A UX CASE STUDY: Finding a Unique Way to Enter Deep Thought While Running Using Voice Data Collection

Richard N Sarmiento
9 min readFeb 1, 2021


I hate running, especially long-distance running. It’s boring. What’s the objective? I need a soccer ball to chase. Give me a basket to score. Make me go long to receive a touchdown pass. Personally, I need something to get my mind off the task of simply running.

But I’ve always wanted to know, what does this runner’s high feel like? How do I attain it?

According to an article from scientificamerican.com, a “runner’s high” is defined as

“a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain.”

Since I’ve been a couch potato during quarantine, I know I can’t attain this overnight. I asked a couple of friends who run regularly for advice. One friend gave me a runner’s training tip that focuses on improving breathing, heart rate, endurance, and pace control. According to her, it might be too easy that even beginners might think the progression is too slow. Beginners tend to push too hard and over-exertion is what leads to injury. The training tip is to maintain a pace where one can walk/run and talk comfortably. Over time, the runner makes gradual improvements in all areas with very little thought or effort. This idea was novel to me but made sense. However, during a pandemic with COVID-19, it is hard to be social.

Thus, I began asking myself thought-provoking questions.

If talking is one way to distract the mind from the pain of running, what else do runners do? Most of us use our smartphones and headphones for music or podcasts but that is the superficial stimulus that leads to a deeper mental response.

ASSUMPTION: Deep thought of self-reflection — work-life, personal life, ideas, goals, past, present, and future whether positive or negative helps runners distract the mind from the physical pain of running.

Equipped with a smartphone and headphones, how can a runner take advantage of this training tip while prioritizing safety during a pandemic?


Elevating the use of voice data collection in an application for runners to manifest deep thoughts to quickly distract from the pain of running.

Tools Used:

Design Process — Research, Synthesis, Ideation, Prototype, and Testing



User Research:

The primary method used to collect data for this concept was to interview beginner to intermediate level runners. Other research was gathered by reading online medical journals and runner guides on this training tip to run and talk comfortably. I also researched the negative impact of running with a smartphone. Most runners use fitness tracking applications to monitor pace and distance for each run. I installed the major fitness applications on my smartphone to inspect for opportunities for improvement and any features that may be lacking. In all, this research led to my list of questions I asked my interviewees.


Total: 5 runners interviewed

Male: 3 | Female: 2

Age: 25–34

Average Miles per Run: 4–5 miles

Average Frequency of Runs per Week: 4 runs/wk

Run with Smartphone: 5/5 runners


How often do you run per week? How far? How long does it take?

What do you think about while running?

Do you have any important thoughts?

How do you remember your important thoughts?

Do you use headphones? If yes, what are you listening to?

Are you familiar with the breathing tip to run and talk comfortably?

If so, how do you feel about it? Do you use it? Why or why not?

Do you use a fitness tracker while you run? If so, what app?

What metrics are important to you? Why?

How do you check your pace?

What are the benefits to deep thought? How do you enter that mental state?

How do you feel about running with your phone?


After conducting the interviews, it was very interesting to see how the mind of each runner wanders during the mundane act of running. Mental stimulation is required by all five interviewees to complete their run. However, that stimulation is achieved by each in different approaches and strategies. The most novice runner listens to podcasts while running and finds it difficult to overcome the initial onset of pain. Thus, he runs the least frequent of the others interviewed. Another male runner listens to music but pushes through the initial onset of pain. By acknowledging that it is part of the process, he eventually enters deep thought, then the pain becomes an after-thought. The runner that has the most interesting approach is an advocate for the running and talking tip. While it is difficult to be social during a pandemic, her solution is simple. She calls a friend or sibling and they run together. When asking the other runners about this tip, they believe it is hard to do because it requires another person. All runners agree there are benefits to talking and running, however, some also enjoy being alone with their thoughts.



“I like to think about stuff to distract me from the pain of running.”

“I remember thoughts by stopping and typing it in my phone. If I don’t, I just hope I remember it later.”

“I like to reflect during my run - the good, the bad in my life. Takes the mind off running.”

“I would like to run with someone to talk to but I don’t feel safe during this pandemic.”

“I tried to use Siri to take notes during a run once. It really sucked juggling between apps. I wish it could be stored in one place.”

“Running is boring. I only do it because it’s healthy.”

Defining the Problem: Affinity Mapping

With the information I attained from my interviews, I began to synthesize their answers with affinity mapping. I unveiled three major pain points:

  1. Each runner desired to be distracted from the task of running through mental stimulation.
  2. All runners either pulled out their phones to take notes of an important thought or did their best to remember it after their run.
  3. Every runner believes deep thought of self-reflection makes running less painful but it takes time to warm up to enter that mental state.

Problem Statement:

Runners need an easier way to engage in mental stimulation that distracts the mind without interrupting the activity of running. Social interaction while running works but requires two people. While in deep thought, runners need a way to document important thoughts and ideas hands-free.

How might we give runners a mental experience that is engaging and thought-provoking at the beginning of the run so they quickly enter deep thought?

How might we help runners communicate socially during a pandemic with the aid of smartphones and headphones exclusively in a single application?

How might we provide runners with a way to brainstorm and document creative breakthroughs and important thoughts hands-free during a run?


Provide users with a voice AI that engages in conversation at the very beginning of the run or activity. An interactive voice experience with an AI that provides prompts that incite deep self-reflection or a topic of the user’s choosing. By doing so, the user can enter deep thought by thinking out loud, thus distracting the user at the start of the run.

As an activity companion and tracker, it also functions as a mind journal. The AI also transcribes the entire conversation. If the user has a question, it can search the internet for an answer and save the link in the transcription notes for later viewing. Fitness tracking and mental journaling are all saved in one application.

Next, the naming of the AI was a challenge. I wanted it to be neutral and encompassing for all runners. So I decided on the name Omni because it means “all” and is a gender-neutral sounding name.

User Flows:

An early iteration of the user flows within the application.
A revised and simplified rendition of my initial user flows.

My early sketch of the user flows was extremely detailed and a bit too complicated. I simplified the flows using the Miro program and created this image to the left.

The runners expressed their frustration of not having a quick start option in other applications. With that in mind, I made the home screen’s main focus to quickly start a fitness activity.

The runners had mixed preferences on running alone or with another runner (via phone call or in-person). To satisfy each runner, I included the option for solo and co-op selection.

When Solo and activity are selected, Omni is there to inspire thoughts utilizing the topic prompts chosen by the user and transcribe the entirety of the conversation with the user and AI. If the user wishes to run in silence, he/she can do so by settings or by telling Omni. If an idea or question comes to mind, the user can simply begin speaking freely and it will be transcribed.

When Co-Op and activity are selected, the user can see other friends on the application seeking a fellow user to run with via voice chat. Once the other user accepts the invite and joins the voice chat, they can then start the desired activity at the same time. While the two are in chat, Omni is still available when needed by prompting it by saying “Hey Omni” followed by a command or question.


The initial sketches of wireframes using pen and paper.
These wireframes show the sequence of completing a solo run with Omni then viewing the results and transcription notes afterward.


Meet the mobile application, MIND RUN with Omni

The below task flow demonstrates a user completing a solo run with Omni and viewing results and transcribed conversation with Omni.

Login Splash > Home & Quick Start > Solo > Start > Audio Test > Begin > Screen Asleep
Tap to Wake > Pause Run > Stop Run > View Results > View Transcribed Notes > Back to Home

The next set of wireframes demonstrates a user choosing co-op and finding a friend also looking for someone to run with. Once the users are finished running, they may end the call and view their results.

Home & Quick Start > Co-Op > Friends Looking for Another Runner > Send Invite > Waiting Room > Start > Begin
Screen Asleep > Tap to Wake > Pause Run > Stop Run > End Call > View Results > View Transcribed Notes (if any)


Considering that much of this application relies on a voice interactive AI, the only feedback I received was for the superficial design. However, the users I gathered feedback from were very eager to experience running with an AI companion. Many even reached out to me after finishing a run wishing they had Omni to bounce ideas off of.

As for the design itself, the users appreciated its simplicity and straightforward usability.

Next Steps:

Do more research on how breathing intervals can be analyzed via audio into a real-time metric for runners. I watched videos on YouTube of runners who ran and vlogged to practice the training tip to improve breathing. Something that stood out to me was how audible their breaths were. A couple of implementations for Omni might be: 1) When a runner is breathing heavily during an activity, Omni can advise the runner to slow down. 2) If the runner’s breaths are too short and fast, Omni can advise the runner to take deeper breaths for better-controlled breathing in real-time.

In Summary, the research gathered from a handful of runners demonstrates that there is an opportunity to make running more mentally engaging with existing technology. MIND RUN with Omni could be that solution.



Richard N Sarmiento

I am a photographer, a techie, and a UX designer who values imagination, innovation, and thoughtfulness in everyday life.