Phone addiction is a term that we cannot ignore today. Instead of augmenting our daily communication, smartphone has an increasingly stronger grip on us. A more inter-connected life, yet increasingly alienated from the world around us. In this project, I will present you the OnePlus Zen Mode, a place to put the phone down, and enjoy the world outside of the screen.

Time and Duration

Winter 2018

Spring 2019

4 months


Mingxiao Hu (Interaction)

Susie Sun (Visual)

​Connie Kuang (Motion)

Personal Contribution

User Research

Competitive Analysis



Interactive Prototyping

Usability Test

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We are all familiar with the following pictures: at a family reunion dinner, while children are submerged on their phones, parents are uncomfortably seated aside. On a supposedly romantic date, a couple both attach their eyes on their screens instead of each other. At a social gathering, friends that haven't seen each other for ages are busy with their phones rather than catching up on each other's lives.

​As a socially responsible designer, I should think beyond the user acquisition and retention rates, and think of what kind of relationship I want to design between users and their devices. That is to say, with all the applications that occupy their lives, there should be one who asks them to take a break.

But why shall we stop our users from using their devices as a smartphone company?

Originally, the design division and product division were having a conflicted attitude toward the idea of suggesting people take a break from their digital devices for a while every day because this could directly lower user acquisition and activation. However, after several product evaluations, we concluded that, as a company with social responsibility, OnePlus wanted the customers to use their devices in a positive way, instead of getting addicted. This belief became the reason for me to start designing Zen Mode.

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The home page of Zen Mode

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The original design of Zen Mode contract

To have a deeper understanding of the phone addition people are facing, I sent out a survey to the OnePlus global community, asking two questions: 1. what is your attitude towards phone addiction? 2. what did you do to get rid of, or prevent yourself from phone addition? Then I received lots of great insights and stories that served as the basic design inspiration of Zen Mode.

When comes to designing a product, there are always unseen challenges. The first challenge my team faced was giving a proper name to this product.

We had several names before coming to Zen Mode. Starting with "Brick Mode," which was straight forward: turning your phone into a brick so that the user could not use it. Then, "Breath Mode," a softer, relaxed tryout, where we invited users to take a deep breath from the technology, and constantly challenge themselves to do so with a "contract" that required to sign and seal. But those names were either against the image of a speedy Android flagship phone or facing potential copyright issues. Eventually, "Zen Mode" was selected by the media and global community to express a moment of "Zen."


Concept Walkthrough

Just a simple 20 minutes of "phone down, enjoy life."
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User flow of the initial Zen Mode design

There are four major parts of Zen Mode: 1. onboarding; 2. contract and rules; 3. Zen timer and countdown; 4. sharing the statistics. I may not share all the details here, but I do want to tell you the story behind designing the Zen Mode. Let's start with the onboarding process.

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Mid-fi prototype of Zen Mode onboarding process

Because there are no complicated mechanisms inside Zen Mode, the onboarding process is to raise users' social awareness. I used three illustrations (the illustration you see at the beginning) to tell three stories, and these stories share the same concept: the addiction to smartphones was consuming the time you could spend with your families, your friends, or yourself. If the users sympathize with the story and say, "this really is my problem," they are more likely to proceed to the rest of Zen Mode.

The procedure for signing a contract of challenge in Zen Mode (scroll right to view more).

The contract was originally designed to motivate users to join the Zen Mode by making an analogy with physical challenges like participating in a marathon. It can be difficult to complete at the beginning, but if users can accept the challenge several times, they can have better control of their smartphone usages.


However, the usability tests with OnePlus' global communities brought different voices. While the western community was not a big fan of "sign and seal" like the eastern community does, lots of participants interpreted this contract as "an OnePlus advertisement." This was the second challenge I met.

​"This (contract) has nothing to do with me, so I'm probably going to share the stats at the end, not this."

Anonymous OnePlus User

​OnePlus Global Community - EU

I realized that I was not speaking the users' language. After a thorough discussion with the product manager, we decided to remove the whole concept of a contract. But we did aim for something more personal or worth sharing in the future.

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Rules and conflict notification that appear before each round

The rules are straightforward; during Zen Mode, you can't use your phone, except making emergency calls, answering incoming calls, and taking pictures. But if there are alarms and schedules being set during Zen Mode, we also want people to know.


Unfortunately, from the usability tests, I discovered that people simply didn't read the rules. Instead, lots of users pressed the "Let's Go" button without a second thought, and then calling the customer service to ask why their phones were locked. 

In the final design, I got rid of all other information besides the rules, and had the rules appear one by one with smooth animation, because comparing to static text, people loved watching animations.

The final design incorporated fade-in animations 

The countdown was the fun part, and thanks to our beloved visual designer and motion designer, we were able to implement some fun thoughts into it.

Countdown screens with a "night to dawn" animations (swipe right to view more).

When you are in Zen Mode, your phone falls asleep. When Zen Mode is about to end, your phone wakes up. With beautiful but slow color changes, with the meteors crossing the sky, Zen Mode sends out our message; "don't feel stressed about the time, but don't focus on the screen either." And after the launch, we had customers asking for the background animation as our default wallpaper.

To share, or not to share, that is the problem.

Technically speaking, sharing was the most difficult part of the design. Based on the result of preliminary research and usability tests, to create content that people would like to share, it should be:

  1. Meaningful to both the user and people he/she shares to, like a piece of news.

  2. Highly related to the user and can indicate achievement or other position values, like workout record or diet plan.

  3. Positively affecting the emotion of the user and people he/she shares to, like a joke, a picture of cute cats, or a beautiful landscape photo.

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The initial version of "sharing a single round result" design with a pre-filled motto

The first tryout was generating an editable, meaningful sentence, along with the blocked "temptations (aka notifications)" and Zen duration, for users to share. But this failed the usability tests because the blue card was nothing personal or significant, unless the user was willing to spend time typing things on it. Almost nobody did put their time typing.

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The second attempt which focused on users' behaviors during the 20 minutes

In the second tryout, the primary button was replaced by "SHARE" and the original "CLOSE" button was moved to the upper left corner as a small "X," because we wanted the primary action here to be sharing instead of closing. Tag system was added so that it could remember frequent inputs, and let users choose what they did during the 20 minutes with less effort.  

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The final design featured a more visually pleasing dynamic background. After the countdown was over, the background quickly shrank to the size of this card, looped over the entire color-changing animation, and stopped at the color that reflected the time of the day when the challenge completed. Moreover, users could easily add or remove the tags to create a sharing card that was unique to the time, date, and activities.

A card design with a refined tagging system and animated background

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As another sharing aspect, a diary feature and the mountain climbing illustration were added to the statistic page, so that users could always look back, to track their journey of Zen. 

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Overall statistics with diary-style records


The Impact

Right now, the Zen Mode is serving more than 20 millions of users worldwide, and maintaining a rating beyond 4.3 on Google Play.

While digital wellbeing becomes a hot topic in 2021, I am grateful to have all of you on this journey of Zen. The current Zen Mode contains new features like ambient music and multi-user mode, and I am picturing a deep integration of Zen Mode, Sleep Health, Screen-time Dashboard, and other wellbeing-related features to better support people's everyday lives. We will all stay strong, and live healthy.