Mobile Applications to Support Physical Exercise - Motivational Factors and Design Strategies

The growing incidence of health problems attributed to contemporary lifestyles, and the limited resources of healthcare, has led several stakeholders to look for alternative preventive healthcare methods. Physical exercise has many good effects for health, but people often lack motivation towards it. Smartphone applications can act as motivational tools, as they are accessible, mobile, and have suitable technological abilities. During past 10 years, a large number of mobile exercise applications have been launched and, increasingly, wellness technologies have been researched in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). However, the field lacks a comprehensive overview of the design strategies related to motivational exercise applications. Additionally, research in the field has mostly been conducted in western cultures, and perspectives from the developing world are missing.

This thesis explores the design space of mobile applications that aim to motivate the users to engage in physical exercise. The main foci of the research were to identify the motivational factors towards the use of mobile exercise applications and to formulate a comprehensive overview of design strategies for motivational, mobile exercise applications. The results were gained from a constructive design research process that included user studies, concepting and evaluation of motivational exercise applications, a cross study analysis of motivational factors, and formulating design strategies. The user studies were conducted in Finland and India with working-age participants.

Based on a rich set of empirical studies, this research produces insights for a wide set of motivational factors towards the use of mobile exercise applications. It points out differences in motivational factors between Finnish and Indian participants. For example, the use of surprising elements and certain playful elements as sources of motivation appealed to Indian participants more than Finns, who, in general, had a more pragmatic perspective towards the exercise applications. Finns were motivated by viewing their goals and progress by numbers and graphs, while Indians did not adopt the numerical approaches. The second outcome of the research is a comprehensive, structured and focused model of design strategies for motivational, mobile exercise applications. The model includes 34 design strategies divided into six dimensions. Nine of the strategies are India specific. The design strategies can be utilised in the design work of future exercise applications.


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Tampere University of Technology