What really matters with health and wellness mobile app UX? [INFOGRAPHIC]

by Frank Spillers
CEO/CXO @ Experience Dynamics

older woman running

Summary: Fitness tracking is nuanced and even slightly controversial: Do users want to monitor and track (quantify) their behavior and activity? More importantly, does it work to increase motivation and reach health and wellness goals? Our research over the past 5 years has shown some clear user experience needs that most apps and fitness trackers completely miss in their UX strategy. We have been conducting studies in gamification, social UX, competitor feature adoption and efficacy (motivational success) with far-reaching implications for mobile wellness and health apps. Here we cover 7 research-based heuristic rules of thumb for designing mobile “e-health” experiences.

Hey Apple- why so sporadic with innovation?

Mobile health and wellness has exploded as a new category, and the future looks exciting as e-health and mobile delivered services and data improves. While Apple has demonstrated leadership in this category with the Apple Watch user experience overall, they also show us that there is room for improvement with their late and lackluster features in Women’s health and Digital Wellness on the iPhone:

Specifically, in case you missed that news, Apple only just released an ovulation cycle feature this year, a feature that had been identified by independent developers and demanded by vocal women internationally for several years. (image below- Apple watch ovulation cycle tracking)

cycle tracking in apple watch screen
cycle tracking in apple watch screen
Apple Watch- ovulation tracking (image: Apple)

The Digital Wellness stats that appear on the new iOS just recently are late but worse, meaningless. Again, the issue of smartphone addiction has been openly discussed for at least four years in Silicon Valley. One has to wonder what took Apple so long? The stats are basically useless and provide nothing meaningful or helpful to combat iPhone addiction.

What’s missing? Personalization and UX features critical to digital wellness user experience.

In the example below, who decides that Chrome is “too much screen time” or e.g. that YouTube is “too much entertainment”. In both cases, those apps are being used for education, personal and professional development. The stats are missing context or intent of use (of the device or apps).

apple phone screen time example- useless graphs
apple phone screen time example- useless graphs

What’s missing? Letting the user have control and choice to set goals, decide boundaries and benefit from meaningful personal analytics.

UX Heuristics for Fitness Trackers

In our research, we uncovered seven recurring patterns that we consider essential guideposts to creating richly motivational health and wellness experiences. Many apps completely miss the boat on these, including Runtastic, a popular app acquired recently by Adidas. Note: Adidas ditched their app designed just for women, in favor Runtastic. Runtastic was the subject of one of our past studies on motivational impact of gamification and social UX features. We found it missed a critical element we called Context Integration (see #5 below).

The 7 research-based UX Heuristics for Fitness Trackers include:

1. Level of personalization: Default goal-setting for most users/most occasions; let the user decide what is desirable without making necessary restrictions imposing a hinder for the desired outcome/activity performance level.

2. Navigation/input: Provide a starting point for personalization features; a clear way to show that there are options/further ways of personalizing single functions. Gamification of the process of navigating and personalizing is critical.

3. Positive Feedback: Provide feedback that motivation and/or self-efficacy level has changed through user-defined ratings and questionnaires; system to provide new goals based on the user reported or system-defined motivation level; provide boundaries for motivation and self-efficacy to support users in their activity and needs; expose users to positive and constructive feedback that seems to promote greater motivation — a finding contrary to a study by Hollis, V.; Konrad, A.; Whittaker, (2015).

4. Multi-activity motivation analysis: Users expressed a desire for features that enable them to better analyze relations between data/information — activities and motivation/self-efficacy behaviour, e.g., between sleep/diet and high or low motivation. Users may be able to categorize activities based on the motivation or self-efficacy improvements they see, as well as to explore behaviours that promote higher motivation or increased self-efficacy.

5. Context integration: Capturing reflections on life events and emotional or social interactions during fitness tracking may be an important facilitator of motivation and self-efficacy. This can create an added sense of sociability or social UX known to drive healing, motivation behaviour change in healthcare.

6. Provide intelligence to encourage more targeted behaviour change: Giving users a means to explore their gathered data to increase their self-efficacy and fitness levels, can make the experience more meaningful. Interpreted data can be helpful (like SmartCoach in the Jawbone app) but making sense of activity trends and patterns and tying those to “victories” or self-defined goals might improve self-efficacy.

7. Sustain user motivation by leveraging intrinsic motivation into a playful experience: Use game elements and small rewards to support different stages of self-monitoring; thus it is possible to meet user needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness that support the development of intrinsic motivation.

You can find the research paper here: Motivation and User Engagement in Fitness Tracking: Heuristics for Mobile Healthcare Wearables

infographic ux heuristics for fitness trackers
infographic ux heuristics for fitness trackers

Infographic of the 7 Heuristics for fitness tracking:

Download a PDF of the image above

Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics
Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics

About the author: Frank Spillers, CEO/ CXO of Experience Dynamics, a leading UX consulting firm with Fortune 500 clients worldwide.

For over 20 years, Frank has been a seasoned UX consultant, Researcher, Designer, and Trainer. He is an award-winning expert in improving the design of digital products, services, and experiences. Frank is a Subject Matter Expert in UX Design, UX Management, Accessibility, Emotion Design, Service Design, Localization UX, Lean UX, VR/ AR UX Design. He provides private corporate training and offers courses to the largest online design organization in the world (Interaction Design Foundation). In 2001, Frank founded UX consulting firm Experience Dynamics. He provides deep learning opportunities at UX Inner Circle.

Experience Dynamics, a leading user experience design consultancy that helps high growth companies manage and win with UX/UI excellence.