement
• Always start from a place of curiosity. Even the most mundane tasks have a golden nugget to be discovered
• Be thankful you get to design for a living

Mindfulness is a personal activity. How does this inform Headspace’s approach to users, onboarding and design in general?

Accessibility is really important to us, and we’re working on making sure our app works for everyone regardless of disability.
When it comes to onboarding and everything outside of the app, we’re designing for new users.
We have a wall at our office that is dedicated to posting up comments users send in. That type of qualitative research combined with quantitative work our Design Research and Data Analysts do really helps us.
Aside from this, we regularly interview users in-person or online. It’s a constant process of learning.

With the personal nature of meditation, how do you ensure trust?

Trust is something that is gained long-term, and once lost is very difficult to maintain.
I believe our approach to meditation and mindfulness, delivered by Andy Puddicombe and rooted in Tibetan practice definitely helps — and it’s up to our team to ensure that promise is delivered all the way to the end-user.
There’s no formal process, aside from collaborating cross-discipline and designing optimal experiences that continue to maintain that good will.

How do you design ‘for the future’ of mindfulness, without being cliche?

By considering the competitive landscape, emerging technologies, design trends, and knowing these are all inputs, not an answer to what we should do.
We must ensure that we continue to carve our own path.
We’re Headspace — not your average meditation app.

Finally, do you have any advice would for people wanting to kick start a design career in mindfulness?

Empathy is important in all aspects of design, but it’s extremely important in the world of mindfulness.
Users could be going through some very dark moments in their lives, and they’ve put their trust in you to lead them down the right path.
As for practical advice, perhaps starting with a health and wellness startup or something adjacent to help get you familiar with the space.

Whether it’s through your approach to meetings, or your morning routine, François Chartrand believes there’s room for mindfulness in all aspects of our lives, with tangible benefits.

Why not make 2018 the year you take 5 minutes a day to reflect, take stock, and appreciate that as designers, we’re extremely fortunate to be working in the space.

François has previously written an in depth approach to mindful design over on the Headspace blog, have a read and learn how to bring mindfulness into your everyday routines.

See you next time.

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