Macadamian Blog

Why Wearables Won’t Make You Fit

Didier Thizy

What do wearables, e-learning solutions, and financial planning sites all have in common?


What do wearables, e-learning solutions, and financial planning sites all have in common? They all aim to motivate users to take action, stick with a program, and ultimately change behavior for the better.

Most modern software systems attempt to motivate users in some way starting with getting users engaged with using the app regularly. Great examples of applications like this are Facebook or Foursquare which attempt to get users to integrate the app as part of the user’s daily lifestyle.

Irrespective of whether the application’s goal is to help the user to lose weight, learn Spanish, save for retirement, or just “check in” daily – long-term user motivation is hardIt takes a lot more than a wearable band that nags a user to get their heart rate up throughout the day!

B.J. Fogg, a renowned User Experience Design thought-leader and director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, developed a model for behavioral change that is quickly becoming the standard for software products that aim to motivate users. Fogg advocates that technology alone cannot “magically change behavior.” Companies developing software which aim to elicit a response from users must understand how human behavior works.

According to Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM) there are three components that simultaneously affect behavior: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger.

  • Motivation is the degree of willingness to do a behavior. For example, motivations may include pleasure, pain, hope, fear, social acceptance, and social rejection.
  • Ability is the capability to perform the behavior. Ability, however, can be impacted by training in addition to the degree to which the behavior is perceived as being easy to perform.
  • Trigger is the call to action. Some triggers are natural and some need to be sparked depending on the level of ability or motivation the person has with the target behavior in mind.

According to Fogg, the best way to facilitate behavioral change is to “put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.” To assist in the design of technologies which look to affect behavioral changes, Fogg developed the following systematic three step process:

Step 1: Be Specific – Identify and establish the specific target outcomes and goals.

Step 2: Make It Easy – Simplicity changes behavior. How can the behavior be set up so that it is easy to accomplish?

Step 3: Trigger Behavior – No behavior happens without a trigger. What will prompt the desired behavior?

For example, if someone ignores their goal (motivation) of taking their blood pressure reading every morning (given their ability – i.e. they have a blood pressure machine at home), a mobile application might remind them to do so (trigger).

According to Fogg, persuasive technology uses seven strategies to influence behavior: reduction, tunneling, tailoring, suggestion, self-monitoring, surveillance, and conditioning.

1. Reduction – Simplification of the task the user is trying to do.
2. Tunnelling – A step by step sequence of activities that guides the user through the behavior.
3. Tailoring – Provision of feedback to the user based on their actions.
4. Suggestion – Provision of suggestions to the user at the right moment and in the right context.
5. Self-monitoring – Enables the user to track and change his own behavior to achieve a predetermined outcome.
6. Surveillance – Observes the user overtly in order to increase a target behavior.
7. Conditioning – Relies on providing reinforcement (or punishments) to the user in order to increase a target behavior.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. But it forms the basis for software products that can actually motivate users, if designed to these tenets. I recommend reading an excellent article by Dexter Zhuang, Designing for Behavioral Change in Health, which illustrates how to apply Fogg’s principles in designing an iPhone app for fitness and health improvement.

Designing a software solution that motivates and engages a user over the long-term can be a challenge. Team up a product manager, a user experience researcher, and an interaction designer; all of whom have education and experience in user research techniques like diary research and experience maps, as well as established motivational design patterns that effectively persuade and influence users, following a model like Fogg’s.

Author Overview

Didier Thizy

Didier is Macadamian's VP of Sales, running all account management as well as our growing healthcare practice. Responsible for a cross-functional unit of design and development consultants, his areas of focus include consumer and enterprise IoT software, health software, and usability of complex systems. Didier is an active member of HIMSS, MGMA and Health 2.0. When Didier is not on the road, you can find him rocking out to 80s music, and on certain rare mornings, sleeping in because his kids decided to cut him some slack. Didier has been a software professional for 16 years, holding a variety of positions in Software R&D, Product Management and Business Development.