Personal Honours Project
September 2016 - May 2017
3D Modelling and Printing
How do you motivate people to push themselves to their limits when working out alone?
Vima is an interactive exercise mat, embedded with a neopixel lighting system and pressure sensors, that dictates the intensity of a user's workout. By removing any possible distractions and crafting a controlled environment to perform High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Vima helps users fully immerse themselves in their workout.
The distracting nature of our smart devices is unquestionably having a real impact on the way we experience our day-to-day lives; with adverse effects on productivity and mental health. Losing focus and getting distracted from the task at hand is a common issue that we all have found ourselves in. This realisation led me to investigate what designers can do to think beyond screens and create products that encourage positive user-habits and behaviours.
Exploring Alternative Interactions
Much of the inspiration behind my thinking came from reading Golden Krishna's book The Best Interface Is No Interface. To quote Krishna, mobile apps were innovative 10 years ago, but now they are very much the result of thinking inside the box. The future of creating great user experiences is not in adding a screen on every object imaginable but in understanding what is already happening in the environment of users and leveraging technology to embrace their natural processes.
Equipped with Krishna's principles, I started working on the research phase of my project. I chose the subject of health & fitness as my topic of exploration, and in combination with my interest in physical-digital making, I set out to create a tool for the activity of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that most of all, would be mindful to the human experience.
Good experience design isn’t about screens.
It's about good experiences.
I began the first part of my research by interviewing a number of professionals in the fitness industry to uncover as much as I could about HIIT, the secret for effective workouts and their observations regarding common mistakes people make when working out alone. Meanwhile, I launched a Google form survey to gather qualitative and quantitative data directly from people who frequent the gym.
Rapid Prototyping for User Testing
Following the first round of interviews, I had gathered a lot of insight about the difficulties that people face at the gym, their habits when working out alone and the limitations of certain exercises and gym equipment. I began to formulate a concept for a product that would aim to make both lower and upper body workouts a more enjoyable exercise experience for people of all training levels, while helping to promote the benefits of HIIT. This idea mainly revolved around developing an interactive exercise mat that would benefit from a range of sensors, to help guide the user through their workout.
There were three main questions to be answered:
How would the user know to perform specific exercises?
How would they regulate the pace of the workout according to their fitness needs/levels?
How do I ensure this tool is inclusive to people of all fitness levels?
My approach utilised a range of prototyping techniques and involved users early on in the process to further understand the problem and define the main features of the product. By creating a series of low-fidelity, rapid prototypes to test different concepts with users, I uncovered the following insights:
Having a mat on the floor worked really well for the range of upper body exercises that I had discussed with the personal trainers at the beginning of my research
Placing a second mat in the user’s line of vision i.e. the wall, worked great for lower body exercises as it allowed them to perform the exercise without sacrificing good posture
Participants said they didn’t know when to start, when to rest and when to hydrate
Participants loved that they were able to customise their workout according to their needs
Most of the participants said they do not count reps when working out or if they do initially they lose track towards the end. The prototype helped them because it was counting down the reps for them leaving them to focus on the exercise at hand.
Since I had decided to construct this product for all fitness levels, it was important to give the user the ability to regulate the intensity level that the mat provides. In order to achieve this, I started designing an app that would connect wirelessly with the physical part of the product
If you’d like to read more about the user testing phase, then head to this blog post.
The Final Prototype
Having learned a lot from observing participants interacting with my prototypes, I used their feedback to go forward and build a high-fidelity prototype. I used 3D modelling tools and 3D printers to build the physical part of the product, Arduino technology to program it as intended and illustrator and Proto.io to prototype the app. Through continuous iterations and testing, this is what the final prototype looks like:
Design and Technology
The element of the project that was aimed towards lower body workouts, was perhaps the most challenging piece to design and build. By sketching out a few ideas on paper, I tried to plan the best solution to accommodate the electronics needed while maintaining an elegant and simple design, and ensuring consistency across the wall and floor elements of my project.
After a few iterations, I decided to create a wireless and portable disc where all the necessary electronics would be enclosed. VIMA required the use of two Genuinos, one for the wall element and one for the floor element that would communicate with each other via Bluetooth sensor, an RFID reader and rechargeable li-po batteries. This choice of design meant for fewer things to 3D print, less wiring to do and was by far the least expensive solution.
Mapping Out Light Behaviours
The next challenge was to find a way to communicate the user’s chosen exercises into light motion. The lights had to dictate the pace of the workout, count down reps, and let the users know when to take the required breaks.
Looking for the solution, I stumbled upon some nimble LEDs called neopixels. The most exciting element of neopixels is that the behaviour of each pixel can be programmed individually. By arranging my pixels in a circle I tried to translate and communicate different exercises into light behaviours as seen in the adjacent diagram.