Case study

Founded in 1844, many of today's fitness trends can be traced back to the pioneering programs of the YMCA. Now, the YMCA seeks to reimagine how members can engage with fitness through digital discovery.

Our vision is to design a fitness destination for all: To play more often, to discover something new every day, and to grow into a healthier self.

How can members continue to engage with the YMCA outside the center?

Building a strong foundation for gym member engagement is important. One study shows that users at risk of canceling their membership were 45% less likely to quit the following month if they received a “successful commitment interaction” than those who didn’t. 

The health and fitness industry is an ever-changing landscape, you can’t just sell a membership then walk away, you need to build a community through various engagement touch points through group exercise programs, regular communication, a user-friendly app with new content, rewarding loyal users, and make onboarding a priority.

Business Goals

Increase app engagement through wellness recommendations, health plans, and workout classes.

Product Goals

To design a companion app that offers distraction-free guidance to help users attain their health and wellness goals wherever they may be.


Overall, YOU x YMCA was perceived as mostly easy-to-use, and well-designed. However, we learned that there was some difficulty in guiding users when editing goals, logging nutrition, and booking classes. A richer experience during onboarding and registration will also need to be evaluated.

Understanding the Health & Fitness Space
Based on a study conducted by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) as part of the Physical Activity Council (PAC), about 1 out of 5 Americans (20.8%) belong to at least one U.S. health club or studio. Since 2008, membership has grown by 37.1%, while the total number of club-goers has increased by 34%. The total number of health club visits has also increased, amounting to 6.1 billion visits in 2018, up from 4.3 billion in 2008.

We analyzed the following competitors to gather as much insight into the aesthetic and branding choices of our competitors, as well as the overall user experience to gain design inspiration but also to understand how our design solutions can differentiate.

Direct competitors accommodate a spectrum of fitness levels: the extremely active (Nike), dieters counting calories (Weight Watchers & MyFitnessPal), and entry-level gym goers (Planet Fitness).

Indirect competitors focused on highly active users who are upgrading their lifestyle by sharing accomplishments on social media (Strava), high-end accessories (Peloton), and wearables to track growth and compete.

UPDATE: As COVID-19 forces health clubs to close their doors, an alternative for keeping a steady flow of business has arisen. Clubs have been offering virtual classes for some time, but the widespread closure of fitness centers in many parts of the world has made virtual offerings essential.
Comparing User Interfaces

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  1. 50% of competitors were ranked as some of the best apps in Health & Wellness listicles (MyFitnessPal, Nike Training Club, and Strava)
  2. 50% of competitors have video heavy content and editorial styled images with trainers and/or exercise instructors featured
  3. 83% of competitors feature a FAB to add or record content quickly, are community/social driven, and have a hassle-free registration or questionnaires asking a few personal questions to offer custom content
  4. 83% of competitors initially focus on a single goal (workouts, food diary, community, etc.) with supporting features (in-person class booking, recipes, smart accessory sync) and have a premium subscription option starting at $9.99/month
  5. 83% of competitors use white with a pop of color and a sans serif font for body copy for a distraction free experience
Nike Training Club
Nike Training Club
Planet Fitness
Planet Fitness
Weight Watchers
WW (Weight Watchers Reimagined)
Trends & Insights
Onboarding & Registration

A simple registration form with a few questions about users' goals/needs and offer suggestions to level up their fitness goals. Make sure the user knows how long the registration process will be with a progress indicator.

Goal: increasing daily workouts

Focusing on the users' exercise habits were a priority in 4 of out the 6 competitors analyzed, with diet as secondary goal.

custom workouts & personal coaching

4 out of the 6 competitors featured personalized expert advice from a health professional and customization of workouts. Both are essential in maximizing effectiveness, motivation, accountability, reducing risk of injury, and establishing lifelong habits.

freemium memberships

Most offered a Premium membership, but they didn't always offer users a trial offer, or a breakdown of features with a pricing structure for transparency. A dual pricing structure of monthly vs. annual was more commonly seen.

female-centric experience

Many of these apps are geared toward a male-centered experience, so there’s an opportunity to pivot towards the needs of female (identifying) users

Wins and Shares

Social media shares are most useful when the user-generated content showcases wins: completing workouts and streaks.

Our User: The Overworked Educator

"These kids are driving me crazy! Staying healthy, managing a stressful job, and dealing with a health condition can be too much to handle at times."

Who is Erin?

A single, millennial with a demanding job as an educator, Erin is trying to get in great physical shape while dealing with an ongoing health condition.

Tech gear & most commonly used apps

Erin carries an iPhone X paired with a FitBit wearable device which tracks her activity, sleep, female health, and heart rate. She also uses the MyFitnessPal app to sync her Fitbit activity to get a more complete picture of her health by also tracking her meals.

The other apps she uses are Instagram to follow health and beauty influencers, and Pinterest to bookmark recipes and workouts.

  1. To work with a health professional to devise a workout plan that fits her diagnosis
  2. Being held accountable to a weekly workout plan
  3. To efficiently schedule workouts and not miss out on other aspects of her life
  1. To discuss fitness routine with a health professional due to health condition
  2. A tool to hold her accountable during her workout
  3. An efficient way to workout due to lack of free time
  1. Don't want health conditions to interfere with lifestyle
  2. Find new workouts and classes to alleviate daily stressors
  3. Balancing a social life, health needs, and busy work schedule
  1. Health condition limits workout options
  2. Doesn't know the best way to alleviate stress
  3. Doesn't have enough time to juggle all aspects of life
  4. Difficulty holding self accountable and maintaining a schedule

Exploring Visual Designs for the YMCA

Concept A: Airy Holistic

The Airy Holistic concept warms you to the core with its nature-inspired palette of red-oranges, brown and green. Natural textures (produce, Capiz, stone, rattan, etc.) lends to the holistic design aesthetic, sustainability, and spirituality. Rounded and soft sans serif typefaces provide a casual, kind, supportive, and community-focused tone. The imagery will be full of daylight (golden hour, sunsets, etc.), joyful expressions, families, and nature -- all things intrinsic to a high quality of life.

Concept B: Retro Futurism = Winning Concept!

We’re gathering both young and old back to the YMCA with its retro charm and old-school values — reminiscent of the baby boomer generation who were more affluent, active, and physically fit than preceeding generations — with a futuristic aesthetic and digital technologies which millennials are attracted to.

Retro Futurism combines a cool set of grays and blues with smooth, metallic surfaces to suggest self-reflection and geometric shapes to invite the user to use their imagination to play. Using sans serif typefaces provides users with distraction free instructions and helps focus on their workout routines. The imagery will have industrial surfaces and textures as its backdrop with instructional videos defining body shapes and outlines from various angles to teach proper form.

This concept was chosen by the stakeholders to move forward with.

A total of 5 participants were recruited for a half-hour usability study to test the intuitiveness, ease of use and learnability of the YMCA fitness application. All of the participants were asked to think aloud while they completed a series of four tasks while using the app.
participants characteristics:
  1. All participants owned a smartphone and used it texting, social media, email, and apps
  2. All participants had experience with working out and using a fitness app at one point of their health journey
  3. 3/5 users have a health condition that needed to be addressed when working out
  1. Creating an account and complete a health questionnaire
  2. Complete the suggested workout for the day
  3. Log what you ate for breakfast
  4. Send a message to the assigned workout coach
  1. Assess the overall effectiveness of the fitness app
  2. Identify obstacles to completing a daily recommended fitness plan
  3. Assess the users' interests in a curated workout
  4. Evaluate the product's organizational clarity and labeling
virtues that guide our solutions for the users
Design Principles

We are wholeheartedly dedicated to strengthening community by connecting all people to their potential, purpose and each other.


Users can trust and rely on the products and services offered are beneficial to their overall well-being.


We will inspire the user throughout their journey to help reach their goals.


We are genuinely concerned for others, for their needs and well-being. And to engage in authentic dialogue and sincere engagement across communities.

Usability Testing: Wireframes to HiFi Designs

Onboarding & Registration Wireframes

Onboarding is a virtual unboxing experience that helps users get started with an app. Maintaining a simple process was a top priority but during testing, the users felt overwhelmed when viewing a list of questions on one screen and were unsure if leaving them blank meant they were unable to move on or could edit on their profile later.

  1. 4/5 users expected to include specific information regarding user’s height, weight, age, and sex
  2. 3/5 users were unsure about the purpose of the questionnaire
  3. 3/5 users commented on wanting to modify questionnaire responses from the summary screen

Quick Starting the Onboarding Process to Understand the User's Priorities

Since the users felt overwhelmed with multiple tasks on one screen, we decided to break up the questionnaire into multiple steps to help users explicitly understand how the app can be used in their lives. Auto-save allows users to move forwards and backwards worry-free. Users can also add or edit their goals and information in their profile.

A quick start to onboarding enables users to quickly get started with the core functionality of the app and prioritizes the first key action.

Progression Wireframes

Users are given daily tasks based on their health and fitness goals and can view a daily and weekly progress reports that tracks workouts, nutrition, and water intake which can be sent directly to your health and fitness coach. Recommendations for improvement are also highlighted as well as successes.

When we asked users to check off their daily tasks, they hesitated once they finished. They did not know where to go next or how to get back to the home page.

Most users found the information overwhelming at first but found the data useful. We need to find a way to make the data easy to understand at a glance and remove distracting elements.

Showing Users Progress to Attain Their Goals with Key Insights

Checking off Daily Tasks weren't an effective way to motivate users and were lost in a sea of data and other noise that confused users during testing. With that in mind, we highlighted the most common tasks and displayed progress as a percentage and pie chart which will also give users a breakdown of their nutrition, activities, and water intake.

Users can easily view daily and weekly progress, as well as key insights to help them attain their goals. Insights are gathered from users during onboarding and daily input.

Goals can be updated at any time within insights, through the FAB, or in the user profile.

FAB was added to send your coach a message or to edit your goals. Most users liked the idea of having a professional keep them on track but thought it would be cost-prohibitive like a personal trainer.

Nutrition Wireframes

We asked users to log what they ate for breakfast and all users completed this task with ease except when logging their water intake.

  1. 3 of the 5 users were confused when logging their daily water intake and didn't know how much water was logged per serving
  2. 2 of the 5 users wanted to see what they logged for breakfast when they went back to the progression page

Simplifying Journal Entries for Better Weight Management

Several studies have shown that people who keep food journals are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. A recent study states that people keeping a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who kept records one day a week or less.

The FAB quickly allows users to add Meals and Water to their journals. Users can log items from a "Recent Items" list, search, or barcode scanner.

Workouts Wireframes

All users thought the flow for the workout was very easy to follow once you got to the workout.

However, the workout landing page was confusing due to the layout and empty data sets and insights. Users assumed "My Schedule" showed a calendar of in-person classes.

Users also didn't understand why the "Start" button was located on the main page and would have liked the option to view classes before starting.

  1. 4/5 users wanted to view the exercises in the workout routine before they started the workout and would like the option to skip.
  2. 3 of the 5 users did not know that this workout was curated for them based on the onboarding questionnaire.
  3. 2/5 users wanted to click the “next” thumbnail on the bottom of the exercises pages and did not know to click the arrow.

The Most Important Workout is the One You Do!

We gave users what they wanted with a curated workout menu tailored according to their goals and needs. Users can filter workouts by equipment, muscle group, and type as well.

We also introduced new workouts by offering previews of the exercises plus, the option to skip exercises that you don't want to do due to health reasons, injury, or just because.

The countdown timer is also bigger and bolder to amp users before workouts. And at the end of every workout, the app will log activities under goals.

Classes Wireframes

Since most users assumed "My Schedule" showed a calendar of in-person classes when testing the Workouts wireframes, we created a separate category for classes.

Booking classes at your local YMCA is made even easier when viewing a roster of available classes daily and in chronological order.

Removing Extra Steps to Simplify Class Booking

To further simplify booking classes, we removed the extra step to select the Book Button once again as most of our users did not understand why it was necessary to have a repetitive step.

Users suggested a notification dot on the calendar date and/or some other kind of notification on the home screen to remind users they've booked a class.

"You just press book, and then it went to Zumba to press book again, it's like...why do you have to do that again? If it’s to confirm, or show a confirmation, just to make sure that I like actually want to do it, ok, though if that was the case I feel like a little pop-up could say you're booked for this class -- click to change your booking process or something."
Insights and Future Recommendations

The majority of tasks were rated either 4 (very good) or 5 (excellent) in terms of ease-of-use. The tasks rated below a 4 were centered around functionality and could easily be modified in a future iteration.

users want a more motivating welcome

Onboarding was perceived as fairly easy to complete, however most users would like a more captivating and motivating welcoming experience that is aligned with the promise of a new YOU.

A better introduction and onboarding experience

Users also felt the app lacked an introduction and jumping straight to physical activity, health goals, and conditions was somewhat intrusive

editing goals should be in profile or settings

Users felt editing goals from the “Insights” tab was not intuitive and that the name of “Insights” was misleading or confusing in relation to daily and weekly goals.

swiping up to view options is not intuitive

During the workout scenario, some users had difficulty skipping ahead to the next exercise on the list. Swiping up to view options to skip ahead is not an intuitive gesture. Going back to view options or skipping forward to the next exercise are the intuitive options

visual aesthetic was favorable

The home screen and navigation menu were seen favorably and as clear and easy-to-use. Its aesthetic were favorable and found the app engaging.

Prototype Walkthrough