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Women in Weightlifting

Project:   Women in Weightlifting Case Study
Capacity: Individual MICA School Project
Role:   UX Research & Design

Project Background:


Through my own personal experience, I noticed a large gap between men and women engaging in weightlifting at the gym. I was interested to explore the reason behind this disparity, and potentially find a solution to close this gender gap. The challenge was as follows:

How might I design a way to improve the gym weightlifting experience for women who are new to weightlifting but want to start?


I planned to engage women to better understand the beliefs and issues of breaking into an activity that is currently dominated by men. I intended to explore what the primary barrier is that deters women from weightlifting, and deeply understand the existing beliefs of women in the athletic community to create a solution for commercial gyms.



I conducted historic, market, and competitor research to better understand the current efforts of today’s fitness-related companies. After gathering this information, I then created two potential user types to interview. I wanted to hear both sides about women’s experiences: those who had successfully made the switch into weightlifting, as well as those who had not but were interested.

I created a user-facing screener to accurately recruit for these user types and weed out those who did not quite fit my criteria.


After recruiting three participants for each type I conducted hour-long interviews with each user following a discussion guide I created.

After each interview I went through and took detailed notes on the key findings, reoccurring patterns, unique points, and any information that seemed important to my research. After analyzing the data and breaking down the large concepts into smaller ones, I externalized my data by importing it into Mural to create a virtual visual dataset.


I synthesized my data by finding connections between both seemingly unrelated issues and basic commonalities across all user groups. I created an affinity map to group my notes based off relationships and underlying implications in order to find the key user motivations, goals, and frustrations.



After synthesizing the data, I found four main takeaway that captured both the tactical and the emotional aspects of the experience.

1.    Judgement: Women are greatly influenced by the fear of failure because of the potential judgement from other gym-goers rather than the failure itself.

2.    Ability: Women’s weightlifting motivations consistently shift from improving their outward physical appearance to improving their physical performance.

3.    Lack of Guidance: Weightlifting’s open-endedness is one of the main user frustrations.

4.    Knowledge: The gain of knowledge is directly linked to the gain of confidence and comfort across all users.

From this research I then defined the key behavioral characteristics to create two accurate and useable personas to use in future ideation.

The Transformed Weightlifting Lover:


The Shy Beginner:



From this research, I iterated through multiple ideas and suggest the following three possible solutions:

1.    Commercial gyms should focus on creating educational solutions for their gym members.
     - Idea: An app that scans a code on a particular machine that provides a quick demonstration on proper form and how to use a machine
     - Idea: Redesign instructions on machines to be clearer and easier to understand

2.    Decrease perceived judgement in the gym.
        Since it is difficult regulate  large volumes of people and new rules in an already defined commercial gym, I suggest redesigning what they can control such as the equipment itself.

     - Idea: Redesign equipment to purposefully not showcase the amount of weight being lifted (ex. hidden weights on machines or equally sized dumbbells)

3.    Take advantage of the sense of camaraderie to build comfort and excitement.
     - Idea: An app that can match women with other women gym-goers that are on their same fitness level with similar goals: This would decrease the fear of going alone and build motivation and accountability.


Design Process:

I decided to combine two of my other ideas into one:


A mobile app that not only provides a simple, fast, and judgement-free way to look up exercises and "how-tos" at the gym in real time, but also appeals to the user's need for community by connecting them with other gym-goers with similar fitness goals.

I created a gap analysis from market and competitor research to organize the top main features and objectives. After analyzing the data I found that usability was an overall arching theme throughout all objectives and functions and that connection and camaraderie is lacking in most fitness-related apps even though that is a main user motivation. I also found that the need for customization was not as much of an experience gap as I expected, so I decided to focus on other features to create the most impact on the user experience.


I formed my hypotheses and found that efficiency was a driving force behind most of them, and that the primary user needs centered around emotion and comfort.


I then created a storyboard highlighting the critical path of one of my personas (Claudia) in order to visualize and define her inflection points, motivations, feelings, and actions. By doing this I learned, from a function perspective, that in order to meet the goals of this user during a workout, the app needs to be a secondary aid rather than a main focus. While on the other hand, after the workout the app should be more of a main focus and used more. Functions such as the fact that she will need to be able to log her performance after each exercise instead of just at the end also were more clear to me and informed my steps moving forward.


Other narrative deliverables were made such as a bubble map, a user flow, and navigation in order to fully understand the primary features versus the secondary ones, actions, and functionality of the app. 


I then was able to create a concept flow using some quick sketches, and focusing only on functionality, of the main screens to be used. I found that the visual elements would be the main focus of this app in order to decrease time spent on the app while working out, that combining certain features would be more accessible and customizable for users, and that I needed to take into account designing for possible user error.


From this discovery, I designed a series of low-fidelity wireframes that included the main features and navigation for my app. I was struggling with fitting in the information without overcrowding the screen, but in the end this gave me the push to simplify this design even more creating an even more accessible and feasible design for users. All of my other previous work to highlight the functionality and the user needs helped me focus the wireframes' structure and design.


Lastly, I created a low-fidelity prototype as a culmination of all my prior research and design artifacts in order to test the product and its functionality. I was able to create my persona's critical path flow (from the storyboard): receiving a message, (option to respond), looking up today's workout, scanning for information about a new exercise, and logging in the performance tracker.

Performance Log Chart.png

Final Thoughts:

The next steps I would take would be to test this prototype on my potential user sand gather more data from women on how it could impact their experience.

The most difficult part of this project was thinking of feasible solutions after researching. Coming up with a realistic solution to implement over commercial gyms, that have a brand and culture identity already in place, is difficult when you are trying to actively change the culture of a specific activity within the gym.

Some early thoughts and paths I decided not to take: I liked the idea of redesigning the weights and machines in the gym space, but the project scope did not account for this, and it would be much more expensive and difficult to implement across all gyms than a digital solution.


I also explored the idea of a real-life personal trainer being assigned to the user, but I deduced from my research that the personal connection with a trainer wouldn't seem to make a difference to the user. The user just wanted straight up facts to quickly learn and go on with their workout. Also, personal trainers are already so far along in their fitness journey that it could be just as intimidating as other gym goers to the user.

As I said, I would have liked to have time to test this prototype and iterate on the design. I also would have then liked to create a high-fidelity prototype to showcase the full impact and experience of my product.

What I would have done differently if I had the time was storyboard my second user persona's critical path in order to give me a more dynamic look into my project. Right now, I feel as though my project might be too targeted towards the beginner weightlifter. I also would have focused more on the personalization and connection of friends in the community. I think that this feature is equally important as the quick information objective, but I was not able to focus on that aspect during this project. I also would have tested out even more possibilities for my concept flow and wireframes. I wish I had explored more unique concepts and pushed myself out of my comfort zone and generated a wider range of possibilities.

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