indstury sponsored
interaction design
product management

Designing a body-oriented meditative VR interaction to help VR users to learn and practice Zen meditation

Roles & Responsibilities

Designer: brainstormed and interaction sketched
Product Manager: identified market needs, scoped and aligned the needs with stakeholders
Researcher: planned and conducted survey, user interview, expert interview, group evaluation and heuristic evaluation

Project Context

Time: 16 weeks
Team: Jiaxi Yang

Tools Used



Project Overview


Zen VR is a virtual reality meditation classroom, with a curated curriculum lessons and a virtual teacher to guide you through the process of learning meditation. These classes are all seat medication. Our task is to create 1-2 meditative VR interactions that are outside of the classroom.


Design a body-oriented meditation VR interaction to help VR experts who are interests in mindfulness to practice Zen meditation.



We have created a peaceful rowing activity that changes the light according to the progression.




literature review
market research
synthesizing existing research
expert interview
user interview




group evaluation
user testing
heuristic evaluation



Literature review

To begin our research, we want to answer two research questions
RQ1:   What makes meditation activities meditative?
RQ2:   What meditation activities are better suited for VR?

We read about 15 research on meditation and found out there are multiple ways to meditate, and different components make meditative activities make them meditative. We created a summary chart on different times of the meditation and came in consensus on what meditation means for our project.

“Meditation as a series of changing state of attention, affection, awareness.”

Market research

From the literature review, we were able to categorize existing meditation apps according to their level of body-orientation and activation. We learned that there are a lot of research and existing platform that caters visual concentration, mindful observation, affected-centered medication and contemplation. However, there were not sufficient body-centered meditation or meditation with movement platforms. We want to hone in on this under explored realm of the meditation.

Zen expert interview

We interviewed a Zen Tea ceremony instructor in order to understand the flow of other meditative activities, and get feedback from instructor’s perspective on Zen practice and meditation. We found out Zen practice always end with the same starting stage. Zen practice is not about making permanent change, and rather a concentration on current moment and that moment only. We were also gather some design ideas such as changes in color of the scenery, starting out the scene with black and white, and as the users move along, the scene becomes colorful. And general slow gradual progression by adding an element one at a time as users proceed.

Semi-structured user interviews

After synthesizing the existing persona and user interviews, we realized there is a lack of research of the new users who will use the platform. We have decided our target users are expert VR users who are interested in meditation since there is a big motivation and learning curve on how to user VR headsets. We conducted 30 minute remote interviews with 4 target users in order to answer 3 research questions.

RQ1:   What are motivations and distractions from the VR experience?
RQ2:   What aspects of VR makes users feel relaxed?
RQ3:   What meditation activities do they practice?

Key findings and design implications

01. Users seek both excitement and relaxation while playing VR
-> Feeling calm and at peace

02. Users enjoy immersing in impressive visuals with ambient sound
-> Complimentary to the ZenVR classroom visual aesthetics

03. Users start to feel uncomfortable after 25 minutes
->Activity should be less than 15 minutes long

04. Users with motion sickness might have lower tolerance
-> Mitigating motion sickness

05. Unnatural UI or interaction distracts users from immersive experience
-> Gentle and natural cues on interactions

06. Physically-oriented practices such as yoga and breathing are the most preferred meditation methods
-> Create a body-oriented meditative activity

07. Focusing on one thing is a key element and challenge to relaxation
->Fully concentrate on each moment



Brainstorming top 3 ideas

After two brainstorming sessions, we were able to gather our top 3 design ideas all based on the design implications. Then I sketched the interactions in order to visualize them. We presented them to the stakeholders and decided to move forward with the rowing action since the implementation seemed the most straightforward and had more creativity freedom on the designing the scene.

Top design 1: Rowing

Simple repeating rowing motion with a serene scenery change. Ambient sound and wave sound while touching the water.

Top design 2: Calligraphy

Copying a calligraphy (shodō) motion with brush stroke sound. It is set within traditional calligraphy with brushes, ink stone, and grind ink. Users have to grind the ink on the ink stone and follow the brush stroke with a certain lengths to draw a character. When they are done with characters, it displays a Zen related haiku that contains the character.

Top design 3: Juzu counting

Counting the buddhist prayer beads (juzu) on the beat of the wooden fish. Each beads have different counting rhythm so that users have to concentrate on the beat as well as as walking circles with other Zen practitioners. They are situated outside of the temple and walking in lines with each other.

Concept sketches

We presented them to the stakeholders and decided to move forward with the rowing action since the implementation seemed most feasible within the timeframe and had more creativity freedom on the designing the scene.



Iteration 1

My team mate implemented the scenery in Unity while I looked for assets such as audio files and different modelings that we can incorporate.



Group evaluation

We had a group evaluations of 6 users on the first impression of the design and things they wanted to see. Due to pandemic, this was done remotely by showing them clip of the interaction and live demonstration of the scene. We found out that users loved the scene and color scheme, and felt very relaxed and at peace. Based on the findings, we were able to improve and iterate on our first prototype.

01. Users want to see visual and sensory hint on my progress
-> Change the colors of the sky to indicate the time passing and progression
-> Change the ambient sound with progression

02. Users want an option for a less physically demanding activity
-> Reconsider calligraphy and Juzu counting activities

03. Users want an introduction to the interaction before getting on the boat
-> Implementing how-to guide before entering the scene

04. More dynamic elements are needed
-> Add moving birds, clouds, other boats
-> Add more heptic feedback while rowing
-> Add ripples from rowing

05. Flexibility on using only one controller for accessibility
-> Options to choose how many controllers to use

07. Mitigation on motion sickness
-> Lessen the water wave
-> Adjust the boat's speed

Heuristic evaluation

After we made our second iterations, we presented the scene to the stakeholders. We highlighted the added the dynamic elements, motion sickness mitigation, and visual progression on the scene. We reduced the polygon counts per stakeholders' request as well. Then we proceeded with Heuristic evaluation with 6 users, 1 VR expert, 2 Rowing expert, and 3 interaction experts. We used the 6 evaluation criteria with severity rating 0-4: Synchrony with body movement, Natural engagement, Immersion, Sense of presence, Glitchiness, Mental comfort, Physical comfort.

01. Synchrony with body movement had the highest severity rating of 1.6. This was due to the lack of torso of the user which created some confusion.
02. Natural engagement had the highest severity rating of 1.5, and they suggested to improve on the feedback/resistance on each paddle pull to determine the speed, visual feedback of splashing water when rowing, and smoother hand grabbing
03. Sense of presence had 1.16 rating and is related to the feedback and resistance on natural engagement. Users wanted to determine the speed of the boat depending on the rowing force.

Other criteria had 1 or less than 1 severity ratings which indicates that our scene was successful on the immersion, glitchness, mental comfort and physical comfort.

“Feels like I’m on my way to Heaven”



We gave them the final presentations on our process and the final scene, and created a project wiki documentations. It includes literature reviews findings, interview findings, future implementation ideas, asset, and the Unity file. ZenVR has implemented the interaction within their program.



It was my first time creating a VR interaction, and it definitely had a big learning curve, and a great challenge. I'm very thankful for my team mate Jiaxi who is a Unity Guru and the supportive stakeholders who helped us scope and move forward with right directions.

I also learned that testing and evaluating VR is very different from the research that I have done so far. Being in pandemic didn't help it, but we found a new way to test and evaluate the VR interactions. I hope more research papers come out on how to test them remotely.

Personally, it was great to interview the Zen expert and learn more about the practices, and incorporate the Asian aesthetics into a project.


© 2022 by sue reon kim