An Heuristic Evaluation of Calm (Meditation App)

I love the Calm app. I’ve tried Headspace a few times, but Calm is actually more my cup of tea. Why?

Calm has actually helped me build a habit of meditating. Each day, I look forward to meditating. I now consider myself a student of meditation, rather than a dabbler.

It’s not all because of the app. Other changes in life have shaped my current interests. But you can say that I am now relying on Calm to complement my practice — more so than any other tool.

I wanted to understand why I like this tool so much, from the vantage point of Jakob Nielsen’s usability heuristics. Is the user experience so exceptional that I don’t even notice it?

I’ll lift up some key screens to analyze how well each heuristic shows up.

Visibility of System Status

Can I easily get feedback on what’s going on?

In the audio screen, I know how long I’ve listened to any recording.

The loading indicator shows up in consistently the same place, size, and animation style.

Match between System and the Real World

Can I understand the language easily?

Everything sounds simple. For example, when you open the app, you see an invitation to “take a deep breath.” That’s straightforward. It’s not saying something intimidating, like “tap into your beginner’s mind.”

Another example: The bottom navigation bar highlights what I as a user can easily access. The titles are straightforward: For You, Sleep, Meditate, Music, and More.

It’s not something like: Zen Out, Uujayi, Qigong, or Chakra Session. That might suit another type of user, one who wants to practice in specific schools of meditation.

The “More” section also buckets sessions into multiple collections. Again, all of them have straightforward names, except for “The Spark”. It seems like they tried to solve for the ambiguity of that name by placing it at the top, even above “Check-Ins”. Once you tap into “The Spark” there are several sub-headers that reveal mini talks about topics such as Productivity, Humor, and Wisdom.

User Control and Freedom

Can I easily move around the app?

Sometimes I quit meditation sessions, more frequently than I’d want to admit. Sometimes I just want to sit in silence, because the instructor’s voice can feel intrusive rather than guiding. Thankfully, it’s easy to quit a session, or choose a new one.

Still, there are a couple things I’d do differently.

  1. I want to be able to skip around lessons in a series (e.g., “7 Days of Happiness”). I know there is a logical sequence that they’d prefer you to use. But, the point is, right now there isn’t the option to break out of the sequence. What if I’m most interested in hearing about “Prioritize Your Health”, because lately that has been my interest? What if I have zero interest in “Live in the Now”? Too bad. Because I will need to listen to that one before I can proceed down the list. So I close the app, feeling that this happiness challenge is not for me.
  2. To exit the audio player, I can do one of two things: 1) Tap the down arrow in the upper left, or 2) Tap the square shape in the bottom right. Both lead you back to the previous page. First, It’s less intuitive for me to see a down arrow to represent “back” or “exit.” A left arrow might feel more intuitive. Second, I don’t see why there are two different ways to stop the session, when they both lead to the same result.

Consistency and Standards

With this app, I see that both language and layout patterns are employed consistently. There’s a consistent navigation hierarchy, component dimensions, and animation behavior.

Additionally, there are two transitions: lateral movement represents choosing a new series. Vertical movement represents entering or exiting an audio session.

Error Prevention

I couldn’t find anything related to error prevention.

Recognition Rather than Recall

The home page contains the next session in the series that I’ve started, such as “Daily Trip with Jeff Warren.” This helps me remember where I left off. I don’t need to note it in a separate journal.

Additionally, there is a “Weekly Streak” session which shows me the days I’ve done meditation.

NICE TO HAVE: I’d like to option of exiting a session, listening to a new session, and then returning to the previous session in the same spot where I left off.

Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

There is ample room for me to move in and out of sessions. I can smoothly enter and exit the various types of audio sessions.

However, there is one flaw: if I’m playing music on another app (e.g., Endel), I can’t keep listening to that if I switch to Calm. This isn’t a dealbreaker. You’d expect a Calm user to listen to meditations and other recordings. However, I’d prefer if they paused my previous music only when I play a Calm session. It feels inflexible to have my music cut off when I haven’t even started any actions in the app.

Aesthetic and Minimalist Design

The moving landscapes are the signature aesthetic feature of Calm. You can choose among a vast collection of “Scenes” such as “Flying Above the Clouds” or “Moving Cloudbreak.” I haven’t changed the default Scenes myself, but I appreciate the underlying intention, which seems to be about offering the user a way to “tap into” nature.

Nature as a guiding visual language for Calm makes intuitive sense; yet, nature as an aesthetic is rare in the meditation tech marketplace. With Headspace and Balance, for example, the visual language involves flat, vibrant illustrations.

Nature can easily be cliche, yet it’s woven into almost every aspect of Calm in a cohesive and appealing way.

Recognize, Diagnose, and Recover from Errors

I often put my phone into airplane mode, so the error I see the most is when the app isn’t connected to the Internet.

Help and Documentation

The help page does take a few taps to access. It isn’t integrated into the app. Instead, the “Help & Support” button links you to the support site.

Observations on living and working 🔅 Senior Motion Designer at Planned Parenthood // bytanchan.com