Ben Kosa, Michael Dinh, Lukas Anstett
Problem and Solution Overview
According to a survey conducted by Statista in November 2020, 14% of US adults who are 40 years or older currently do not exercise because they do not have anyone to exercise with. Exercising with other people helps form social connections and communities, and improves their motivation to continue exercising as well as their mental health. However, finding a new friend group to do activities with may be difficult at this age. Our proposed solution is a way in which older people can find others sharing the same interest in a particular type of exercise, build exercise groups, and keep their motivation for exercising high.
Design Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants
Our main target group are people who are 40 years or older who are in search of finding others to exercise with and try to manage a consistent fitness schedule. We also considered other stakeholders like places that offer fitness classes for adults or host adult leagues, such as community centers and fitness gyms, but did not include them in our user research for simplicity.
To better understand our target group and examine the challenges they face to exercise regularly, we conducted both a survey and a small number of one-to-one interviews. The surveys were distributed among our peers to send to people who fit this target group. Using a survey as a research method allowed our participants to complete it asynchronously in their own time and according to their potentially busy schedule, and helped us reach a larger and more diverse group in the short time frame we had for conducting the user research. The interviews were conducted with some of our family members and acquaintances, as it was much simpler to reach them on short notice, and the interviews took place both in person and over the phone. This allowed us to capture more nuanced and in-depth firsthand data.
Design Research Results and Themes
Our survey received 19 responses in total, 15 of which were from people who are 40 years or older. Most survey respondents already do some kind of exercise; mostly walking, cycling, or using some kind of fitness device at home. We also conducted five interviews, allowing us to understand the individual experiences of our interviewees more deeply.
For instance, some of our interviewees are Deaf and use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary form of communication. They expressed that even though they would exercise with hearing people who don’t know ASL, they would much prefer to exercise together with others who can use the same language (hearing or d/Deaf). However, they have been struggling to find others due to the small size of this minority group in their area.
Most survey participants who currently exercise do so both alone and with others, depending on the situation. Another issue that was brought up both in the survey and in interviews was that people often are lacking the time to exercise due to busy schedules. In regards to motivation, a majority of respondents felt like exercising with others would motivate them to some extent, whereas most people were less motivated by competing against other teams or getting points/rewards for exercising.
The survey responses showed that preferences for exercising alone or with others and factors for motivation are highly individual, although a majority of respondents who are already exercising reported that exercising together with others boosts their motivation to keep exercising, which was also a common theme in our interviews. Additionally, the main source of motivation for most was just to stay healthy, rather than any other external factors. We consider these two themes as the core for our design: it should facilitate and guide users to stay healthy and provide an option to find others to exercise with in order to keep their motivation and reach their exercise goals.
Even though there was a wide variation in whether participants preferred to exercise alone or with others, with many preferring to do both depending on the circumstances and their schedule, exercising with others seemed to be highly motivating for a majority of participants. It also seemed that a lot of our participants weren’t exercising as often as they’d like because they didn’t have the time. Because of these common issues, we decided to design an app that focuses on helping people find others to exercise with and form groups that they can consistently exercise with.
Let’s say that a user downloads our app and is interested in finding other people to cycle with. As shown below in the first story board below (see Figure 1), this user can search for and join groups of people who also cycle through an interactive map that also shows what teams are currently active in their area. While we aren’t focused on competition in this current iteration of our design, we can potentially see expanding this interactive design to allow teams to compete with other teams in terms of health and fitness metrics since many participants in our user study expressed that they are motivated through friendly competition and especially their health. If users can’t find any good teams to join, they can always make one of their own.
Figure 1: Tells the story of Katrina, who finds an unused bike in her garage and thinks of getting started with bike exercise. Using our app, she joins a team nearby that is doing group biking exercise, and meets up with them the next day, according to the schedule of all people in the group.
Because a large portion of our older participants valued the social aspect of exercise, the current design of our app allows users to create profiles that helps filter the teams they see on the interactive map when searching and ultimately helps them find others with similar interests. Not only should users of our app find a group to help them stay active, but a potentially life long group of friends who they bond through things outside of just that one exercise. If a user is looking for a group of people to run with, it is important to take into consideration whether those people live close by, how far the user is willing to commute to meet them, what kind of pace the user is comfortable with running, what other sports they are interested in, and many other important factors. For instance, the responses that we got from our Deaf participants highlighted the fact that users might be interested in exercising with others who speak a certain language, come from a certain community or culture, or have a certain background, and have inspired us to add these aspects to profile creation in our design. However, do note that some of these aspects of our design do create privacy concerns that will need to be addressed in taking this design to product.
Many participants also expressed that they don’t exercise as often as they would like to due to having a busy schedule. As demonstrated in the second storyboard shown below (see Figure 2), our app will also focus on helping exercise groups find time to exercise together while taking their busy schedules into account. Part of this takes place while users are choosing which groups to join, as they are able to see what the combined availability of the group looks like and how it aligns with theirs. After joining a group, our app will also help users create an exercise routine that best fits with everyone’s schedules, and help maintain that routine through sending gentle reminders (see panel 4 of Figure 2). It is important that our design not only supports our users in this way while they are first setting up an exercise routine, but also while they are trying to maintain it. If someone in the group has a last minute change to their schedule, which often happens to those with busy schedules, then our app will take these last minute schedule changes into account. If a schedule change comes up for someone on the team, they can quickly put it in the calendar and everyone on the team will be notified and given a vote for postponing that exercising plan, canceling it, or still going anyways.
Figure 2: Tells the story of Paul, who is at work and is thinking about playing tennis. Paul goes onto his phone and schedules a tennis session for the next day at 5:30pm with their tennis group. All three group members receive the notification about this new tennis session and all reply with a “yes.” The next day, Paul receives a notification at 5pm reminding him that he has tennis in 30 minutes, and at 5:30pm we see all four group mates playing tennis together.
We hope that with our design, we can help with improving both the physical and social wellbeing of those 40 years or older, empowering people to stay motivated in staying active and forming communities based on making connections via exercise. There are still things that need to be addressed by our design, but we feel like our user research process has given us a lot of insight into the problem and what we need to focus on.