Emily Verba Fischer, University of Cincinnati
John Hebbeler, University of Cincinnati

In societies where productivity is prioritized over presence, stress abounds. The extensive and alarming effects of stress on the mental and physiological wellbeing of college students inspired a cross-disciplinary team to tackle this problem using their combined expertise in visual design, music technology, psychology, art therapy, and mindfulness. The Modes experience is an atmospheric, introspective, and aesthetically sophisticated engagement of three senses: ophthalmoception (sight), audioception (hearing), and tactioception (touch). Through immersive interaction, mesmerizing visual and aural landscapes are generated in order to reduce stress in college students while simultaneously entertaining them. The two measurable outcomes of Modes are (1) the reduction of the stress hormone cortisol in users, and (2) the reduction of user heart rates.

The design and functionality of Modes are rooted in tenets of mindfulness practice and Ayurveda — an ancient Indian healing system emphasizing inner balance as a method for maintaining health and wellness. Interacting with Modes is like playing in a sandbox of dynamic visuals and sounds. Users begin by selecting and entering one of three digital environments, each offering a unique mindfulness practice designed specifically for stress reduction. A recent scientific study proved that mindfulness practice reduced overall mean diurnal cortisol in test subjects. In this study, cortisol levels were measured and assessed using a saliva collection tool. There is reason to believe that the same saliva test (to be performed in June, 2017) will prove Modes successful in reducing the stress hormone cortisol in users.


Emily Verba Fischer is a designer, educator, and researcher. She has been a faculty member in the School of Design at the University of Cincinnati since 2011, where she primarily teaches information design, typography, motion design, and design methodology. An Ohio native, Emily returned to the Midwest after receiving an MFA in Graphic Design and MA in Visual Communication and Iconic Research from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. Prior to her studies in Switzerland, she lived and practiced design in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and France. Emily’s academic research concerns information visualization — the creation and study of visual data for ease of understanding by the masses. In our age of information overload, she is interested in information design’s potential to marry ultra clear communication with aesthetic sophistication. Emily frequently travels abroad to present her research and pedagogy surrounding information visualization and the moving image. Her work has been featured in exhibitions and publications nationally and internationally.

John Hebbeler is a musician exploring areas of digital media; fusing elements of sound, video and web production with computer technology. As an Assistant Professor within the Electronic Media Department at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, he teaches a range of courses that include studio production, digital audio production, advanced studio prodution, integrated media production and special topics and honors courses. Hebbeler’s graduate work included the creation of interactive trans-media compositions that integrated iPhone and Wii remote technology into live audio and visual performances.  His work includes the development of computer-based applications for iPhone, iPod, and iPad mobile media devices that use Open Sound Control programming and accelerometer technology to fuse aspects of composition, production, and performance. His original compositions have been distributed by Spotify, iTunes (US, Japan), Amazon, Rhapsody, eMusic, Zune, Tradebit and Last.fm.