British Rowing, the governing body for all forms of rowing in the UK, chose us as their technology partner for a key indoor rowing project. We helped them to determine how to use technology to increase participation in their sport by making indoor rowing become the ‘new way’ to exercise.
We created a product for indoor rowing machines within gyms, delivering tailored workouts to target personal goals such as weight management, strength and conditioning and general fitness.
The RowActiv pilot was set up in Putney Leisure Centre, shortly followed by a series of controlled experiments: testing new ideas on users, recording their behaviour, making enhancements to the product and then assessing what impact these enhancements had on users’ behaviour.
“When British Rowing approached us, they were looking to create a mobile application as a companion for indoor rowing. But when we scratched beneath the surface, we were able to ascertain the underlying goal - to increase participation in their sport. Together, we took things back to the drawing board and followed a Lean Startup approach to product development.
What was great was British Rowing’s enthusiasm to adopt this approach and to understand the value of shipping working software to test on customers as soon as possible (even if this is in prototype form). We’ve built several iterations of RowActiv and have recently run a series of experiments. Suffice to say, the end product has turned out to be a completely different animal to the mobile app they originally had in mind.”
“The big challenge we had with designing a product for use in gyms was making it stand out from all the other equipment, whilst ensuring it was accessible to all gym goers.
In order to make it simple and appealing, I wanted to avoid using a graph or data heavy interface, so decided on a big target bubble in the middle of the screen that grows and shrinks depending on users’ rowing power, and changes colour if they’re not on target. Focussing on the required intensity with minimal other distractions, users tend to engage more during the workout which in turn reduces boredom (a problem identified with existing indoor rowing).
In further developments we introduced a progress indicator to manage progress expectations, and scoring feedback to further encourage the competitiveness and gaming aspect.
Subtle animations and a colour palette to make it easier for the user to focus on the workout make the interface fun and appealing.”
UI / UX
“One of the hardest things to anticipate when designing for your users’ experience is the context in which they’ll use your product. Fortunately this was pretty clear for us, but brought a host of other issues we needed to address. Aside from capturing gym users’ attention, we needed to ensure the barrier to entry was as low as possible and that it was intuitive to get started.
Giving a user the option to select a type of workout with the limited input devices the rowing machine offers was particularly interesting. To keep things as simple as possible, we decided to use the one control a user would be immediately used to: the user would make selections on the interface by rowing. Coupled with a pause delay to select the option they wanted, we found this to be an intuitive, and effective control mechanism.”
“RowActiv has been an incredibly interesting project for us. We had to pull together various pieces of hardware and worked on Python API as an interface to the indoor rowing machine hardware. Having multiple people using RowActiv at the same time was difficult but I was able to apply multi-threaded programming knowledge in order to achieve this. We initially chose to build RowActiv on a Raspberry Pi due the size and relatively low cost, but this meant we were heavily restricted by performance, so we built our backend, again in Python, from scratch in order to keep resource use down. Writing code that interacts with another device over USB (an ergometer in our case) was particularly challenging: we had to cater for all of the possible states the device could be in.”
“Prior to the creation of the final RowActiv application, UVD created a prototype client designed for a single rowing machine. When I joined the project my first challenge was to take the lessons we learned during this prototype phase and create the foundations for a new, solid, future-proof client, developed using our typical TDD methodology.
The main issue I faced was moving away from a traditional ‘global state’ structure to one that could support multiple simultaneous users, with a split screen. The solution I came up with divides the screen using directives with isolated scope, essentially by giving each screen segment it’s own ‘world’ to operate in. This was a bit of a paradigm shift initially but I’m extremely pleased we went down this route. I feel it turned out to be a really elegant solution to an inherently tricky problem.”
“Having the opportunity to develop a web frontend for a cutting edge browser is something of a novelty for a frontend developer, but gave us the opportunity to use a lot of the newer capabilities of web technologies. Flexbox and vertical height / width relative sizing units were used with aplomb, and ensure the screens and UI elements react to the space they have available, which made splitting screens incredibly easy. CSS animations were used to provide smooth transitions and feedback on selections, and the intensity feedback target was built using canvas, leveraging the fabricjs library.”
Indoor rowing 24%
Sessions per day 54
UVD helped us run the project in such a way that it has the highest chances of success - putting the customer first, making sure we spend as little as possible to get the product in front of people and taking our insights back into product development. They’re a great team, dedicated to their craft, and a pleasure to work with.
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