How to create a connected experience

Recently our friends and collaborators at Virgin Active launched The Pack, a new digitally connected group cycling experience. It’s a product that reimagines every aspect of group cycling: from the studio layout, to the screen design, to the in-class activities themselves. But in order to design the radical new experience they needed, what were the key principles behind our approach and how have we adapted our ways of working to support them?

1. Be empathic
Great experience design is always empathetic. It focuses on people-first, not technology-first and responds to human needs, emotions and desires.

The central idea ‘together we ride’ is a genuinely motivating idea – born through a process of first-hand experience, lively research sessions with instructors, in-class tests and a lot of creative problem solving. The outcome is a surprising and exciting product designed to shift people’s mindset from a laboured exercise routine to a fun, multi-sensory experience.

2. Build off the insight
Our research and observations showed us that it’s being part of a collective that inspires individuals to work harder and push further, so we made fun competition integral to the creative idea and execution.

By starting with the in-class challenges – the games – and figuring out how to make them fun and interactive for the group, we could unlock the potential of The Pack. Whether your team is competing in Sumo, Big Burnout, Speed Freaks or Hold The Line, the aim is to move the group cycling experience from a 1-2-1 interaction to a collective effort. The result is a much more engaging class, with greater social interaction and ultimately improved performance.

3. Make the design helpful
Each challenge is brought to life by an intentionally simple design system made up of three arrow icons. Each icon represents one of the three teams on screen. The teams themselves are divided by light channels within the space in corresponding colours, intended to create a more sensory and immersive environment. The same three arrows are used across all communication touch-points and form the basis of the logo. It’s a singular system with multiple purposes: dynamic, bold and above all else – helpful.

In the context of a group cycle experience, less is very much more. The user already has a lot to deal with: listening to instructions, keeping up to the beat of the music, reacting to the on-screen prompts and of course trying not to fall-off, information overload can occur very quickly. Helpful, in this context, means informing and guiding riders to just the right level of detail.

4. Work openly and without ego
In order to create such a dynamic solution we pulled in many different skill sets: a crew of UX designers, full-stack developers, visual designers, animators, industrial and light designers – all working quickly and collaboratively. The different perspectives and processes of each expert ultimately shaped the final product, pushing the creative outcome.

Experience design also demands a much more joined up approach with the client. Their expertise in product development (most are still actively working as instructors) means we could tweak and evolve the product experience to work across multiple formats while not watering down the ambition of the idea.

5. Keep iterating
One of the greatest benefits to working on this type of job is that the impact of the design is instant and tangible, making it easier to observe where the design is perhaps falling short of users needs.

From simple things, like moving the clock from the center to the left-hand side in order to avoid the folds in the screen, to completely re-thinking challenges in order to make them easier to understand. It’s also essential that user testing and feedback forms a much bigger part of the design process. By challenging and adapting the product in response to the user from the outset means that the product constantly improves.

Ultimately, the ingredients for creating a joined up experience act as a great foundation for any creative process – from building a website, through to a global brand. By being empathetic, insightful, helpful, open and iterative you create a process where creativity thrives, pushing everyone involved to design the most radical creative outcome.

Dan Greene is a Design Director at Wolff Olins London. You can follow him @danny_greene

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