3-4 Hours Exercise Not Enough

I just read an interesting post from Copenhagenize, Can You Afford NOT to Use Your Bicycle for Commuting?. Lars Barfred argues that most of us are not even close to reaching the limit of what our body can handle when it comes to physical activity:

Even if you do the weekly 3-4 hours most governmental health organisations tend to advocate, you do not exceed 50% of what you were born to. [...] It is probable that the recommendation of 3-4 hours a week, is more based on what the health boards believe is realistic to encourage, and will not scare too many people away.

I believe that if you only try to bike for transportation, you’ll be surprised by how far you actually can bike. All of us can bike much further than we think, just like Barfred explains how comedian Eddie Izzard demonstrated that he could run much further than most people thought he could:

Izzard clocked up more than 27 miles – further than a marathon – every day, six days a week, since he set off on July 26. The man who trained for only five weeks before his Herculean effort found things became much easier once he hit the road. When he started, he was completing the daily distance in around ten hours. By the time he had finished he had halved his time to a little over five.

Barfred also explains why biking is a good form for base exercise:

The bicycle is gentle on joints and tendons, provided you do not stretch your knee fully during revolutions. Runners are often injured, which is why bicycling is the best base exercise you can find.

Office Bike Challenge

As we mentioned in A Shift to Motivation, our thesis project will involve an online platform for riders to track their rides along with game challenges that can be hosted between friends, co-workers and strangers. For our Public Interfaces class, we want to focus in on one type of challenge that can be hosted in an office where 4-person teams compete for riding the most miles.

Having teams compete will hopefully create an interesting dynamic where contestants at different levels will cheer each other on, instead of mainly competing against each other like the setup in the previous King of Two Wheels challenge.

We’re also switching from tracking with yarn and pins to an online display based on tracking with an app. The tracked routes can be projected in the office as seen in the model above, or alternatively displayed on a monitor. Along with the projection, we are designing a physical installation for the office space to engage all office employees to cheer for the game contestants. They will participate by sending a cheer to contestants through an old-school dial phone. The cheer will either enter the contestants’ phone as a text message, or be read out loud to the contestant if s/he is currently biking with earbuds or is using our awesome thesis helmet with speakers.

The interface in the model requires that we send an installation package with the phone and photos of the contestants to participating offices. We believe this installation will create a larger buzz around biking in the office environment, and give the participants the attention they deserve. However, offices could also participate without the package—just by projecting the web interface, and using mobile phones to send cheers to contestants. The most important thing is obviously to get more people to get excited about riding their bikes!

Audience and other thoughts

On the wall there are some questions my teacher David Womack wrote down while I was talking through our thesis concept. The thesis group session and all the conversations Carrie and I have had lately about concept and focus has led to lots of thoughts floating around in my head. I’ve tried to write down all of them here. It’s unfortunately very close to a brain dump. Hopefully we’ll get this content more structured soon!

The not yet convinced, maybe yes
Our goal for this group: Get people that don’t bike to bike.

The newborn, maybe-yes
Our goal for this group: Get casual riders to ride more, to commute.

The commuter/confident biker, yes
Our goal for this group: Get bikers excited about the in-ride experience. Get them to share the love, to cheer each other on.

There are a lot of motivational aspects to dig into. Lately we’ve been discussing a hybrid of a digital and physical implementation of the game in an office environment. We thought about ways to create a physical game kit where all contestants photos could be placed on a wall with the possibility to push a button to send a cheer, or simply a way to text a message to the contestant etc.

Some ideas:
Send a cheer, send a song, send a SMS or a voice message. An SMS could be read out loud to the user if he/she is riding.
Let people on team know when you’re riding automagically.

Our users can track their rides consistently to tell their own individual story. In addition, we want to create challenges on different levels for people to opt in to. When creating challenges, the timeframe is important! We need to consider the fact that it typically takes 4-6 weeks to create a habit. Challenges can be between:
- individuals
- friends
- groups of friends
- teams in office
- departments in offices
- companies
- neighborhoods
- cities

Your individual story can be visualized through a line on a map, as well as highlighted incidents such as:
- got a flat, chain jumped off
- stopped by friend for dinner
- tried a new route
- found a cool art gallery
- wine & work at cafe
- stumbled upon a biking friend
- talked to interesting biker that works at a gallery right by my office
- listened to a nice song
- took a photo of the beautiful sunset by the Hudson river greenway
- surprised by rain

Some ideas:
— Can biker be prompted later on to explain pauses in movement (i.e. when stopping at grocery store, or when stumbling upon a friend and stopping to chat)?
— Can tracking device learn stuff about biker after a while? If I say I stopped at Rucola once, the next time I stop at exact same place, platform could assume and show Rucola as the destination automatically.

Community building sites trying to motivate people to do lifestyle changes through tracking behavior. Should research these. The price on the trackers was noted to show how much people are willing to pay for these kind of things.
The Carrot
Jawbone – UP wristband ($99)
Fitbit ($99)

Mobilizing Superpowers

We took on a minor side project last week—to create a movie about our classmates’ internship experiences this summer:

As we are most definitely going to create more videos in the future to tell our thesis story, we thought this was a good opportunity to practice. We used the same formula as for our video for King of Two Wheels to try to make the process as smooth as possible. We learned: (1) we will never edit in iMovie ever again; (2) to create a video always takes longer than expected, even if you get better at it, seriously; and (3) do not take on side projects if you want to move forward with your main projects.

That last one is only halfway true, though. Showing our video to a room full of people at our department’s Open House on Saturday, led us into a few interesting conversations with people—conversations we made sure evolved around biking, of course! And as we were distracted by internship stories and video editing most of last week, the guilt forced us into having an epic thesis meeting for about 6 hours last night at a new cafe we found in our hood, Two Moon:

We spent a few hours doing some final edits to a blogging scholarship application essay, and gave it the title Human Superpowers and Talking Helmets. After the application was sent, our conversation went from mainly being about talking helmets, to evolving more and more around the superpower part; how to get people in touch with their human superpowers through biking. We talked, we role-played, we drank mulled cider, we drew on the back of napkins:

Napkin about the commitment curve, painting a city through biking, and personas. Yeah, we need to create some fake people!

Napkin about building a platform for behavior change. Big words from little women. Yup.

Nothing is formalized yet. We’re just publishing some napkin material to remember our conversations. But I think we felt last night that our thesis is going more in the direction of motivation and superpowers than toward the talking helmet. We are in no way giving up on the helmet. However, maybe it will play a smaller role than we initially thought.

Human Superpowers and Talking Helmets

This here essay is very meta—about why Carrie and I are blogging, our thesis, and the interaction design disciplin. It is part of our efforts to try to win this amazing blogging scholarship. We deserve it, right?!

Yes, I am a biker. This summer I realized that I should get comfortable with this title. Even though you will never catch me wearing neon spandex, I am perfectly apt to use my two wheels and human superpowers to get where I want, when I want. My bike allows me to be outdoors, and it helps me stitch together the huge and diverse city in which I live, New York. Biking makes me feel empowered and free, as well as a part of something bigger—an important movement toward a better quality of life and a healthy city environment.

As classmates at the School of Visual Arts’ Interaction Design program, Carrie and I both know the secret to how to get in touch with your superpowers. We bike together to and from our studio in Manhattan every day. On one of these rides we realized that it is time we spread the joy of biking. Our thesis year would be our opportunity.

When you have seen the light, how do you make other people see it too? How do you help people change their behavior? We have had numerous questions and ideas. And though it’s hard to let people in on our messy thoughts, we do it through our collaborative blog. As thesis partners, Carrie and I realized early on that we had to overcome our perfectionist tendencies and dare to share our thoughts before they were completely thought through. Admittedly, our thoughts have been crazy, stupid, clever, naive, optimistic and everything in between. We need to document them all.

The blog format can be scary. As soon as you hit ‘publish’, your brain dump is there for the world to see. However, that trait pushes us to structure our thoughts in ways that are not only legible the moment we have an idea, but also comprehensible when we look back to ideas we had months ago. As our process so far has already shown us, the far-out concepts might very well be the ones to pursue!

We’re now deep in the process of figuring out how to create a smart and charming bike helmet to be used by bikers in urban environments. This helmet will likely become a talking helmet that knows what you’re up to, reflects upon it, and gives you directions, motivation, and tips about routes to ride and places to visit. To develop this idea we are researching aspects around wayfinding, motivation, tracking and discovery of a city from a bike seat. Our blog has become integral to keeping track of this research and moving forward in our pursuit of the core features that will make up the ultimate digital bike companion.

The blog enables us to talk to each other, as well as classmates, teachers and the bike community. Bike activists, local politicians, creatives and developers all have valuable insights that can shape the product we are making. However, considering the nature of our idea, we are also interested in those that are not yet convinced that biking is a viable form of transportation. For the moment, we hope that our enthusiasm for riding shines through the blog and may inspire others to ride. In the future, we hope that our talking helmet will help even more people make the leap from being a leisurely bike rider to a confident commuter.

We do love biking, but we also love design! We hope that the openness around our thesis will give people insight in to our creative design process, and show how we, as interaction designers, develop a product that is both digital and physical. Design is not only about shapes, fonts and colors. Interaction design can involve strategy, concept development, marketing, user flows, interface design, prototyping, testing, electronics and software. The interaction design discipline is expansive, and we want to share our knowledge and techniques with the curious individuals eager to learn.

With our graduate program being three years young, it feels natural to create awareness around our practice. Our blog pushes us to find words to accompany our process, and in return helps us explain what we do to friends, family and aspiring interaction designers. If through the blog, we can motivate individuals to be mindful of, and even practice interaction design, it would mean a lot to us. We honestly believe that the “wicked problems” of the world, like world hunger, recession and global warming, could use some more design thinking. Even on smaller scale projects, the interaction design role is very rewarding. Yet, most people don’t even know what an interaction designer is!

We both had our “detours” before we found our career calling; Carrie’s background is in architecture, while mine is in information science. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of any interaction design project, our different backgrounds actually become our strengths. We could not take on our chosen thesis endeavor individually. We are dependent on each other’s skill-set, as well as each other’s energy, to move the process forward. Our blog is an important force in this. Even though the blog reveals process detours, half-baked ideas and up-hill battles with incomprehensible technology, we anticipate it telling a good story—a story about a rewarding collaboration, a year deep in thesis, and the journey of making a real, and hopefully working, product for urban bikers.

“Pin” a place

As we are interested in exploring the aspect of discovery in an urban environment, there are a few analogs out there. Foursquare, Yelp and Google Places are some typical examples. However the app Matchbook seems to be pretty straightforward in doing exactly what we want our bikers to do. Discover a place in the physical world, hit a button to “pin it” on a map, and get it added to your list of favorite places. I will download the app and test the functionality right now.

“Think of it as like Foursquare or Yelp, except without all the distractions and complications of check-ins, reviews, social networking and everything else those services offer. Matchbook is just about bookmarking your favorite places.”
-Vator (from the Matchbook web site)

King of Two Wheels

On October 15th, we launched a one week bike challenge in our SVA IxD studio. We explained the game rules to four eager studio mates, toasted in some bubbly, and then released them to the chaotic streets of New York City to compete for the title ‘The King of Two Wheels’. From the game rules, the most important thing to understand was the objective of the game:

Have the least amount of thread on your spool at the end of the game.

The idea for the contest was born about two weeks earlier. We had to act fast to make sure our contestants wouldn’t have to fight the bike battle in the snow. See the post King of Two Wheels Launch for some behind the scenes and reflections from the day before game launch, like this very early prototype to figure out the scale and position of the map interface:

We wanted the game to be more than just a race to bike the furthest distance. Given that urban biking is our area for thesis, we had a few concepts we wanted our bikers to explore, namely way-finding, tracking, discovery of places and motivation through social pressure. We gave them eight challenges:

And we put them in a confession booth every day to talk about their biking habits, recent rides and challenges:

The King of Two Wheels challenge allowed us to explore the motivational aspects of biking, both through the contest itself and by making the bikers efforts visible on the studio walls. We proposed opportunities for our contestants to share their bike love by getting other studio mates to bike. To get the whole SVA IxD community involved, bikers and non-bikers alike, we invited students to bet and cheer for the contestants. The blog post Behavior Change and Motivation elaborates on this aspect of the game.

The Status of Our Thesis

For the past seven weeks, we have been writing ideas on sticky notes, talking game strategy, testing ideas, researching, and observing bikers on the streets of New York every day. Even though we’ve had the added workload of three other grad classes, we have managed to make headway in developing ideas around our four main concepts—wayfinding, tracking, discovery and motivation. Also, as our Thesis Proposal v.2 reflects, we know now that we are making a bike helmet. Below we’ve documented the highlights of the previous seven weeks.

Our helmet will have speakers, a sensor that senses if anyone is wearing it, a simple remote control to adjust volume and for simple navigation, and probably a mic for potential phone calls, voice recording and voice commands.

The core of our concept is in-ride voice directions on the format seen below. The blog post Low-fi prototyping, part II elaborates on this, and includes a test text-to-speech audio file with directions that we tested while riding to our favorite local restaurant, Rucola.

1. Head southeast on 5th Street toward 8th Ave.
Ride about 282 feet.
Then turn left onto 8th Ave,

2. Turn left onto 8th Ave.
Ride about 0.1 miles.
Then turn left onto 2nd Street.

3. Turn left onto 2nd Street
Ride about 0.4 miles.
Then turn right onto 5th Ave

We did an extensive post-it session to identify more potential features that could enhance our product. This Features blog post documents the sticky note fun. The session led to a longer list of features that we then narrowed down to a few key concepts we wanted to explore further:

  • Tracking of the bike ride
  • Discovery of new locations in the city
  • Motivation through social pressure

We had been in our own bubble for a while, and started to feel the need to get more people’s perspective on biking and our concepts. We decided to launch a bike challenge, King of Two Wheels, for our fellow studio mates (see Game Rules here). We made sure this challenge also would give us a lot of interesting interview material through introducing our contestants to a video confession booth. When the game was over, we created a video to document our amazing contestants’ journey through the one week long game:

The King of Two Wheels challenge allowed us to explore the motivational aspects of biking, both through the contest itself and by making the bikers efforts visible on the studio walls. We proposed opportunities for our contestants to share their bike love by getting other studio mates to bike. To get the whole SVA IxD community involved, bikers and non-bikers alike, we invited students to bet and cheer for the contestants. The blog post Behavior Change and Motivation elaborates on this aspect of the game.

The spool of yarn each contestant got at the start of the competition was used to map their ride on the physical map in our studio every morning. We believe tracking (as long as it’s done consistently) can be another motivational factor – especially when you see your data making a beautiful visual mark for all to see. In addition to the physical mapping, we also got our contestants to try to track their rides digitally with various apps so we could get insights into the joys and hassles of tracking with the tools that are out there.

There’s something special about riding a bike compared to taking the subway through a city. You discover new cafes, restaurants and parks all the time, but you might just as easily forget your discoveries as you continue on your journey through a chaotic city. We challenged our contestants to open their eyes to what’s around them to get insights into their strategies for remembering places. We also encouraged our contestants to “connect the dots” and actually visit a few places on their bikes throughout the weekend. Read more about this in the Hit the Hot Spots post.

King of Two Wheels Launch

To test our ideas about motivation, and to get some insights into different bike personas, we’ve decided to launch a game in our studio. Four contestants, a map over New York City, and 500 feet of yarn are some of the ingredients required to (hopefully) make this work. Here’s an early prototype:

The contest is mainly a race to make people bike more during a week. But in addition to measuring how much you bike through pinning yarn on the map, there will be different challenges. These challenges are crafted to touch upon some of the themes we’ve been researching lately; Way-finding, Tracking, Discovery, Group rides, Safety, etc. And to make sure we capture our contestants thoughts, joys and worries when it comes to biking in the city, we’ll make them pour their heart out in the video confession booth. As this also is an experiment in designing for public interfaces, we’ve tried to design the booth as a “walk-up-interface” so that you don’t need people guiding you through the process. Cartoonish drawings of people are hopefully enough to make our contestants talk:

We’re also thinking of different ways to involve the rest of our classmates. Our hypothesis is that a big part of motivation for many is the social pressure – which is why sharing the love for biking will be valued even more than just riding long distances solo.

It’s hard to plan a game like this. We’ve made a program for the whole week, but we need to plan for potential adjustments throughout based on how things evolve after the launch. If all goes well with our last preparations, the game starts Tuesday morning. We’re very excited that our bike princes and princesses have accepted the challenge – to fight to become the King of Two Wheels:

Guri, Cooper, Tash and Dave – GOOOOOOD LUCK!