NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 40


Design For Health: Generative Visualization For Anxiety Reduction

Emily Verba Fischer

In societies where productivity is prioritized over  presence, anxiety abounds. The extensive and alarming effects of anxiety on the mental and physiological wellbeing of university students inspired a cross-disciplinary team to to tackle this problem using design research methods. Using combined expertise in visual design, music technology, psychology, art therapy, and mindfulness, a digital tool entitled “Modes” was born. 
The “Modes” digital tool is an atmospheric, introspective, and aesthetically sophisticated engagement of three senses: sight, hearing, and touch. Through immersive interaction, mesmerizing visual and sound landscapes are generated in order to reduce anxiety in university students. The “Modes” experience also possesses an inherent entertainment value — this is essential for keeping users engaged and delighted.The two measurable outcomes of “Modes” are the reduction of self- reported anxiety and the reduction of student heart rates.  
Interacting with “Modes” is like playing in a sand-box of dynamic visuals and sounds. Users begin by selecting and entering one of three digital environments entitled Refocus, Chill, or Energize. Each environment (or mode) offers a unique set of visuals and sounds designed specifically for anxiety reduction.The design rationale and functionality of the three modes are rooted in tenets of mindfulness practice and Ayurveda, the 5,000-year- old healing system founded in ancient India. According to Ayurveda, the body is dynamic and constantly transforming. It teaches that consciousness (listening to one’s body and making informed decisions) gives rise to human perception. The Refocus, Chill, and Energize modes aim to balance the three energies of Ayurveda that govern physiological activity. Basically, users can combat and control their anxiety in three targeted ways, depending on how they feel at any given moment. 

The visual design methodology of “Modes” utilizes two primary considerations: color theory and circles. Within the “Modes” experience, color plays a strong role in guiding people towards achieving balance and reducing anxiety. Three characteristics of color are utilized within each digital environment’s representation. These three characteristics include hue, “a property of color that represents the generic names of family groups within the visible spectrum (Puhalla, 2011, p. 62),” saturation, “brightness, or color intensity” (Albers, 1963, p.16), and value, a color’s lightness or darkness (Puhalla, 2011, p. 62). The second consideration of the “Modes” visual design methodology is the circle. The shapes within the “Modes” experience are decisively constrained to circular and spherical. The circle is the perfect vessel to assist with the reduction of anxiety— there is no beginning and no end in a circle; it is a neutral shape.“The circle is the first, perfect shape… The space speaks of potential — the tension between what is achieved and what could be achieved. From the circle, we derive ideals and focus, both the halo of saints and the cross-haired target in gun sights (Gestalten, 2008, p. 11).” The circles within “Modes” multiply and employ different behaviors based on user interaction, or gestures. These gestures include tap, hold, swipe, draw, pinch, and reverse pinch. The combination of the variable design elements — color and circles — activated by user interaction output a plethora of new and exciting media content each time a user engages with “Modes”. 

Additionally, the sound design methodology of “Modes” consists of two parts: music composition and interactive frequency. The music composition is the foundation that guides a user’s quest for achieving balance and reducing anxiety. Throughout the composition process, three sound elements became dominant within each environment’s representation. These three elements include: timbre, “the quality given to a sound by its overtones, distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument (Webster, 1996),” melody, “a sweet or agreeable succession or arrangement of sounds (Webster, 1996),” and rhythm, “the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak melodic and harmonic beats (Kariger, 1995).” Since each environment requires different properties for achieving balance, the timbre, melody and rhythm are written specifically for these properties. The composition in each environment becomes the glue — or the guiding track — for keeping users engaged in the experience. The carefully considered elements of timbre, melody and rhythm combine as the vehicle that drives users through the “Modes” sound journey. 

“Modes” currently exists as a digital application for iOS devices. However, it is also under development for interactive environmental contexts. The “Modes” interactive space will connect community through generative co-composition of visuals and sounds. Bringing the “Modes” experience into a public space in a bustling city center will broaden the user-base past university students. Ayurveda teaches that understanding how the basic elements of nature are expressed in our individual constitution enables us to make better choices to maximize health and wellness. The visual design and sound design of the three carefully designed balancing environments within “Modes” answer the optical and aural demands to create anxiety reduction in users. “Modes” accomplishes this through color (hue, saturation and value), the repeated and decisive use of the circle, music composition (including timbre, melody and rhythm), and interactive frequencies. The attention to visual design harmony and sound design harmony within the “Modes” experience ultimately correlates to the creation of harmony within the mind and body in order to reduce anxiety.

Albers, Josef. (1963). Interaction of Color. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Kariger, B., & Fierro, D. (1995). Rhythm. Retrieved January 2, 2017, from:
Puhalla, Ph.D, Dennis M. (2011). Design Elements: Form & Space. Beverly, MA: Rockport. 
Webster, N., Merriam, G., & Merriam, C. (1996). Definition of Melody. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from:
Webster, N., Merriam, G., & Merriam, C. (1996). Definition of Timbre. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from:

Emily Verba Fischer

(b. 1982) is an Ohio native who returned to the Midwest after receiving her master's degree from the Basel School of Design. Prior to her studies in Switzerland, she lived and practiced design for a variety of corporate and cultural clients in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and the French Alps. Through these international experiences, she developed a teaching approach that emphasizes the concept of global citizenry in addition to design acuity. She believes that maximizing understanding of other cultures through interpersonal connection and the shared language of design can create a more empathic world for all. Emily is currently an Assistant Professor at the Myron E. Ullman, Jr. School of Design in the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). She frequently travels abroad to share her research and pedagogical activities. Her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications nationally and internationally.

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