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User Research - Interview & Diary Study

Health & Fitness


Project Overview

Academic project for

User-centred Information System Design

University of Toronto

Sep - Dec 2021


Size: 4

Team Members:

Alina Khan

Jigyu He

Tiffany Lee


Secondary Research

Study Design


Diary Study

Quantitative Analysis

Qualitative Analysis


Design recommendations

Written report



Project Scope

In this 12-week project, we had to select a domain from a given list, define a problem statement, design a research study, conduct the study and analyze the data. The end goal was to come up actionable design recommendations to be used by product designers.

The Process

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Defining the Problem

How did we arrive at our problem statement?

After selecting a domain, we conducted  secondary research  to identify an area of interest and narrow it down to a problem that we would like to dig deeper and solve.

Problem Statement

Young professionals working from home have difficulty sustaining their motivation to maintain regular exercise habits; thus, they are not meeting the recommended physical activity level.

Target User Base

Young professionals

20 - 35 years old

Resident of Canada

Working from Home
Work from home.png

9 AM - 5 PM

Monday to Friday

Sedentary Lifestyle

Desk jobs

Mostly at home

Research Questions

To guide our research, we came up with two questions that we would like to find answers to. These answers would help us design  solutions for our problem statement.


1. What  factors  motivate young professionals working from home to maintain regular exercise habits?

2. What are the  existing practices  people use to maintain their motivation to exercise?

Study 1: Interview

Why interview?

Our first research question is focused on understanding motivations. Motivations are complicated and deep-rooted in people's beliefs. They are greatly influenced by their surroundings, how and where they grew up and are ever-evolving. Interviews are best suited for discussing complex topics and learning the 'why'. Therefore, we chose the interview as our first research method.


08 Men, 08 Women

12 Single, 04 Married

20 - 35 years old

16 Participants

Interviews were conducted remotely via Zoom, WeChat, WhatsApp and Google Meet calls.

30 Minutes

Establish current practices

Identify factors that motivate

Understand role of social relationships

03 Study Goals

Data Analysis

We took a deductive approach for data analysis. The analysis was conducted in two phases. First, each researcher independently analyzed the data from interviews they had conducted to identify themes and their patterns. Then, all researchers came together to present their results. During the group analysis, we examined and combined overlapping themes identified in individual analysis,

Thematic Analysis.png

Identifying themes and patterns in interview transcripts

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Cultural work model developed based on analysis 

Study 2: Diary Study

Why Diary Study?

Our research goal was to acquire knowledge of the motivation and behaviours related to physical activity habits. Therefore, it was critical to collect behavioural data in addition to attitudinal data from interviews. Moreover, interviews rely on participants' recollections of memories, which does not offer a complete picture of factors that affect their experiences due to missing details and forgotten memories. Lastly, establishing behaviour patterns requires continuous collection of data over an extended time. A diary study is ideal for collecting this type of data.


03 Men, 01 Woman

03 Single, 01 Married

20 - 35 years old

04 Participants

13 questions

2 times a day

Google forms

07 Days

Collect behavioral data to validate current practices.

Uncover additional factors

02 Study Goals

Data Analysis

We conducted the quantitative analysis by downloading responses from Google Forms to excel sheets. For qualitative analysis we created an affinity diagram and also revisited the cultural work model developed from the previous study

Diary Study - Affinity Diagram.png

Affinity Diagram for Thematic Analysis

Quantitative Analysis.png

Quantitative Analysis of data from Diary Study

Research Insights

From the synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data we were able to establish current practices, factors that motivate young professionals to maintain exercise habits and factors that act as barriers.

1. Current Practices

Using the data from the diary study, we were able to cross-check the prevalent practices that participants had mentioned in the interviews.

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Social Setup

Some exercise  alone  while others exercise in  groups . Better mood and  higher energy  when exercising with someone

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Use of devices

Use of devices like weighing scales and mobile app trackers is common to  track progress .

2. Motivators

From the qualitative data gathered through both the studies, we identified three motivating factors that push people to do physical activity and stick to their exercise routines.

A Sense of Accomplishment

Being able to  see result  of their hard work keep them motivated to keep going. 

Social Rewards
Social reward.png

 Bonding with friends during activities and being seen as a fit person motivates people.

Monetary Investment

Spending money in form of memberships, subscriptions etc pushes people to  commit .

3. Barriers

By analyzing behavioural data from the diary study and identifying common themes in the interviews, we established the common reasons people have for not getting enough physical activity.

Tight Work Schedules

Work from home arrangements has blurred the lines  between personal and professional time.

Bad Weather

Bad has a direct influence on people's motivation. Rain and cloudy days have lower rates  of physical activity.

Lack of Infrastructure

With all social distance restriction people have  limited or no access  to equipment and space.

Low Energy (Lack of Sleep)

Motivation  to exercise is  low  without enough sleep and rest. This is specially a challenge with high work demand.

Design Recommendation

Putting together the research insights, we came to the conclusion that to support young professionals working from home to get recommended level of physical activity, we need to support them in three ways.

1. Facilitating Commitment

By facilitating commitment, we can help young professionals in sticking to a routine thereby increasing the probability of doing the  physical activity.

Include elements of competition to support socializing

Participants had  higher levels of energy and motivation  when exercising with someone. Competitive elements such as comparison of fitness journeys encourage young professionals to stick with exercise habits

Offer varying levels of financial commitment

Offering varying levels of financial commitment such as free, group/individual plan, low-mid-high tier plans) would ensure we  reduce monetary barriers  but also make it a  motivational  factor when appropriate.

2. Flexibility in routine

A core reason for not getting enough physical activity is unpredictable circumstances such as a busy workday, bad weather or lack of equipment. By allowing flexibility in their routine, the likelihood of scheduling in physical activity in their day and sticking to the it rises.

Take into account daily schedules to support exercise routine

Considering people’s daily schedule and helping them find suitable time during the day to fit in some physical activity would  reduce the likelihood of skipping exercise .

Present physical activity options that do not demand a lot of time and energy

By doing this we can ensure that young professionals are able to participate in some form of exercise every day and therefore  reinforce their habits .

Accommodate flexible settings for exercise

Flexibility can be in regard to  social setup  - individual or in group,  environment and infrastructure  - indoors, outdoors, at home or at the gym.

Provide support to rebound from unexpected situations such as poor weather and overtime work

Making it easy to  restart exercise  routines after unintentional breaks would ensure that young professionals are  not demotivated  because of it.

Evoking a sense of accomplishment

Accomplishing goals and seeing progress stood out as clear motivators from our data.

Fitness progress.png
Facilitate viewing and monitoring of fitness journey

Participants feel rewarded physically and mentally after exercising. Being able to view and monitor progress is a key factor that keeps people motivated to follow through with their  commitments and habits.

Include a reward system

Rewards play a critical role in encouraging young professionals to pursue physical activity. Being rewarded for achieving a milestone would increase the likelihood of  sticking to a physical activity routine .

Support data syncing from multiple devices

Tracking and monitoring require  data collection and synchronization  on a regular basis, it is important that we make it as seamless as possible.

Influence of other physiological aspects

A new but not surprising insight came from the diary study - people reported sleep and food as factors that have direct influence on their level of motivation to do exercise.

Demonstrate the influence of other physiological aspects on motivation to sustain exercise habits

Food habits  and  sleeping patterns  have a direct influence on physical activity levels. Spreading awareness about the effects of sleep and food on motivation to exercise is necessary.

Study Limitations

Participant Recruitment
  • Limited in sample size.

  • Participants were recruited conveniently through word-of-mouth.

  • Lack of equal representation of people in the gender spectrum, socio-economic status, and education background.

  • May not reflect the population that is truly struggling with maintaining motivation to exercise

  • Both interviews and the diary study were conducted online and rely on participant’s ability to recall their memory of their exercise behaviour.

  • There may have been social desirability bias at play in the diary study and the study was not long enough to go past that. 


1. Clearly defining target user group

At the beginning of the research, we defined our target user as "young" without specifying an age range. Halfway through the first study, we realized that each of us had a different understanding of what "young" means. We then specified an age range and additional demographics such as marital status.

2. The way we phrase the question greatly influences the answers we get

In trying to validate our hypothesis regarding the role of social relationships, we asked some questions that in retrospection turned out to be leading the participants. We had to discard the responses we got for those answers during the analysis.

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