What can brands learn from the thriving wellness market?

Design Director

According to the World Health Organization, wellness is a state of “complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.” While historically there has been a focus on physical fitness, there’s no denying that mental and social wellbeing, rightly so, is being treated as equally important today.

For proof of the emergence of mental wellbeing, look no further than the chart below showing the rise of “mindfulness” as a Google search term over the last 10 years.

This broadened approach to health and wellness has allowed the industry to enjoy rapid growth. In fact, the wellness economy is worth $4.2 trillion globally1 and is growing at a rate almost twice as fast as the global economy. This extraordinary boom is driven by multiple factors such as an embrace of a more holistic and preventative approach to health. Smoking cigarettes is out. Local, organic farming is in. An even bigger game-changer is technology’s increasingly personal reach- especially mobile phones. Wellness is now more accessible, global and even gamified.

Not surprisingly, this growth is providing an array of opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses in sectors well beyond health and wellness, such as wearable technology, home fitness, media and monitoring devices.

But what are the key trends driving the market? At Smart Design, we believe there are 4 key trends in wellness today: mindfulness, a good night’s sleep, health at home, and community spirit. Let’s explore what they mean.

Mindfulness: Health’s next frontier.

“Physical fitness or health training has been optimized, there’s not much left to do. The next frontier is brain performance,” according to Brad Sanderson, former Director of Scientific Research at Headspace.

The mindfulness industry has something of a gold rush feel with an estimated 1,500 meditation and mindfulness apps launched in the wake of successful pioneers like Headspace, Calm and MindFi.  Millennials are really pushing this trend. For example, 60 percent of 18-25-year-olds consider seeing a mental health professional as sign of strength rather than weakness. Coping with today’s stresses is as important for health and wellness as fitness and diets.

The marketplace is incredibly active and open for product and service development, and the opportunity to create something meaningful and engaging. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, at anytime, and the opportunity areas stretch from mental agility puzzles to meditation to AI driven chat bots to immersive experiences.

The latest wave of mindfulness applications being rolled out aims to deepen and personalize meditation practices through new technologies such as biofeedback and EEG (brain wave) tracking that gives you real-time audio feedback to guide you into a calm, focused state. For example, the Muse 2 headband will create a rainstorm if your mind is busy, and chirping birds if your brain waves are truly quiet.

While technology can be a source of distraction, ironically it can also enhance the experience by making it more personalized and immersive. Designing an experience enhanced by technology in a seamless way is essential.

A good night’s sleep.

In a world of blue screens, economic and political unrest, long commutes, and let’s not forget the social media driven pressure to maintain an unrealistic image, can people really be expected to get a good night’s sleep?

Bad sleep or no sleep costs people their physical and mental health. The mortality rate for people who consistently get fewer than six hours of unbroken sleep a night is 13 percent higher than for those who routinely sleep seven or more2.

One of the loudest and most competitive segments of the sleep market is online mattress delivery, with an estimated 175 companies3 aiming to improve that oldest and most indispensable sleep technology.

However, a wider ecosystem of manufacturers, retailers, health service providers, and pharmaceutical companies has formed around the business of sleep. We have seen a rise in sleep experts and hygienists, and the introduction of company sleep policies to improve productivity in the workplace.

The now multibillion-dollar sleep business has grown from filling unmet needs in helping people sleep more and sleep better. Understanding unmet consumer needs through fast research piloting and prototyping is a smart way to identify new product and service opportunities.

Health at home

A connected world is bringing more health and wellness to the home, whether it’s an individual or a couple looking to exercise, or a family looking for time together. The home is a key destination for health and wellness technologies; from the living room to the kitchen, and from the bedroom to the bathroom — the ability to easily have a multi-device experience is a huge contributor with a plethora of opportunities from fitness broadcasts, console gaming, and voice assistants.

In particular, a large area of growth in the home are virtual services such as on-demand fitness and connected gym equipment, the latter is forecast to become a billion dollar industry by 2023.

Community spirit

Millennials and Gen-Z have a long-running affinity with health and fitness, but they are also, as a whole, less competitive than previous generations.  People are looking to connect with like-minded people and become part of something bigger, all while looking after themselves.

Think wearable technology, AI fitness, sleep monitors, stress tests and personal digital life coaches — shared among friends, family and colleagues residing in different cities, countries or even continents. Wellness is becoming part of peoples’ social identity, and there is no stronger strategy for consumer retention.

A key consideration is to design experiences that match the different types of users making up your community.  We learned from helping Sephora build a mobile and digital community for beauty enthusiasts that users have different levels of engagement, motivations, learning styles and goals. To be successful, brands need to easily connect them to voices they trust, and inspire them to participate in ways that match their engagement level.

Bringing it all together

People have valid reasons to welcome the array of health and wellness technologies into their lives, and into their homes, and in the context of a digital world, it’s not hard to understand how the health and wellness market became a trillion-dollar industry.

One opportunity for products or services is to provide a personalized, contextual experience for consumers, who can track their progress, for example, with an overall “wellness” score, highlighting areas for improvement and raise an alarm when things may be going awry. We have seen a growth in this among device manufacturers particularly, but has anyone nailed it?

We believe health and wellness services and technologies, increasingly led by AI, will become more and more popular but only the meaningful and relevant will be sustained. However, brands must be careful when introducing technology into the – entirely human – health and wellness space, but done correctly, it can be powerful to educate and set habits.


1: Global Wellness Institute (GWI) report
2: Rand Corporation
3: Goodbed.com estimate

Let’s design a smarter world together