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THE TIME FOR
AWARENESS IS NOW

Solios X Ken Seeno — Director, Product Design at Headspace

Ken Seeno is the Director of Product Design at Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app created to help users get healthier and happier.

Solios met with him to discuss the importance of awareness – of yourself, of the objects in your life, and of the world around you – when your goal is to design for meaning.


Over the course of his design journey, Ken Seeno has given a lot of thought to the choices he could make, the various forks in the road, and the pathways he could take. At different points in time, he might have pursued a career in music, or in interior design, or at Facebook. But he can easily pinpoint the moment when he realized he needed to design for meaning.

 

“I was at this design agency, and someone came in to tell us we would be helping a fast food brand become a family restaurant. And that’s fine. But it wasn’t for me. It’s not something I wake up in the morning wanting to do.”

 

He needed to find something he was so passionate about, and so excited by, that he could think about it and work on it tirelessly, without ever getting bored or annoyed or frustrated. Luckily, after turning down that Facebook opportunity, he found a challenge he could devote himself to, day in, day out, at Headspace.

 

“I found the problem we’re trying to solve, which is to have this meaningful impact on the health and happiness of the world, endlessly fascinating, because it’s totally immaterial, right? I’ve been working on the same product, iteratively, for five years. That’s quite a long time. I feel like a design monk, literally doing the same thing over and over.”

Over the course of his design journey, Ken Seeno has given a lot of thought to the choices he could make, the various forks in the road, and the pathways he could take. At different points in time, he might have pursued a career in music, or in interior design, or at Facebook. But he can easily pinpoint the moment when he realized he needed to design for meaning.

 

“I was at this design agency, and someone came in to tell us we would be helping a fast food brand become a family restaurant. And that’s fine. But it wasn’t for me. It’s not something I wake up in the morning wanting to do.”

 

He needed to find something he was so passionate about, and so excited by, that he could think about it and work on it tirelessly, without ever getting bored or annoyed or frustrated. Luckily, after turning down that Facebook opportunity, he found a challenge he could devote himself to, day in, day out, at Headspace.

 

“I found the problem we’re trying to solve, which is to have this meaningful impact on the health and happiness of the world, endlessly fascinating, because it’s totally immaterial, right? I’ve been working on the same product, iteratively, for five years. That’s quite a long time. I feel like a design monk, literally doing the same thing over and over.”

THE BLURRING OF DESIGN AND LIFE

Ken joined Headspace in 2016, but was first exposed to meditation in 2008. In fact, his second solo album as a musician, Invisible Surfer on an Invisible Wave, was named after something his meditation teacher once told him during a class.

 

To this day, Ken is drawn to a digital experience whose value is in the mind. “How do you evaluate if someone feels better after using Headspace? How do you track if the product is actually working? And how do you trust someone when they say ‘yeah, it worked?’ It’s not a pizza delivery app. You can’t see the end result, you can’t touch it. But people write in to tell us these amazing things about the app, how it’s helped them through hard times, and it’s amazing to have these experiences with people through technology. It’s pretty rare.”

 

Ken is also enthralled by tools that help him stay present. He loves to say that Headspace is the app that tells you to put your phone down and do nothing. It’s also what he likes about watches.

In fact, Ken has two design dreams. One is to design something for IKEA. “They have these white, $10 curtains that purify the air. To me, that’s incredibly exciting and mundane and beautiful.” The other is to design a watch. “They have so much built into them in terms of history and culture, and they’re such an integral part of the evolution of humankind. The fact that we created this design system that helps us all connect to something bigger; that’s my favorite design challenge, to create something greater than the sum of its parts.”

 

But in this day and age, the question is: Why wear a watch when your phone can tell time, too?

“Because you don’t want to look at your phone all the time. You don’t need all of that. You just need to know where you are and what time it is, and to connect back to the present moment. Our phones are inherently distracting and exciting and our minds want to interact with them. But a watch can give you back those small moments throughout the day, and if you add them up, you have something valuable there.”

One of his favorite books of all time is The Blurring of Art and Life by Allan Kaprow. Ken brings it up because it ties back directly to what he loves about his work: The blurring of art and life, of design and life, of tech and life. “I like design that exists in the real world. Something you live with, that helps you in your everyday life. It doesn’t exist in a gallery, or in a vacuum. It’s almost invisible. And Headspace appeals to that interest.”

MEET MORE CHANGEMAKERS LIKE KEN SEENO

In a short series of articles, we met with different changemakers to understand their point of view on: designing with purpose.

Javier Verdura , director of product design at tesla, shares his point of view on impactful design

“[Watches] have so much built into them in terms of history and culture, and they’re such an integral part of the evolution of humankind. ”

-Ken Seeno

NOTHING IS EXEMPT FROM SUSTAINABILITY

 

The impact Headspace hopes to have is on the wellbeing of people on the planet. That’s huge and ambitious, but it makes the relationship between mindfulness and sustainability more direct than one might think. To be mindful is to be aware. If you have an awareness of the world around you, then you’re likely to have an inherent interest in sustainability and your impact on the environment.

 

“I feel like you can’t really not have an interest in sustainability at this point. It’s too important to ignore. The stakes are too high. It’s one of the reasons I was excited about meeting the founders of Solios. It’s the first, if not the only, B Corp watch company, which is so cool. It goes to show that nothing’s exempt from sustainability. It may be hard, but there’s a way to do it.”

 

It works the other way around, too: No matter what practice, relationship, or project you want to improve, it often starts with yourself. Headspace is a way to do that: To fill your cup, or put on your own oxygen mask first, so you can in turn help people and the planet. That’s not to say that meditation can, in and of itself, help us address the climate crisis. But it plays a role in how we react to the news, and it can help us gather our thoughts and channel our feelings into positive action.

 

“At Headspace, we like to remind ourselves that we’re part of the world, and that means we’re part of both the problem and the solution. If you’re sitting in traffic, thinking ‘I wish this traffic would go away’, you’re also the traffic. I think that awareness of interconnectedness makes a difference,” adds Ken.

DESIGN IS INEXTRICABLE FROM IMPACT

 

Design, too, can play a role in changing the world, for better or worse. But what is good design? “It’s up for debate,” says Ken. “But more and more, I’m talking to designers who see positive impact on people as table stakes for good design. One of the most terrifying designs in my view is a gun. It’s an incredibly effective design, but to me, it’s inextricable from its impact.”

 

“I think the next generation is going to be looking for sustainable design,” he continues. “They’re redefining their relationship to objects, and putting the objects that fill their lives and their homes under more scrutiny. One object at a time, are we making the world a better place or are we making it worse?”

 

Of course, we at Solios are driven by the same question: How do we make sure everything we design has a lasting positive impact on the world?

UNKNOWN POSSIBILITIES

As a guitar aficionado, it’s no surprise that Ken brings up music one last time: “There’s a resurgence of people wanting to sit down and listen to a vinyl record, even though they have all the albums in the world at their fingertips.”

And why is that? Why this increased interest in the analog? “I think it’s the same as watches. I see it as the combination of new technology and old analog. It’s the best of both worlds, and I hope we see more examples of it, because there’s something about that experience that is really enriching and exciting,” says Ken.

 

MEET MORE CHANGEMAKERS LIKE KEN SEENO

In a short series of articles, we met with different changemakers to understand their point of view on: designing with purpose.

In this article Sam & Alex share with us how sustainable design can be easy on the planet, but also, easy on the eye.

He continues: “It’s one of the reasons I find Solios watches so cool. It’s an interesting union of technology, design, impact, and purpose. I’ve never seen that in a watch and I honestly wasn’t aware that it was possible.”

 

That matches his hopes for the future, too. “I want to leave the future open to new possibilities. That’s been one of the cool surprises about Solios coming to me: It’s made me aware of new possibilities that I would never have arrived at on my own. To know is to close yourself off from possibility. I’m excited about the unknown, about trying something, seeing what comes back and responding to that, as opposed to having it all figured out.”  

Solios is all about thoughtful design

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