How Designers Can Build Experiences That Reduce Anxiety and Stress

A VR designer at Oculus explains how virtual experiences can ease the stress of the data deluge during the pandemic and beyond

Michelle Cortese
OneZero
Published in
12 min readMay 1, 2020

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Illustrations courtesy of the author

From my Brooklyn apartment in New York City, I watch Gov. Andrew Cuomo share the daily Covid-19 death toll with the nation. I watch his broadcast every day, around 11 a.m.

I’ve spent the last three weeks wondering why I can’t stop watching these broadcasts: Is it the data dumps? The descent into dadaist strings of disturbing fatherly adages that reliably occur at the 25-minute mark? Do I just find his Italian-American mean-guy combination of stern chides and emotional outbursts reassuring because of my own upbringing? Is it just the ritual of it all?

The answer was closest to the latter: the ritual. If I watched the program every day, I was less likely to spend subsequent hours of my day falling into a news vortex. It worked by providing me with the information I needed, in a digestible format, at a set time; somehow permitting me to limit my news time. When I wondered why this felt so novel, the UX designer in me awoke to explain: News, in recent years, had become a deluge. Long dead are the days of the morning newspaper and the nightly news. Information updates have permeated every second and square inch of our lives, shrouding us in more chaos than we ever thought possible.

Pandemics aside, there arguably isn’t more news to report, just more opportunities to do so — 24-hour news networks, mobile push notifications, and the endless window into the world that our phones provide — they all contribute to the deluge and to the anxiety that comes with it.

Information is a battlefield and the prize is your sanity

In a 2010 New York Times article, author Chuck Klosterman compares the modern digital information flood to a zombie hoard. “When we think critically about monsters, we tend to classify them as personifications of what we fear […] zombie killing is philosophically…

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Michelle Cortese
OneZero

Design @ Meta Reality Labs + NYU Adjunct — concerned with: design-ethics / social-VR / trash-hardware / virtual-inclusion / dada-futurism / glitch