Project 3 Part 3: Running the Observation

We went to the CRC to actually observe and study how people interact with the machines and each other at the gym. Overall we found that many people usually plugged in their headsets immediately upon choosing a treadmill. The treadmills themselves were large and imposing, the screens staring the user straight in the eye as if daring them to look away. The hand supports stretched out and framed the sides, as if the treadmill was embracing the user in an isolating grasp, and the treadmills took up a lot of room, causing runners to be spaced apart. Many people used the treadmill, so worries over whether enough people for a multiplayer program are available can be absolved. The main demographic seems to be female, so gearing our programs towards that demographic would be best.

Main Goals of our Study:

We set out to observe the many social and interactive components of the CRC.
The way people reacted and conformed to the current environment was a key
point in our observations. Were people likely to choose machines that were
close to others or farther away from others? How many would actually take the
initaitive to converse with a fellow gym-user? The number of people who chose
to work out with head phones was also noted. We also set out to possibly interact
with people actually partaking in what the CRC has to offer. Ways the set up of
the gym influenced the decisions that people made when choosing how and where
they would exercise were also noted. We ultimately wanted to see what was
lacking that would allow for exercising at the CRC, and more specifically, on a
treadmill to be a more social experience.

Observations:

A large number of people were at the gym and most of the machines were occupied. Many users came alone instead of with a friend or in a group. Weight-training machines were placed near the outer edge of the gym while more motorized machines (such as treadmills, ellipticals etc.) are placed in neat rows facing forward, at the center of the gym. The uni-directional arrangement discourages much interaction among motorized machine users. Screens on the machines also discouraged interaction: on some of the treadmills the screens were placed at eye-level, taking up much of the user’s field of vision. A large percentage of users also chose to further isolate themselves by donning earbuds and listening to music while exercising: 13 out of 20 wore earbuds on the treadmills. We also noted the hugging shape of the treadmill: it appears to extend arms towards the user, as if to engulf them in a personal bubble. Treadmills are also fairly spaced apart: one user who wanted to interact with another actually physically got off his treadmill and approached the side of the treadmill besides him to talk.

When interviewing one user, she claimed that she viewed the gym as a place where she can get “alone time,”: forcing a social component in would take away this precious time for introspection. She did also note that when she did come with a friend, they usually pushed each other and there was a slightly competitive atmosphere. She enjoyed the idea of a new design that would foster the competitive atmosphere and particularly enjoyed the idea of a networked racing game on the treadmill.

The exercise bikes near the very front of the room held a program called Expresso with game-like aspects. The screen shows an avatar of your character on a track or open field and as you cycle, your avatar moves about in the virtual space. The feel is similar to an arcade, and there was a possibility that the program might network the bikes. Upon testing the bikes, we found the user interface clunky and confusing. The machine required the user to register or sign in as a guest: the extra time required for a user to figure out the program and possibly register are discouraging. None of the games were networked and still isolated the individual. The program, however, did have a leader board and a way to check on an individual’s progress online at any time: the idea of a leader board fosters a competitive atmosphere and offers users an incentive. One of the zanier games, a game where the user chases dragons, did draw comment from those around: unique, interesting games give people something to talk about and better encourages social interaction. The overall design of the bike did encourage interaction moreso than the large, containing treadmills.

Two treadmills near the front were pink for breast cancer awareness: during breast cancer awareness month both treadmills tallied the distance run against each other, and users would get on the treadmill of their choice to help it get ahead of the other one. The event fostered a competitive, social atmosphere at the time and was fairly successful. The competitive component of the event provided the incentive users needed to interact with one another and push themselves to get more out of the gym. The machines now keep track of how many miles were run to determine the amount that will be contributed to cancer research. Near the entrance of the gym, a wall can be seen of all the participants who have helped contribute to the cause against breast cancer.

Conclusion:

The atmosphere of the area was serious, focused, and generally unfriendly to social interaction. Thirteen out of twenty people were listening to their headphones, and almost none of them made eye contact with us unless we directly approached them. While thinking about how to change this atmosphere, we discussed facing the treadmill rows at each other or arranging them in a circle. Additionally, we talked about integrating a racing game similar to the bicycle machines, where the players could race each other. Our approach to observation was to first observe all users from outside the environment: we then entered the bubble to directly experience the product itself.

Photos:


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About foldingwishes

I am a 3rd year CM major interested in animation and narratology. I believe that design is important and highly applicable to all fields and that good design creates enjoyable experiences. My favorite shows are Samurai Jack, My Life as a Teenage Robot and Avatar the Last Airbender and my favorite movies are Le Grande Chef, Ratatouille and the Great Mouse Detective.
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