App Induced Exercise

We learn more and more each day about the problems our sedentary lives dole out to us. The physical ailments of sitting in a chair all day lead to a slew of greater problems. The tone of these messages is dark, often foreboding and berating of the technology that forces us to sit for hours. Many people don’t have time to go out and play or run or even go for a walk. Some aren’t interested in listening to well-built health nuts tell them what to do with their free time. Yet, at this point, everyone is pretty well aware that sitting around isn’t particularly good for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep myself active. I do a decent job but since I’m all about technology I’ve gotten into a couple apps and devices that help keep me active. 

Fitbit is my personal favorite. I wear the little device everyday. It’s simple. As you walk it counts your steps. Hit 10,000 steps in a day and you’ve won. It’s a hard game to win at first but once you get a sense of what 10,000 steps is like, it’s easy to keep it going. The dashboard also allows you to log your food intake and the weight can sync with devices like the Withings scale that posts your weight online (making it public is optional). Fitbit incentivizes users with the promise of lots of accurate data about them and their movements.

A couple weeks back I was reading about Zombies, Run! it’s brilliant enough that I helped fund their Kickstarter. It’s an iPhone app that plays the sounds of Zombies chasing you as you go for a jog. For someone who’s never really liked jogging, this seemed like something I might actually go out and try even though I’d get eaten pretty quick. This app is simply about scaring you into running away from an unseen enemy.

The last exercise app I’ve seen is Nexercise. This takes advantage of a deals API and delivers points to users for completing various exercises with social bonuses given for exercising with a friend. Seems like a simple device to use the currently popular method of promoting anything, the daily deal, to get people to get active. Yet saving money and exercising aren’t a clear relationship in my mind, but that isn’t stopping Nexercise from trying.

So what do all these new products have in common? Engaging users to exercise using new and interesting incentives is one thing; but the commonality that I’m thinking about is that each of these apps turns “users” into “players”. It’s a simply transformation but one that’s key for any brand to connect with people. “Users” are simply completing an action for the sake of information or tangible reward like a prize of coupon. The understanding of what drives a user to do something is fueled by the desire to have them do something for the brand first. But in the case of creating players the product cannot be successful unless the person playing feel inspired to keep at it. This means the brand can’t focus on getting its tasks done first. It must have to fulfill the needs of the player first and these needs aren’t logical conversion metrics but emotional thrill. Getting people to be active is about getting them inspired to get up and change.

I’m a big believer that people must come first online. I see most websites we interact with everyday still treating people as users. They gather analytics and metrics, they track social media feedback loops and even complete quantitative eye tracking studies on occasion. But the goal is nearly always based on a set of quantifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) and not the really important bit. What all sites should be striving towards is getting people excited about interacting with them. They should be focusing on creating tangible, physical benefit for the people visiting their site. They should be focused on creating players.

Here’s 5 steps to make that happen:


Understand the needs of who you’re talking to by qualitative and ethnographic research. Act like an anthropologist not a UX expert.


Focus on giving. Find your current fans and support them with tools to achieve their goals. If they’re runners give them some Zombies to run from.


Start out simple. It’s easy to get complex and still believe you’ve got a simple solution. But imagine your site from the point of view of someone who’s never seen it before. Pick one thing you want to give them and create that.


Plan for added complexity. Launch your site with a plan for the next version already underway. Websites need support, they can no longer be thought of as fire and forget products. V1 is simple, but by V2 you should start thinking of the user as a committed player who’s looking for shortcuts.


Provide a space for them to give back. This is obvious but many sites don’t do this or believe commenting is “giving back”. If people truly care about your site and the experience you’re giving them they will desire greater participation; either through buying, donating or sharing data.