After four years of daily mindfulness meditation, my favorite meditation app suddenly stopped working. The developer had retired the app years earlier, and finally, iOS updates had killed its ability to function.
What I enjoyed most about the meditation app was its simplicity. The app consisted of a timer, simple statistics about the user's meditation practice, and the ability to customize things like sit time, delay time, reminders, and notes. Wanting a new app to pair with my daily meditation practice, I set out to see what was on the market.
The vast majority of meditation apps, I discovered, cost money. Either a subscription to the app, a one-time fee to download it, or a pay-to-play model where you could only use the app in a certain way unless you're willing to pay to unlock other functionality.
As an independent app developer, I understand the importance of app builders making a profit to support their work. But as a meditation practitioner, I believe mindfulness shouldn't be something you have to pay for. (Ok, it's a bit dramatic to say it this way, but the point is that meditation trackers can be helpful to practitioners, and there should be free options to support mindfulness.) The more than 60,000 users who gave the previous simplistic meditation timer app I used five stars seemed to agree.
The best form of mindfulness meditation is sitting quietly with yourself and your thoughts; that's it. Yet, many mindfulness applications need help with usability and are full of superfluous features like voiceovers or background sounds as their primary feature. I needed a straightforward app: a meditation timer I could carry with me to meditate, monitor my daily practice, and give myself daily reminders. So I set out to create my ideal solution by mocking up explorations on the iPad and in Sketch on my Mac. I began by creating user journey maps to visualize common meditation experiences I discovered online, in meditation forums and groups.
The concept for the app began with the idea of centering one's self. I experimented with having several circles animate, fade out, expand, or contract to the center of the screen. Landing on a metaphorical delay animation in which once a session begins, the rotating circles in the main screen pause their rotation and slowly move inward before the meditation starts. This animation creates a calming reflection of the real purpose of the meditation: to not push away everything around us but to focus it instead inward.
I tested and evaluated some of my decisions for the interface by sharing concepts and early versions of the app with other meditators. In Facebook groups and Slack communities, I connected with other mindfulness practitioners to see what they wanted from apps to support their rituals.
I would email screenshots or prototype videos to people I met on Twitter or in Facebook groups or hand a device with the app's demo to acquaintances in real life to get feedback and input. After a few weeks of development, the app was released in the App Store, then featured in meditation sites and journals, the meditation subreddit, and other online places.
Today Center proudly shines with nearly 500 app store reviews, a 4.7-star rating, and an average of 5,000 meditation sessions each month.