Posted on: October 29, 2015
Exercise Commitment and Longevity: Will the UX of a fitness tracker really make you more active?
I want to love and embrace fitness trackers. I really do. I’m active AND I love data. Yet despite doing a thorough fitness tracker competitive analysis, my steps go untracked.
I flash back to my mom bringing me back-to-school shopping where I would gleefully pick out an agenda in addition to a variety of coloured pens. Despite my colour coding taxonomy and supremely neat printing, no more than two weeks into classes the agenda was in the bottom of my backpack doomed to collect crumbs.
I learned something about myself from my ebbing agenda promises: once the novelty has worn off, *product/experience* needs to have enough value to me that it’s worth integrating in my routine, whether it takes less time than my current experience or that there is value in the additional time spent. I liken this experience to my devotion to a fitness regimen and I’d like to think I’m not alone on this. How do you think all of those mostly empty Gyms stay open? Empty promises, that’s how.
How do you get someone to get and stay active?
There is a lot of research out there speculating the ingredients that lead someone to maintain an active lifestyle. One of those ingredients is thought to be performance visibility and tracking.
As physicist Lord Kelvin said, “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” Studies show that people who keep logs are the most successful at reaching their health, fitness and weight loss goals*. Once you’ve got data, you need specific goals or standards to provide the sense of accomplishment that will make you work harder.
The opportunity to be competitive can drive users to become more active, take the long way home, or take a short walk at lunch to beat yesterday’s record. Fitness trackers introduce a level of accountability and awareness – a lot like those unmanned speed trackers on the side of roads, which, in fact, have actually been found to decrease speeding – cue personal fitness trackers. But there’s a catch: Monitoring alone may not be enough. Other studies have shown that participants who were given pedometers took 1500 more steps per day for about a week. But then they fell back to their more sedentary ways the following week.**
But does owning a fitness tracker mean you’ll stick to your fitness goals? Maybe, but there are a lot of factors to consider when determining fitness motivation and, while trackers address some, they have their own element of novelty to overcome. In Dom’s post about his Withings Activité Watch, he discusses his disappointment with the lack of flexibility within the Withings tracker family. For example, a silicone-banded watch may not be the right accessory for a suit and tie, so an alternative option for tracking in those cases may be an appropriate solution. Since most fitness trackers are meant to follow you throughout your day and night, failing to understand the characteristics, journey and context of the user could result in that extra effort or inconvenience that makes them take the tracker off.
This is when ethnographic research is most valuable. Collecting information through observation of the user, the environment and the context throughout the user’s journey allows you to answer questions that will help you make informed design decisions. For example: How do they get to work each day? How do they dress for work? How do they feel about accessories? Are they regularly active? Are they social in the evenings? Where do they go? What other interests do they have?
The approach of the dominant players in the fitness tracking market such as Fitbit and Jawbone, has largely been a one-size-fits-all, designed with the activity in mind rather than the ongoing journey of the wearer. Adding features such as email and message alerts grasp at adding ongoing value for the novel experience but feel tacked on, far from competing with the smart watches in the same price level.
In contrast, some trackers hone in on a particular user and a particular context with the intention of only being used for that task, such as the Atlas, or Gym Track. While they are more focused, they still neglect to address how they fit into the user’s overall health.
What I’ve come to realize is that a well-designed fitness tracker may not guarantee that you’ll meet your fitness goals but it does mean that you’re more likely to consume the benefits of performance visibility and stick to your goals if the fitness tracker meets your needs and provides a great experience; thus, not at the bottom of the metaphorical book bag.
Based almost entirely on the fact that it’s decent-looking, I’ve just ordered Withings Activite Pop. Stand tuned to find out how long I stick with it!
*Kaiser Permanente. “Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 July 2008.
**Baker G, Mutrie N. Are pedometers useful motivational tools for increasing walking in sedentary adults? Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Walking in the 21st Century; 2005 Sep 22–23; Zurich, Switzerland
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