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Converging on Thesis Idea

Lots of converging and diverging lately on thesis ideas. Just to quickly restate what I’m currently working on:

I am creating a product that uses a service to address the problem of people not being as physically active when it comes to their daily modes of transportation, e.g. taking the elevator vs. walking up a flight of stairs or commuting to and from work by car rather than a mixed mode of active transportation, e.g. walking, bus, subway

In this post, I’ll briefly touch on the motivations for why this problem is worth solving along with some of the research that I’ve done so far that sheds some light on possible solutions.

Unfit to Live
I recently picked up the NYC Active Design Guideline book, which outlines numerous strategies to better design for an active and healthy lifestyle. The motivation for this is as follows:

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are now epidemic in New York City, and both are growing rapidly. The rise in obesity is tied to the population’s over-consumption of calories and under-expenditure of human energy, both of which are shaped by the built environments in which we live, work, and play. (ADG, 6)

The author then follows up the executive summary with some very interesting data visualizations that support the growing problem at a country level all the way down to the individual districts in NYC.

Obesity Trends Among U.S. Adults - Courtesy of ADG

Obesity Trends Among U.S. Adults - Courtesy of ADG

Adults with Self-Reported Obesity, NYC, 1994-2007 - Courtesy of ADG

Adults with Self-Reported Obesity, NYC, 1994-2007 - Courtesy of ADG

Diabetes and Obesity Rates in NYC by Neighborhood - Courtesy of ADG

Diabetes and Obesity Rates in NYC by Neighborhood - Courtesy of ADG

In my preliminary research, I did both interviews and a survey on people’s perception of commuting in the city and their thoughts on being physically fit. Here’s a summary of the survey findings:

  • When it comes to commuting, time and cost play a major factor in deciding on the mode of transportation
  • When it comes to being physically active (in the context of going to a gym or attending a physical wellness program), people are lazy
  • When asked what “being physically healthy” meant, everyone responded positively, e.g. feeling good, not being ill, not being overweight, not having injuries

In the interviews, most of what was discussed aligned with the survey results although there was one notable discovery: fixed goals are not as effective as flexible goals in the long run.

According to an interviewee, after achieving a fixed goal, they were not as motivated as before because a second goal was never set. For another interviewee (who uses Nike+), they never set a fixed goal because setting a fixed goal would be the equivalent to setting oneself up for disappointment. Instead, he tries to beat his record from his previous runs.

Wrapping It All Up
Although people are aware of the benefits of being physically healthy, they are not necessarily taking an active role in achieving it. Utilizing some of the research findings (time, cost, laziness), we can start to shed some light on how we can bridge a sense of awareness (passive) and literacy (active) when it comes to being physically active.

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  • 25 Oct 2010

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Lead UX Designer on Nike+ Running at R/GA.