RETHINKING: Planet Fitness Mobile App

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As a member of Planet Fitness for over seven years now, I have to admit that I had not once thought about the utility of a mobile app. My personal context scenario is focused on making it to the gym first and foremost, then jogging for 20 minutes, lifting free weights, cooling down with cardio and dragging myself home.

But that’s my routine when I’m casually hitting the gym; for those brief stretches when I’m serious, my routine becomes highly structured and dependent on there being low traffic on both machines and weights. That made me wonder—could a mobile app actually assist me attain my goals?

The Current State

When I imagine the potential for a gym app, I think of an experience that’s going to assist me with my fitness goals and the close context surrounding that primary set of scenarios. Planet Fitness doesn’t view their app in the same light, as the focus is centered around marketing their business to the general public, rather than assisting a member in their workout. 90% of the navigation leads to sections that could be the responsive output of a marketing site for a mobile devise.

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From a list of local gyms to member benefits to a PF store, the marketing navigation clouds potentially useful member interactions. Even the “Planet of Triumphs” section—one with an authentication requirement of members—is set up for members to help market the PF brand by sharing our workout stories. In a world of blogs and social media, why exactly would I or any other member waste time with this feature?

The responsive version of a well designed site should be able to cover these requirements, as potential members will most likely end up there via organic search. Why would a non-member download a branded mobile app? It should be built with highly specific goals of members in mind by presenting highly specific member features.

Highly Specific Member Features

Once you get past the marketing noise, there is one section geared towards supporting member workouts: the My Fitness area. The primary features include:

  • Scheduled Workouts: Set up a cardio or weight-lifting workout, choosing from a list of activities with times, effort levels, weight, number of reps & sets etc.
  • Log an Exercise: If not working from a predefined calendar workout, members can document their workouts
  • Start Your Exercise: Countdown based on in-the-moment choice of exercise and all its details
  • Sync a Wearable: Link a Fitbit or Jawbone fitness tracker to the details of an exercise
  • View Reports: Goal Progress, Day/Week/Month reporting (hours, exercises, calories burned)

Currently, I bring a workout calendar on two sheets of paper to the gym, covering each day of the week for two weeks, with weight, rep and set info. I have to admit, it’s somewhat annoying to walk around with it and even keep track of it at home. PF has made the process of creating a calendar with both cardio and weight specifics super easy:

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PF could’ve stopped there, but they dug in deeper to support member needs, adding the ability to sync with a fitness tracker and review progress reports automatically generated by previous workouts. These features create closure around the context of workout goals—the reason we all drag ourselves to the gym in the first place.

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This set of features should be the absolute primary purpose of the app. Aside from the rare need for finding a PF when on the road, members shouldn’t even see the corporate marketing content. That said, PF is missing out on supporting one huge scenario, core to the gym workout experience.

A Packed Gym

How many times have you shown up to the gym and had to wait for a treadmill or exercise bike or a series of free weight stations, throwing off your schedule? What about when you’re just getting back to the gym and simply want less people around as you try to reach a 15 minute mile? Could the mobile app present data to help with these scenarios? I think so.

What about a visualization on the main screen that presents the current capacity of the gym? 40%, 80% full, etc.? Since PF members use bar codes on a keychain to check-in as they enter the facility, the entry data is already captured. When signing up for the “Planet of Triumphs” feature on the current app, a member enters the same bar code ID# to be verified as an actual member, so the two systems already speak to one another.

In a perfect world, members would check in AND out with their cards, creating conclusive data re: time spent in facility. This would allow for explicit visualizations of traffic in the moment, and reporting of historical trends for, say, a Friday night or a specific holiday. Another option would be to tap into the phone’s GPS to approximate when the member leaves the gym, though that might have unintended consequences regarding privacy issues. It may even be worth it to PF to incentivize checkout behavior by members, but even without exit data, PF could present occupancy patterns based on check-ins at certain times of the day. With more than enough employees roving the floor, they could also manually input % of cardio and weight stations used on a half-hour basis.

These are the scenarios that matter. Get me in the door, no waiting, into my routine and help me accomplish my goals. Develop that app, strip away the noise and members of a $10 per month gym would gladly participate in the best type of marketing corporate could ask for: word of mouth.

Redesigning The NBA: From The Playoffs To The Draft

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Former Commissioner David Stern never shied away from change. As a matter of fact, he embraced it. In his own words:

You will ultimately be defined by the sum total of your responses to circumstances, situations and events that you probably couldn’t anticipate and indeed probably couldn’t even imagine. So just keep your eyes on the course and be ready to move in different directions depending upon the crises and opportunities with which you are faced.

Stern faced his fair share of crises and opportunities over his 40+ year reign, with most of them not having anything to do with the actual game on the floor, but he did recognize opportunities to improve gameplay by tweaking rules, which affected the direction and style of the game.

  • As the league gained a reputation for physicality over gracefulness, in the late-eighties to mid-nineties, the no-hand check rule came into play allowing guards to get off more open shots and drive into the paint with greater ease.
  • When Charles Barkley began posting up opponents with his large backside for upwards of 15 seconds on route to a move to the hoop, the league put in a five second rule for backdowns, making players pass more often.
  • After the Malice in the Palace, technicals began to be called much quicker to keep players from talking trash which might escalate passion on the floor. Also, the definition of a flagrant foul evolved in an effort to keep hard fouls in check, so we see more now than in the past.

One could argue for or against any one of these and other rules changes Stern oversaw, but one can’t argue against the popularity of the league today vs. 30 years ago.

Adjust. Refocus. Improve. Sell. Profit.

The game has evolved from a high-scoring, yet at times a highly physical, packed in the paint game to an informed game, one that is now played wide open, allowing coaches to properly space the floor and showcase not only player skills, but the intrinsic beauty of the game itself. From guards spinning into the lane, euro-stepping to the rim to three point shots raining down from the unthinkable situation just 10 years-ago—pull up threes on a fast break—the game plays the numbers more than ever.

Advanced analytics inform organizations about player strengths & weaknesses and provide key insight into the game itself; how players on average shoot best in what spots on the floor, whether off screens or two dribbles, why a decent three point shot is better than a good mid-range shot, etc. Analytics provides smart coaches with additional input to structure their sets around their personnel, ball movement, spacing and the long/short game.

Yet for all this progressive thinking applied to the actual game over the past 30 years, the league remains unbelievably conservative when it comes to dealing with the two biggest issues staring them directly in the face.

The Playoffs

One of the two biggest problems the NBA has today is figuring out how to convert the casual fan into a core supporter. As it currently stands, casual NBA fans don’t pay much attention until the playoffs begin, and it’s a completely understandable position. With the large number of regular season games played, the lunacy that 53% of teams make the playoffs anyhow, the recent trend to rest players for the second season and the growing number of teams tanking (more on that later), the two month-long, seven game series format is perfectly digestible for all basketball fans.

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But if there’s a valid gripe about the playoffs, it should be centered on the reality of less than average teams making the tournament. This year, three teams won’t have a .500 record in the east, yet still receive the opportunity to make playoff revenue and through dumb luck, potentially advance to the next round.

So how can the league address the conversion issue staring them in the face without reducing the number of regular season and playoff games (avoiding losing money for both owners and players)? The playoffs conundrum can be simply addressed in the reseeding across conference lines conversation, and I’m all for that as a first step, but that doesn’t move the needle with fans enjoying the product on the floor during the regular season.

Let’s come back to the playoffs in a bit, as there’s an even bigger elephant in the room and they go trunk in trunk.

The Draft

Prior to the 1986 NBA draft, the worst team in the league would get the top pick. It worked for a while, but once the game gained in popularity (read: revenue), it became obvious that less than decent teams were taking advantage of the system by losing on purpose. Finally, Stern made the move to a weighted draft lottery, as the product suffered when teams purposefully produced a bad experience for paying customers.

Fast-forward 30 years. Even though the team with the worse record now only has a 25% chance at the first overall pick, teams are still tanking and doing it publicly. Simply the chance at landing a transformative superstar has teams gutting their franchises to their core and selling the approach to their fan-base as a winning strategy in the current NBA landscape, where being a middling team is the kiss of death for championship desires.

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Who can argue with them?

The DNA of basketball has the ball in the best player’s hands more often than not, so it becomes a star-driven league. Without one or two of the top 10 to 15 players on your roster, the odds are simply stacked against you ever winning a chip. Sure, superstars can be acquired via free agency or trades, but those cases are rare, as a middling team needs assets to trade (not many have a good player, young talent and a few good picks to land a superstar) or cap space, a preferable market and a decent core to drawn in a top flight free agent.

If you want to build a team with a chance to win it all, the draft needs to be at the core of your strategy. That said, it’s bad for the game, for the product, for the bottom-line to incentivize teams to lose—not to mention, it’s the absolute wrong strategy for the league when trying to convert casual fans into core NBA supporters. Bad basketball and losing, no matter how it’s sold to a casual fan of the game, isn’t going to help win them over, but that’s the current incentivization model the NBA has created for teams to get better.

Commissioner Adam Silver: Let’s change all this today.

Incentive To Win AND Build For The Future
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What if the NBA system was such that trying your best—from the players on the court to the coaching staff to the GM to the owner—would put an organization in a position to not only have a shot at the playoffs, but a shot at the top draft pick?

Yesterday, on Max and Marcellus, the guys came up with an interesting approach to stop tanking and add more excitement to the end of the season. Their idea was as follows:

  • Take the eight teams with the worst records at the end of the year and put them in a March Madness-like tournament
  • Seeding would be based on the number of wins a team has AFTER they are eliminated from the playoffs (so this year, because the Knicks were eliminated first, they’d have a head start on collecting wins and having home court advantage for the eight team tourney)
  • The winner of the tournament gets the first pick in the draft, with the remaining teams’ draft order based on tourney results and seeding
  • The 9-14 teams would then fall in line with draft seedings by their record.

Brilliant on a number of levels:

  1. There will always be the cellar dwellers of the league, but if you’re forced to win games once eliminated from the playoff race in order to get the top pick, then organizational tanking (see Sam Hinkie) simply isn’t an option. You have to remain competitive.
  2. This makes the regular season much more watchable and stops lesser teams from waiving good, veteran players, only to have top five teams scoop them up for the playoff push. 15 win seasons will be an absolute anomaly and fans of those teams will have more to root for.
  3. An added bonus: NBA July Madness! Imagine a bizarro eight-team tourney, held after the championship series, where the number one seed, which may be the worst team (though to a much lesser degree), must battle to win the first pick in the draft! I’d watch those games with popcorn and brew; it would be so much more of a TV event than the draft lottery.

It’s a pretty great fix on its own, but as my man John Witherspoon famously implored:

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…but you don’t stop there. see, you got to keep going…

Why not take this opportunity to address the issues of the current playoff system as well? There’s no way that the 16 team format will be reduced—again, too much money is on the table—but along with reseeding, why not have a play-in tournament to have lesser teams prove their playoff worth? Here’s the idea:

  • Reward the best in the league by giving an automatic qualification to the top eight teams, regardless of conference. That would mean as of today, Golden State, Atlanta, Houston, Memphis, Portland, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Cleveland would get in.
  • Place the remaining 14 teams—9 through 22 by record, across conference—into another single elimination tourney. That would mean as of today, Dallas, Toronto, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Washington, New Orleans, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami, Boston, Utah, Charlotte and Indiana would have the privilege to fight for the 9-16 seeds in the NBA playoffs. The six teams that do the worst (based on losing and seeding) end up with the 9-14 draft order.

Move this direction and competition gets even tougher during the regular season.

On one front, the best teams will push to earn a guaranteed spot and rest before the playoffs begin, and on the other, the worst teams will keep their talent in order to fight for the top pick in the draft. Most importantly, though, this removes the vast gap between the best and worst teams, ensuring that every team is giving maximum effort for their paying fans who are spending big bucks to come out to games.

Adding two, week-long, single elimination tournaments to the TNT/ESPN schedule and interest from college and casual fans will skyrocket, generating new revenue streams and future growth. It’s a solid business move for both teams and the league alike.

Change the incentive and change the results.

If players are working into mid-July, back-to-back games would need to become a thing of the past. I’m pretty sure this would have to be addressed in the next CBA, but as long as players see a cut of the action, and are agreeable to the timing, I can’t imagine why they’d be against it.

It’s logical, compelling, dramatic and quite simply…fantastic!

New Product Launch: Inter-American Development Bank

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Not all projects have the potential to make you feel like you’re making a difference in this world, but after 18 months of blood, sweat and tears alongside my design and branding cohorts at studio analogous, I’m proud to announce the launch of the new Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

With a very limited understanding of the IDB mission at the beginning of the project, I came to understand the profound nature of their day-to-day mission rather quickly. In their own words:

We work to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Improved lives” is the result of operational projects that come in all shapes and forms, funded multilaterally by member countries throughout the world. Essentially, the IDB pinpoints localized projects, and funding is provided to manage green-lit projects through to completion.

In order for the website to present a sophisticated, yet simple interface to mimic such a direct mission within the context of more than 2,000 employees in 48 countries, our focus began by centering on the core needs of a handful of key design personas. In the end, our process narrowed the primary focus of the site to highly related information objects, which formed the basis for the topical navigation:

  • Projects – procurement opportunities, portfolio presentation, mapping
  • Countries – projects, people on the ground, statistics
  • Sectors – OECD standardized, projects, data, strategy
  • Data: – data via indicators & countries, dynamic presentations
  • Publications – bundled research, organizational attributes

Once we synthesized the requirements for each section, we were able to employ a shallow and narrow navigation system, as well as a flexible patten for sectional navigation, which we used in different areas of the site to allow for deep dives without losing key task context. The most complex area was the Project section, as the previous site had numerous single database search interfaces spread throughout. Our solution involved a persistent navigation device to allow for instant browse and specific project-object related queries

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In building out our design pattern library, we sketched the templates for each section to present similar navigation metaphors, information modules, and eventually, visual patterns wherever possible. Examples include:

  • the use of the hero area to introduce stories, campaigns and provide multiple paths into pertinent information
  • page modules that introduce country and sector narratives through the presentation of data and statistics
  • navigation that remain as flat as possible, while being smart in pertinent areas

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While the corporate site isn’t a strong candidate for a heavily infused social layer focusing on comments and sharing, IDB has a growing community of domain experts posting to a separate blog presence regarding sector-based work in Latin America and using twitter and Facebook to spread the good word of their work and connect with interested folk in the region. We felt it was important to share those voices both on the homepage and throughout the site when post attributes overlapped with sectional attributes.

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It’s far too early to know if the redesign has impacted usability, traffic and the underlying ROI. If/when that feedback comes in, I’ll follow up with a post along those lines.

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For more insight into this project and my process, feel free to reach out to me at spcoon{at}gmail{dot}com

FXCM: Infographic Design

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After consulting with the FXCM team to grade the usability of their marketing site, and a follow-up project to design a new information architecture and user experience, I was presented with an opportunity to design an infographic that would live in the education center as one-stop sell for both new and on-the-fence Forex traders.

The design challenge made readily apparent was that the existing vertical format from their previous website couldn’t be altered to be more web-friendly—such as a click-through presentation featuring one point at a time. It was simply a time and money issue. That said, the challenge to clearly communicate the difference between trading vehicles was interesting enough in itself for me to work within those parameters.

forex-infographic

The intrinsic challenge were the details, details and more details. If you’ve ever worked within the financial industry, trading processes and transaction results can be a complex element when trying to present a overarching narrative. Similar to the complexities surrounding statistical narratives, trading results can present a different meaning depending on how they’re presented. We wanted to make sure that all data and results presented would stand the highest degree of scrutiny.

Enter compliance.

If you don’t have experience in the financial industry, compliance is the internal division that ensures all claims made by the firm can be legally substantiated. They’re steeped in the process of producing all outward facing media, from the marketing site to trading interfaces to, yes, infographics. That can sound annoying to a creative process, but their work is invaluable. I tend to think of them less as lawyers, and more akin to editors.

The research we performed was intense—all the information presented visually can be found on the web—so while there was pushback at times in the compliance process, and it took multiple iterations to complete, it also went rather smoothly.

The Crossroads of Hip Hop

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Dr. Walter Greason: […] “Hip hop—the only social force to create an equitable, participatory, democratic, and global system of politics and economics over the last three decades—will vanish into history under a fascist backlash, consume the soul of our generation with consumerism, or evolve to inspire greater intelligence, creativity, and faith among ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

The crossroads we face is no less than the choice about the direction of our species and our planet. This essay hopes to open a conversation about the tools of culture hip hop may provide for our uplift and empowerment.” […]

wednesday is sundae

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i met this girl years ago
bumped into her on the back leg of my three mile jog
the one i ran each day after getting home from the multimedia factory
you know, the place where i made the pixels dance and scream
the first mile was always a bit of a mind game
as the road would rise and dip ever so slightly
creating mirages of end states
i’d convince myself that if i could just get to the horizon line of the rise
the dip would easily carry me forward
and it did
mile two cut directly through the heart of the suburbs
as my shins began to burn, the run became a game of dodge
with low branches jetting out from behind untrimmed hedges
and dogs on long leashes challenging their slack
i’d hop over the cracks in the uneven sidewalk
making sure that i devoured at least one and a half per stride
it was how i kept my gate
narrowed my focus
as mile three began
and i made it to the edge of downtown
the rhythm just seemed to kick in
on cue, cube queued up in my headphones
bringing a good day to my today
my breathing was correct
my perspective was cubist
my self was in tune
so i’d tune out the real
pump my arms and knees
and sprint the last leg home
finishing off my circuit with an exclamation point *

* the first time i broke stride
removing myself from the sticky summer heat
to enter the hum of an air conditioned store
i did so to ask for a cup of that ice cold water i remembered
the water poured from a jug kept in a stainless steel fridge
resting behind the front counter with all those bins of flavored goodness
it was like magic
freezing cold water that somehow cured brain freeze

by the time she asked me what i wanted
a sip is all i asked for…

that made her smile