User interface design is a unique challenge, taking into account the complex technological landscape of today. There are more tools and more data to work with than ever before. But while the possibilities and complexity of technology are expanding, the user demand for simplicity is also increasing. This can make a designer’s job difficult as they will have to traverse both the underlying back end logic of their app and the psychology of users who have no time to think about such things.
In this article, we’re going to go over some basic design principles and see how they can be applied to health and fitness apps specifically. Health and fitness is an especially interesting sector for implementing technology these days and the emergence of wearable items that collect biometric data allows users to automatically track their performance and progress toward their fitness goals.
We’re going to discuss three different kinds of health and fitness apps in this article. There are trainer apps to help users select a predefined workout routine. Then there are logging apps that allow users to design and save their own routines, and to track their adherence to these routines over time. Finally, there is a new breed of fitness apps that track users’ workout via sensors. Let’s take a closer look at each type.
Personal trainer app
In general, you want the UI to be as simple as possible, so even (and especially) if your product is full of features, you’ll need to find a way to present them to users in a way that they can understand at a glance. The simplest solution for users is sometimes a difficult problem for developers. Nevertheless, if you want to increase your user base, you’ll have to present your workout app in a way that everyone can understand.
Here’s an example. A great user interface idea for a trainer app might be to have an illustration or model of the human body where users can point to identify the muscles they’d like to work out in their routine. This streamlines the process significantly for visually-oriented users and reduces the time that it would take to select target areas from a text list of muscles. The underlying logic can remain as complex as necessary; often a simple system requires a huge array of moving parts to make it so, but the presentation should embody elegance to the utmost.
Fitness tracker App
Logbooks and fitness tracker apps differ only slightly from the trainer apps we’ve just discussed. In this kind of activity tracker, users will select their own routine from a list of exercises and keep track of their workouts on their own.
Again, simplicity is crucial in user interface design. There’s a lot of information to keep track of in apps like these, and you’ll need to make it accessible to as many users as possible. You’ll want to keep track of training intervals, available exercises, sets of so many reps, and routines that incorporate all of these elements.
Another important design principle: you only want your users to be worried about one feature at a time. There is a lot of data to keep track of in an app like this, especially from an end-user standpoint, and all of it will be managed manually by them. Don’t flood your home screen with a tiny monthly calendar, a list of exercises, and saved routines all at the same time. Try to break it down into several swipeable screens, and let the pointer take them to further details from there.
Because there’s so much data to keep track of, you might be tempted again to list it in sort of a tree structure or array; in other words, you might be prone to present your data in the way that a developer would find it simplest to understand. This is to be avoided. Most of your users will want to see their workout data in the same way they think about it while at the gym.
In fact, it might be helpful to think about your user interface design as a physical space to be traversed by walking. Consider your home screen a foyer that leads to other rooms in your app. Swiping to your left leads to a room that allows you to design and save exercise routines; swiping to your right lets you into a room with a calendar of routines, and so on. You want to reduce the time spent on your feet as much as possible. Taking this perspective will allow you to design elegant user interfaces intuitively, the way your users will hope to see them.
Activity tracking apps
These apps are the new frontier in exercise and fitness programming. In these apps, you take your own routine to the gym, and sensors like a fitness bracelet will keep track of your biometrics, which can include the number of sets and reps completed in strength training. The challenge apps like these present to designers is the following: given all of the biometric data available from these devices, how should it be arranged and presented to users?
There is a lot of biometric data available from these new devices, and there are a lot of things that you can do with it. Consider automatically designing routines for your users based on their biometric data, or presenting them some other kind of health or nutrition advice. A further possibility is to allow your users to keep track on the routines that they developed in the previous app with features that keep them honest about their set and rep goals. These can be full-screen counters when activated to keep users fully focused on their workout rather than playing with their phones.
There are so many possibilities when it comes to user interface design that it’s simply impossible to go through them all in one article alone. Presenting just the prevailing trends in health and fitness app design is a challenge in and of itself, but I hope that this article has given you at least a few ideas to work with going forward. Design is all about the creative use and presentation of information, so while I’ve given you a few ideas, feel free to expand on them, change them entirely, and by any means make them your own.
Image credit: UI for Fitness App via ZinetroN/Shutterstock