Most of my running time was lonely, and I did not like this experience. Sometimes I said a lot of encouraging words to myself to motivate myself to step out of the apartment. And I hoped that when I went out, I would meet friends who would like. About two years ago, I began sharing my confusion with many other runners. Interestingly, I discovered that they have the same worries. After conducting a series of runner surveys, I designed this tool to create sharing running experience for runners.
2018, Thesis project
How can today’s fitness improve the lonely experience of running?
Runners always experienced these problems while running:
Feeling lonely while running alone, runners always use music to create a phenomenon of being accompanied - This is a typical situation to most lonely runners. They wear headphones, listen to podcasts, and listen to music to pretend someone is talking and staying with them.
Cannot find and join a running group when time and location match current schedule - As exercise planning may vary from person to person, it is hard to guarantee a group running program works for everyone.
Embarrassed to invite unfamiliar runners to run together - Even though running outside is a social exercise nowadays, it is still weird to ask passerby runners to run concurrently.
Female runners care more about the safety issue - Most female runners run with other women instead of male runners unless male runners are their friends and family.
A junior runner cannot keep up with the experienced runner - the junior runner’s heart-lung function is not strong of the more experienced runner. If they suddenly run at the same speed as those who run all year round, then they are not only hurting their body but also reducing the enthusiasm of running.
Bad weather affects the scale of running outside - Rainy days, windy days, and cold winters (especially in Boston) have influenced lots of runners’ activities.
Looking for an economical way - Although some offline running activities are free, the sponsors still want to contact the runners for commercial purposes or charge them for future meet-ups.
Observation: watching what people don't do
To begin with, I assumed that runners would like to run with friends because this would motivate them to run more, or that they prefer to join a local group for a determined schedule. I was inspired by Tim Brown, the author of Changing by Design, who wrote, “The only way we can get to know [users] is to seek them out where they live, work and play.” I went outside, walking and jogging in the street near Charles River, and observed runners for a week. One interesting phenomenon was that female runners chose to run with female runners most of the time. Maybe considering personal safety issues, female runners would prefer to run with other females. In the same gender group, there is less security concern in their minds. I expected this to be true based on my ideation research.
From observing and and interviewing at least thirty runners in one week, I synthesized data some data that guided me to the next step. It can be seen from the data that both male and female runners are most concerned with the running environment. When people want to exercise in unfamiliar environments, they have certain requirements to make sure venues are safe and suitable for exercise. Most of the runners also care about the issue of weather. The third big concern for runners is the social experience. Runners like to run in a group to improve running skills and to share the running experience with friends and families through posting photos or videos on social media. Generally, only a small group of professional runners is worried about sports injuries and prevention of health issues. To clarify which factors have potential value to runners, I kept asking the interviewers what they cared about in the running process.
Based on the analyzed pieces of information, I found that avoiding a safety issue and sharing running results on social media are the two factors that runners care about most. Running distance and running time are the data sets that most users want to share because this is important data to show their running speed. Location and weather are next most important to runners when they run outdoors alone, but they are less important when runners want to run with others. I asked runners if they wanted a training function; a few people said they would pay attention to the tutorial and use the class as the running guide.
From "find people to run with"
to "see who's running nearby"
Based on this research, I was determined to help runners find people to run with so that they can stay motivated, but I realized there was a problem not solved yet. What if they could not find people to run together? What was the main obstacle to finding people? Why is the most important variable finding someone to run with?
A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine showed that working with a partner, especially in a team format, improved performance, doubling the workout time of those who exercised alone.
Gary Bloom, Clinical psychotherapist (BACP)
Building the trust between runners
The first question I asked myself was, “How can I build trust between runners?” And how can I as designer build trust with runners?
Researching through social media platforms and trendy e-commerce websites, I found at least 90% of applications provided an interactive review activity to their users for valuing the experience. Social media platforms designed a “like” button to encourage their users to submit their feelings. E-commerce websites offered an empty five stars to allow consumers to evaluate their shopping experience. Based on these activities that ask users to select and submit evaluations, those platforms accumulated countless feedback from users. Later, users could see the evaluation of previous users as a reference. Those feedback mechanisms built a trustable relationship between users and platforms in a subtle way.
To examine the idea of building trust, inspired by this form, I drew four emojis on paper. Instead of asking users for oral expression, I used this paper to encourage users to categorize their running experiences. I found that in some hospitals, they used emojis as a visual analog scale to rate pain. The scale was designed for kids who cannot describe their condition very well. Those emojis can let doctors know kids’ feelings more accurately. I respect the emoji as a universal language in the role of communication and wanted to see how it worked on my project.
Is Atmosphere Important or Not in this App Process?
The weather clearly affected runners’ outdoor activities. In bad weather, fewer runners run outside. Especially in the spring season in Boston, there are lots of snow-rainy days that made the air cold and the road wet. Runners prefer to pick a good day to run outside and enjoy the sunshine, as opposed to running in bad weather. Runners choose times
to run in which the weather will not affect their running. I invited a runner to run with me in one week to see how the current atmosphere would influence her feeling and experience. The key point was that she could not choose a specific time, no matter the weather condition. Every day, she picked a distance card and had to run that distance with me. And after running, four emojis allowed her to evaluate the running experience with me.
The process did not go well. Clearly, the user felt that in the winter season, it was not a good option to run outside. She chose several not satisfied faces for her running experience. Based on the interview and running research, I opted not to add the weather reminder function to this tool. Runners already know the weather conditions before they decide to run outside. They specifically choose not to run on rainy or snowy days.
Based on my research, I constructed the user low by five steps. And considering that users care about safety issues, I created a process that would guide them to sign up with their real names through social media.