Academic project for
User-centred Information System Design
University of Toronto
Sep - Dec 2021
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.
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.
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
20 - 35 years old
Resident of Canada
Working from Home
9 AM - 5 PM
Monday to Friday
Mostly at home
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
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
Interviews were conducted remotely via Zoom, WeChat, WhatsApp and Google Meet calls.
Establish current practices
Identify factors that motivate
Understand role of social relationships
03 Study Goals
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,
Identifying themes and patterns in interview transcripts
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
2 times a day
Collect behavioral data to validate current practices.
Uncover additional factors
02 Study Goals
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
Affinity Diagram for Thematic Analysis
Quantitative Analysis of data from Diary Study
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.
Some exercise alone while others exercise in groups . Better mood and higher energy when exercising with someone
Use of devices
Use of devices like weighing scales and mobile app trackers is common to track progress .
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.
Bonding with friends during activities and being seen as a fit person motivates people.
Spending money in form of memberships, subscriptions etc pushes people to commit .
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 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.
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.
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.
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.