Breathe into your smartphone and you’ll see a cloth blow in the wind, dandelions disperse and a nebula swirl. These are just some of the 20 real-time graphics users can explore on Lungy, a new animated app that responds in real time to your breathing. Developed by multidisciplinary collective Pi-a, the app was dreamed up by Luke Hale, a doctor, designer and animator, who spent 12 months coding Lungy in the evening after work. (It transpires this is a recurring theme for Luke; the designer spent time freelancing on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and tour screens for Massive Attack during med school). Lungy combines everything Luke has learnt in these fields to take a new approach to mindfulness, a market which just keeps growing.
Unlike popular apps like Headspace, Lungy doesn’t encourage users to close their eyes. Instead, Lungy’s nature-inspired visuals encourage people to tune into their surroundings. These interactive graphics are designed to help users feel that each breath is “powerful” and “influences the world positively in some way”, says Luke. The designer explains: “This [will] hopefully give people that feel stressed or anxious more of a sense of control.”
Breath interaction is the major point of difference Luke sees between Lungy and other apps. “There are lots of breathing / mindfulness apps out there, but they all seemed very similar to me,” says Luke. They involve downloading pre-recorded audio or video, closing your eyes and following instructions – a passive, one-way process. Using the breath directly gave a whole new exciting area of interaction to explore, but also meant the app could be more personalised and supportive, giving feedback and encouragement after each session.”
Breath interaction via a smartphone presented a range of UI and UC challenges, but the focus was to make the process as smooth, satisfying and supportive as possible for users. The objects users can choose to interact with reflect this aim and come from a variety of sources. Luke lists Mario Kart, Spirited Away and Jeff Koons as having a big impact on the final product. But so did scientific jump-off points like “cellular automata, fluid sims and chladni plates”. A breath in Lungy can make a tiny collection of molecules break apart, just as well as it can make fabric blow in the wind.
Ultimately, Lungy is about removing barriers to a regular breathing practice by keeping things easy. For example, Lungy counts volume of breath through objects like a watermelon or elephant instead of your typical litres or millilitres.
Luke expands: “I started working on Lungy in 2020, just as the first wave of Covid patients were coming into the hospital. It was a very stressful time for everyone, and many patients were given breathing exercises along with a plastic box, called an incentive spirometer, to encourage deep breathing. I noticed often the incentive spirometer would sit by the bedside, while the patient would be on their phone. I thought if the phone could respond to breathing in some way, breathing exercises could be much more fun and engaging.”
In the future, Luke is exploring how to take Lungy beyond wellness, creating a version for patients with breathing problems such as asthma and long Covid.
GalleryPi-A: Lungy (Copyright © Lungy, 2023)
Pi-A: Lungy (Copyright © Lungy, 2023)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.