Design Issues Example

I don’t want to get into the product review business because I think there are so many products out there and each of us use them in different ways that it is difficult to review them and have the feedback be relevant. And I have huge respect for all these startups who are working hard to create great new products so I want to support them rather than be a Mr. Grumpus throwing in comments from the peanut gallery.

I thought to illustrate a very basic design issue to show how even the coolest of apps can miss some very basic points. Cool app in question is the’s heart rate variability (HRV) app. I downloaded both of their paid apps, the latest being Sweetbeatlife which I use during exercise. To be fair to them, most of the other apps I have downloaded are now filtered out and unused. I continue to use this one so it is the top of the pile.

What I like about the app is that is provides HRV, stress levels based on autonomic nervous system frequency readings and cool features like food tolerance and heart rate recovery after exercising. It pulls data from a bluetooth chest strap. The results go into the cloud and you have a nice historical record of your readings.

What I find challenging about the app is that I think its creators have missed some very basic points of how it would be used in the field. Case in point – the heart rate recovery mode where the user would run, cycle or do some other physically challenging task to determine fitness. Workout in it purest form.

Picture yourself on a run, or doing something strenuous outside. Sun is shining and you have sunglasses on. The FUNDAMENTAL metric you track while humping it during these sessions is time duration. How long have I been running? How much longer is this session? How much longer does this suffering continue? Look at how the duration is displayed on an iPhone (red circle):



Grey 4 point font timer on a white background. Massive black area above that shows a heartbeat trace that has no relevance to the exercise session because the heartbeat average is in white in the upper right. UX 101 here. When running in a sunny place with shades on you have to have big, bold numbers to show the time. Garmin and Polar know this instinctively. With this interface it is simply impossible to see how long you have been exercising UNLESS you stop running, pull up your shades and shield the screen from the sun. Which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

And then, when and if your nervous system frequencies are out of alignment and your stress level goes to “red”, as they are and will do when you need to really engage your sympathetic nervous system to push that run up a hill, you get this irrelevant screen:

Screen breath pacerHey relax. Move to a 6 breaths per minute pace. Even though your heartbeat is 165 BPM, you are huffing for air and jamming up a hill, here is a breath pacer that is completely irrelevant to gum up the screen. And to get back to your 4 point grey timer back you have to tap the tiny button on the bottom left to get the data screen or the breath pacer stays there indefinitely. And you have to do it while you are running. In the sun. Which does not work so you have to stop again.

What you see here is an app that is designed around sitting quietly and taking a reading. Then the designers add in concepts like heart rate recovery without really doing to work of looking at how people would use the app differently when doing activities that would merit taking such readings. So you get breath pacers that pop up when the use case cannot call for such a reaction from the app.

These basic flaws are rampant in every device and app I pay for. Heart rate readers that do not read correctly. EEG monitors that drop out when you move your head. EKG readers that you have to sit absolutely still for them to read, and then there is a 60% successful session rate. The list goes on.

If we are to have wearables and quantification work, the basic design needs to work. Otherwise trust is eroded and all your energy Mr or Ms Designer will be wasted. So put on a pair of shorts, lace up your running shoes and take your app out there. That bright shiny thing above you is the sun. Look at your app. You may find that 4 point font on a white background is an obvious oversight. If you don’t see it, we certainly do. We are all in this together and in the end it benefits us all for the apps to work well. Let’s make it so.


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One thought on “Design Issues Example

  1. Hi Paul! Thanks for writing up some of your concerns in this excellent review. We are really interested in hearing our users’ feedback. I’d be happy to address some of these issues and bring up others to our team! The breath pacer alert can be turned off by selecting the settings “wheel” in the top right corner of the Stress Monitor screen. The first option says Heart Rate Alerts and the third option says Stress Alerts. You can turn off both alerts (make sure they’re not green) if you are working out and don’t want to see any distractions. Simply swiping from breath pacer/relax screen back to monitor screen does the same thing as pushing the tiny circle or “back” button. Just swipe! I will bring up the timer issue to our engineer/designer. It sounds like you might be right about this needing to be bigger for runners, trainers, etc. We want our app to be designed around our users’ needs, so we appreciate all of your feedback!

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