An innovative, habit-changing and physical activity-focused wellness program aimed at small businesses, start-ups, and creative teams.
This complex product has been designed around a huge and significant problem, solving which may have a significant impact on our society's health.
Me, my colleagues at work, and other designers and developers have suffered from back pains and other health complications caused by prolonged sitting. This concern is ubiquitous and worries many of us who for the specific of work have to sit all day at the desk. I wanted to learn more about this problem and I chose it as a topic for my thesis project, hoping to find the best solution which will help us to fight this challenge.
This case study represents my product thinking mindset and is based on the design thinking methodology.
Single Product Designer, did it all
Neil Harner, UX Design Program Director
Mike Begley, Adjunct Professor of UX Design
Create a product that solves a real-world problem by applying the skills and knowledge that I learned at Thomas Jefferson University.
Employees, who due to the nature of their work have to sit all day at their desks, quite often have various health complications such as back and neck pains, vascular problems, and many other ones. As a result, the poor employees’ health leads to low productivity and additional healthcare costs for employers due to such phenomenon as presenteeism and absenteeism.
A simple yet innovative corporate wellness program focused on solving a specific problem to decrease chronic pains in the neck, back, shoulders, and improve cardiovascular system and heart health among employees who are sitting all day at their desks.
While the process looks straightforward, it is not linear and involves repeated moving back and forth to identify the right problem and create the right solution.
Get a deep understanding of the user problem.
• Secondary research
Analize research data. Define a right problem.
• User personas
• Journey maps
• Jobs to be done
Brainstorm potential solutions. Choose the right one.
• Make assumptions
Design a prototype to test the solution.
Get negative feedback & critique. As early as possible.
• Understand obstacles
• Test again
I started with a preliminary secondary research to understand the problem, how big it is and get the numbers. Numbers are huge and speak for themselves. Apparently this problem is really big and costs a lot of money to US employers.
I conducted 12 interviews with all-day sitting employees such as developers and designers from 5 different companies.
• To find out the similarities in working routine among all-day sitting workers.
• To define the most common health complications among interviewees.
• To get insight what solutions are used or were used in the past by interviewees in order to alleviate health complications and pains caused by prolonged sitting.
• To understand the obstacles that can stop interviewees to use any solutions such as specific equipment or techniques.
Most of the solutions used by employees provide quick relief but do not help in the long run. Three interviewees no longer experience back pain because their working day always includes short breaks for physical activities while other employees often lack the discipline and motivation to do it.
Low back pain
Those which help:
Physical activity several times a day (moving around the office, stretching)
Physical activity once a day (gymnastics, yoga, fitness, walk)
Physical activity 3 times a week (gym, swimming)
Peloton with notebook holder (Active sitting during meetings)
Those which didn’t help:
More expensive Ergonomic chair
Portable massager (temporary help)
Pain relief ointment (temporary help)
Going to chiropractor (temporary help)
Using reminder apps to take a break
Additional specific equipment often is too expensive
Lack of space at office/home to have additional specific equipment such as SSD
Lack of awareness about any solutions (except chairs) that are existing on the market
Lack of motivation (Impulsivity, Procrastination, Laziness) and/or Self-Discipline (Self-Confidence, Self-Efficacy)
The further deep analysis of research papers and studies on popular solutions represented on the market confirmed the insights I got from the interviews that no equipment can really eradicate the root of the problem.
According to CDC, what really eliminates the root of the problem and pains is physical activity.
Being physically active is important because humans were not designed to sit in one position all the time. Muscles should work and blood should not stand but circulate through the vessels. Even just five minutes an hour can help. We don’t need to do hard exercise during such breaks. Just activate the muscles and blood circulation.
Moreover, CDC recommends employers to have a wellness program at workplaces which should include different incentives and rewards for employees to keep them going with wellness programs.
Based on my interview insights and research, an employee persona and an employee experience map were created to visualize persona’s needs, feelings, thoughts and pain points. It turns out that, in general, employee knows that daily physical activity can help decrease back pains in the long run. But the reason preventing doing such daily physical exercises at work is the lack of a quick immediate effect, which in turn discovered another problem that is called short-term thinking or “Present Bias”.
To understand Short-term thinking problem, I learned this book, which is based on many years of research work on this topic. This explains the obstacles that prevent us from changing our habits. I used the ideas and solutions from this book as a motivation system for my final product.
At this point I also recalled the CDC’s recommendation for employers to have a wellness program at workplaces which should include different incentives and rewards for employees to keep them going with wellness programs.
Forced periodic height change of Sit Standing Desk controlled by smartphone
Ping pong room at workplace.
Physical activity (VR & AR games, Jumping ropes) room
Reminder apps to take breaks for physical activities
Corporate Wellness Program
Most of these solutions are going to fail over the time because they don’t have a motivational basis to keep employees using it.
And only the last one, the wellness program looked really promising because it has a strong motivational system supported by an employer which is deeply interested in a healthy workforce.
I conducted a competitive analysis of 6 most popular wellness programs on the market and analyzed more than 100 of positive and negative users reviews on those programs. Apparently, wellness programs have all the prerequisites to be a solution to solve the problem.
As it turned out, the corporate wellness program is an excellent choice for any company to provide an opportunity to increase the amount of physical activity among employees by forming new healthy habits by engaging them in competitions with peers, and motivating them to not stop being physically active using a reward system.
In my final problem statement I highlighted advantages and shortcomings of wellness programs.
The corporate wellness programs is an excellent choice for any company to provide an opportunity to increase the amount of physical activity among employees by forming new healthy habits, engaging them in competitions, and motivating them to not stop being physically active using a reward system.
However, there are too many factors why existing corporate wellness programs fail in order to solve the problem of health complications caused by prolonged sitting:
Wellness programs are significantly overloaded with unnecessary components and functionality that make them very complicated to use.
Wellness programs are usually aimed at big corporations and due to the complexity are not aimed at small teams.
The algorithm to measure a physical activity is doubtful because usually it based on steps calculations during the week. It is also unreliable because can be set up by employees.
It takes too much time to implement program into the work process.
Thus, I saw a great opportunity to create a wellness program which is very unique and different from other competitors.
Take A Break wellness program comprised of next features:
• Has a recommendations and explanations how correctly to maintain health among employees as well as examples of PA exercises which are engaging and appropriate for quick, about 3-min break.
• Has an algorithm that helps to form a long lasting habit to take recurrent physical activity breaks during working hours. It includes gamification, users’ competitions, rewards system, motivation system to be more active outside the workplace, automatic PA confirmation by real-time HR tracking, nagging reminders, etc.
• Tracks all physical activities and PA Breaks during working hours and provides a summary health report to an employer so he can assess the effectiveness of the wellness program and manage the employees’ motivation through the rewards system.
Taking into account new conditions and assumptions I updated existing user persona and created a new one for HR manager for whom I was going to create a web app as a dashboard in which HR manager can manage all employees and assess the employees' health, efficacy of this wellness program, and how much money employer saved since this wellness program was implemented.
At the wireframes stage I conducted an early lo fi prototype testing and discovered several issues on usability and lucidity of the user interface. Given negative feedback, I made few significant design updates to the IA and user flows as well as to the interface layout.
Employee app allows to manage all settings such as reminders, workplace settings, Apple Health sync, etc. It also provides a customer support in such ways as educational articles and chat with support team. Main functionality includes executing physical activity breaks even without Apple Watch using built-in camera and flashlight. Also, using this app employee gets a reward if he won a 4 weeks competition based on the compliance score. Besides that, employee can exchange earned virtual coins for real goods right in the app.
Apple Watch companion brings an amazing simplicity into using of this wellness program and plays the major role. In fact, the employee may open the app on smartphone just few times a month to check his position in competition, to check how many virtual coins he earned and spend them on rewards.
This is the main place where an HR Manager (employer) can see employees’ achievements for the current day, past days, and weeks, create educational articles, announcements, quizzes, health assesment surveys, etc.
As a result of the completed project, which includes in-depth research of the problem and the factors that contribute to its persistence, I have designed a solution based on strong scientific evidence, which may have a significant impact on the health of all-day sitting workers, who, in fact, are the half of the working population of the country.
Take A Break is a wellness program designed to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism among workforces by improving their overall health and mood, resulting in increased productivity at workplaces and decreased healthcare costs by employers.
It is worth considering that the findings and innovations used in a core of this wellness program algorithm such as short recurrent breaks during working hours, annoying reminders, and automatic confirmation of physical activity based on heart rate zone measuring, will require further study of its efficacy by testing in real life settings.
This was my first time when having a problem I didn’t know what exact solution I was going to build. It could be some kind equipment, technique, or software. I couldn’t even imagine that result will be a corporate wellness program that combines a cross-platform software, wearable devices, a habit-changing technique and an innovative control algorithm.
I learned that it is very important to identify the right problem even if at the beginning I was pretty sure that I knew the real problem. I learned that I have to generate different solution variations through repeated iterations so that I could pick up the one that is really effective to solve the problem.
Next time, knowing what I know now about corporate wellness programs, I would delve deeply into the learning of those represented on the market to find out even more about their shortcomings or useful features.
Next time I would design mobile version of HR dashboard.
Next time I would implement WCAG standards.
Next time I would continue research and looking for solutions for audience that have been left uncovered by my final solution: freelancers who don’t have motivation support from employers and truck drivers who don’t have possibility to take breaks every hour.