What is user wellness: going beyond user experience

A holistic approach to designing digital experiences empowering user wellbeing


Varsha Vydyula

3 years ago | 5 min read


This article begins with giving an idea of what UX design and research are and how we can make User Wellness part of our digital experience development workflow.

A brief background of UX design

The term user experience is simply ones experience with a digital product or service. This experience is designed informed by research from the end users perspective. Users are studied based on demographic, in what context they will use these products and services and what requirements they need met through this experience.

User research also involves an in-depth study of the industry, market trends and business goals. The idea is to balance user needs and business goals and metrics to design successful products and services.

How we conduct UX research has also changed over the years. The research process was time consuming and expensive and this used to put off many companies from conducting this important step.

Nowadays UX research has become more of a habitual ongoing process and is not a big time and budgetary concern. There are many tools like the ones mentioned in this resource from UX booth to easily conduct ongoing research alongside product development.

Good UX research practice encourages you to understand the problem from the users perspective. To start with the Why and allow user research to guide us to the solution. The market research and specifically user research guides us ever step of the way to design delightful user centered experiences.

Everyone is obsessed with the Design Thinking process and rightly so, because it’s proven to get better solutions than previous methods like brainstorming or six hats. Design thinking incorporates parts of of these methods early on in its ideation phase.

The Challenge

The entire premise of UX research hinges on one fundamental assumption: Users know what they need either explicitly or implicitly. We are currently basing our entire digital experience design model based on this one assumption.

For example; increased screen time has been linked to progressively lowered psychological well-being and physical deterioration. Given the digital media consumption fatigue across the board for users with extremely successful social media products tells us that maybe users don’t always know what’s best for them.

Users might think they need easy scrolling on apps like instagram and easy product recommendations on sites like Amazon and these needs might fit well the organization goals for the companies but does catering to these needs really lead to better quality design?

The need for User Wellness

We need to design evergreen and empowering experiences for users versus immediately gratifying user needs just because they align with business goals.

The Ethical Design Manifesto from 2017 highlighted the importance of this subject. The study used Maslows hierarchy of human needs to iterate the importance of designing digital experiences that respects human rights and diversity.

“ Technology that respects human rights is decentralized, peer-to-peer, zero-knowledge, end-to-end encrypted, free and open source, interoperable, accessible, and sustainable. It respects and protects your civil liberties, reduces inequality, and benefits democracy.”

Based on my research, I designed my own checklist version of how to design for holistic user wellness based on Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

User Wellness Research Model

Maslow’s Hierarchy model in the context of User Wellness.

Physiological needs: This need caters to the basic physical needs of user wellness.

We need to make digital experiences accessible to users with different levels of diversity.

E.g. See this great resource for Accessibility tools to build sites that work for everyone

Safety needs: This need caters to safety needs that include protection from violence and theft, emotional stability and well-being, health security, and financial security.

We need to design digital experiences prioritizing user safety with transparent forms of communication and providing secure experiences when transactions are allowed giving users peace of mind.

Belonging needs: This need caters to the social needs relating to human interaction. We need to design digital experiences forming intimate emotional bonds with users. We can do this by providing a sense of community for users to achieve a feeling of elevated kinship with the brand.

Additionally, strong membership support within the digital experience can contribute to meeting this need. We also need to create effective feedback loops so users can feel involved in the process of product development.

Esteem needs: The primary elements of esteem are self-respect (the belief that you are valuable and deserving of dignity) and self-esteem (confidence in your potential for personal growth and accomplishments).

We need to design digital experiences that protect users civil liberties, reduces inequality, and benefit democracy and prioritize the mental health of users.

Early adopters like Apple and Google incorporated digital wellness features into their digital platforms with monitored screen time. More recently Instagram tells you when have reached the end of new posts.

Actualization needs: Actualization in the context of User Wellness describes the fulfillment of user goals and tasks. Creating an effective funnel within the digital experience befits the users to efficiently complete tasks and the business goals.

Transcendence: Transcendence refers to the very highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to others in one's community. Empowered users who find value through a digital experience or product and feel the need to spread the good word.

When users are so satisfied with their experience that they want to spread this value to others like their friends and family. By taking care of users' primary wellness needs throughout the process, empathetic design has the power to transform users into willing influencers who will market the product for you.

Apple does this so well, there are websites users have created and dedicated to raving about apple products to their own network.


According to neuroscientist Sam Harris, human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors including genetics, neurobiology, social and economic backgrounds. However, there are scientific methods to inform how humans can flourish in this world. This resource on conducting digital wellbeing design workshops shows us how we can incorporate user wellness into our digital experience development workflow.

Our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the worlds both analog and digital. We are fortunate to be living in the most progressive and peaceful time of human history.

With easy access to great resources at our disposal, we have the power to design a digital eco-system empowered by user wellbeing.


Created by

Varsha Vydyula

Hello! I am a UI/UX designer with a background in visual design, business, wellness, and UX. I am passionate about designing user wellness-focused digital experiences. When I'm not designing, I enjoy learning new things, writing, making artisanal teas, and running around with my pets.







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