Designing a better exercise experience through data.
We live in a world that is increasingly filled with data about how we move. And this data, tracked through exercise machines as well as wearables like Fitbit and Smart Watches, is not only changing the way we work out but in fact the way we perceive our own fitness. As we gather more data on our physical activity, it presents the unique opportunity to improve the workout experience. All this data begs the question: How might we give each person the most enjoyable, most effective exercise experience possible? I chose to explore this question through the lens of spin classes.
While spin classes collect a wealth of data about each rider during class, like speed, resistance, calories, distance, and more, the progress and success of riders are still largely measured through intuition, how riders "feel" during a class. This presented an opportunity to augment the exercise experience through data. Over the course of a week, I conducted user research, and built paper and digital prototypes to articulate my vision.
The first order of business was to better understand the spin exercise industry and the people who play a part in it. I started off by interviewing a spin instructor, some riders, and attending my very first spin class.
I interviewed Mikki, an actor, voiceover artist, and spin instructor in Los Angeles to get a better understanding of the preparation for, leading of, and follow up to a typical spin class. I also interviewed Nicole, a frequent rider, and Chandler, and occasional rider. My main goals were to understand the value of spin, how a rider measures progress and success, and some of the downfalls of a typical spin class. To get in the right mindset, I also took my first spin class, which was quite an adventure.
Key Instructor Pain Point:
"With so many riders coming through, it’s hard to connect with each one, to keep them accountable, and to target them based on their specific goals."
Key Rider Pain Point:
"The level is set by the instructor and there isn't a lot of consideration for how you relate to that, what level is challenging for you individually."
There are three different flavors of spin studios, each with a unique mindset and clientele. The studios share many similarities, but in a quickly growing class-based fitness industry, they are doing their best to remain competitive by creating differentiated experiences.
1. Data Driven
Studios like Flywheel bring technology to the forefront in order to augment the class experience and track progress over time. Success is primarily measured by how you stack up against the instructor's recommended numbers for speed, tension, etc.
2. Community Centered
Studios like SoulCycle consciously remove digital connectedness from class in order to focus on a stronger community, something emphasized by the showcase of their riders’ social media posts on the home page. "The experience is all about disconnecting and taking that time to shut down for 45 minutes and connect with the music," Cohen said. "We recognize that a lot of riders use their own tracking systems, but we have no plans at this time to integrate that into our experience.” Gabby Etrog Cohen, VP of Public Relations and Brand Strategy at SoulCycle
3. Fitness Focused
Studios like Cycle House use the workout as the entry point. The appeal of spin is a "full body, fat-burning workout that incorporates interval training designed to produce real results, real quick."
1. The Journey is Everything
A big part of spin’s success and appeal is that it is an immersive experience. The small dimly-lit room, the booming music, and the carefully curated cadence of the ride, are all designed to remove riders from the outside world. The journey that riders embark on in each class is a sacred one. For any solution to be effective, it has to augment that journey experience, not distract from it.
2. Both Riders and Instructors Set a Baseline by “Feel"
Riders generally track their progress and measure success based on intuition. Whether it's I can usually keep up with the instructor, but today is tough, or I killed those fast jogs today, "feel" is the driving indicator of how a ride is going. Similarly, instructors evaluate how much to challenge their riders based on the vibe they get in each specific class. Sometimes you can feel immediately that everyone is pumped to be there. Whether they are working really hard; whether they respond when you ask how they are; or if I feel really inspired to jump on the bike to work with them.
Arming both riders and instructors with the data to combine with their intuition could help both more effectively measure their progress over time.
The solution to the problem was threefold:
- Put the data in the hands of the riders, so progress and success aren't just measured by feel.
- Give instructors a way to better connect with their students, whether it is just knowing their names, or better understanding exactly how each student is doing during the course of class.
- Use a leaderboard to encourage riders to push to the next level, whether individually, as a team, or as a whole class.
Overall, the UI remains dark to ensure the brightness of devices doesn't get in the way of the immersive, dark spin experience. On top of that, bright colors are used to identify each rider so that riders can see where they stand at a glance. Type sizes on the Leaderboard are all above 24 pt to ensure the experience is visible from 10 ft.
Getting Started: Sync Your Bike and Start the Journey
To start, you sign in to your spin class app and locate your current class. Once you've found your bike for the day, you sync it's data with your device and choose a color to represent you on the class leaderboard. Once you do that, you're ready to go. If a rider doesn't have the app or chooses not to sync it, their progress will be tracked, by their bike number, on the class board.
In-Class Experience and Post-Class Summary
Once the class starts, your smartphone acts just as a spin class console would, tracking your data as the class goes. As you move through the class, it gives periodic updates on how you're stacking up against the rest of the class and encouragement to push harder. At the end of the class, your data is all accessible, so you know how your class went relative to every other class you've taken. This is a critical component, as the data being captured in spin today is ephemeral; once you leave, it's gone. But here, the data is captured so you can track you progress over time. Riders know how they're doing today, how they're doing over time, and have the data to back it up.
The Instructor Experience
At a glance, the instructor can get to know the names of each student, how they are performing relative to the average, and how her class overall is stacking up to each other class of the same format that she has taught. The aim is to connect her more tightly with her riders and enable her to provide more specific guidance to each individual rider. This console is on an iPad, as many instructors are already using iPads to control their musical cadence for the classes.
The Leaderboard Experience
Finally, a projected leaderboard takes up the front wall of the class to periodically drives riders forward. Through user research, the importance of the escapism experience of Spin was emphasized over and over again, so I wanted to ensure that the leaderboard did not become the experience, instead just accompanied it. The idea is that the instructor would flash the leaderboard at key moments during the journey, like during rapid intervals, during a big hill climb, or a big sprint, to encourage riders to push harder. Further, the instructor could choose one of three methods of competition, depending on the competitive vibe she gets from her riders:
- Head to Head: Each rider in the class is pitted against every other rider, so all the riders are visualized on the board.
- Teams: Based on each rider's abilities, Journey will sort riders into teams from as few as 2 to up to half the class, and each team will compete with other team(s).
- Class against class: Since instructors teach many classes of the same format, this would pit riders from one class against another's historical data, encouraging them to set the new high score.