Bringing the gym experience home with human-centred design.

Megan Stott, Marketing Manager in London, UK
09 February 2021

The pandemic has changed a lot of things - one of the most prevalent being the way in which we exercise. With gym and exercise classes cancelled, people have turned to online offerings to keep fit during the pandemic and more recently in national lockdowns. Gyms and fitness brands have had to re-assess their digital capability and adapt to the changing landscape in order to remain relevant.

We know exercise is not only good for our bodies but our mental health too. In the jarring changes everyone has had to endure over the last 12 months, it’s been more important than ever for people to keep active and mentally well. That’s where people have turned to digital; using virtual workouts to replace their usual gym routines and the industry has boomed because of it. Health and fitness app downloads grew by 46% worldwide in the first half of 2020 and this trend doesn’t seem to be temporary. There’s been an influx of new products hitting the market in answer to the pandemic and the new way of exercising; Joe Wicks’ Body Coach App was launched at the beginning of 2021, we saw Apple’s answer to the fitness challenge, and Peloton’s at-home app launched early in the pandemic. 

So as the market becomes flooded with options, how can fitness brands create digital experiences that offer value to customers and ensure they remain relevant? We believe the key is to marry behavioural psychology with product design and gaining a deep understanding of exactly what is going to be most motivating for our target audience. For example, we know that a sense of community and working with others can be powerful for some groups whereas the individual recognition and encouragement you might receive from a trainer is more important for others. Some people thrive on challenges to get them to a stretching level they set themselves (anything from a short minute sprint through to a long term challenge of walking the height of Everest) whereas others are driven by tracking features that help them to see small improvements as they happen.

Different people have different behavioural and psychological motivations and brands are pulling a range of digital experience levers accordingly. Think about Apple’s competing with friends feature or how the Fiit platform has overlapping shorter term and longer term motivators in the form of personal challenges. Nike has gone a step further and rewards repeat use with early access to new kits and discounts. 

There’s no doubt that after the pandemic, digital tools will take up a big portion of the exercise market.  Many users enjoy the convenience and will prefer to stick to the routines they’ve built up rather than return to the gym and their pre-COVID exercise classes. As time goes on, and we move past superficial rewards and undifferentiated features into more emotional territory,  we believe that behavioural psychology and human-centred design will become even more important.

It’ll be interesting to see how these tools evolve in the future to accommodate the changing landscape and what innovative technology applications win through in order to reinforce customer motivations, drive positive behaviour and build brand engagement.