Spencer Horn Dan Morgan | 07.27.16 | Insights

Architecting Health Technology for Behavioral Change


  • healthcare
  • product strategy
  • UX

Anyone who’s ever worn a FitBit, Apple Watch or health tracker knows the story. For the first couple of days, you’re motivated and excited. You start parking further away, taking the stairs, and doing whatever it takes to crush your activity goals. But there inevitably comes a day when you don’t make your activity goal, and lose interest.

Today’s tech is connected to users all day long from their pockets or wrists. The challenge is no longer simply how to access people, but how to use that access to encourage positive behaviors. Oftentimes the people who could benefit from healthcare technology are the most reluctant to use it. How can you make someone want to want to change their behavior? You design a tool that capitalizes on user’s needs and motivations.

Fitness tools like the Pebble Watch help fitness enthusiasts and casual users alike to work toward their fitness goals.

Let’s consider three broad categories of people:

The enthusiast has it going on. They have all the latest gear, they know their resting heart rate and monitor it regularly via wearables. They have workout plans downloaded to their smart phones that equip them with exactly what they need to complete daily to meet their goals. This beast doesn’t need too much assistance from another tool to change behavior, as they have already implemented a slew of positive practices. Mostly what they seek is a platform to track their progress, support and compete with friends, and encourage those friends to push them to be and do their best.

Casual users are neither self-motivators or unmotivated. They exist in more of a passive state of mind with their behavior. They know they need to make a change and actively think about it. They are the hardest to retain and the easiest to motivate – they need something to help guide their goals. This group will likely be the most successful as they just need a little boost from time to time to keep them going.

Any push can drive them to change behavior, but the challenge is keeping them from breaking the new behavior over time. The repetitive norm won’t keep these people around. However, an active social group or challenges that keep them motivated the person will continue to the next level and be successful.

The third group has the largest physical or mental hurdles to overcome. From a societal perspective, these are the folks health technology can most benefit. For more motivated people, new technology provides an additional tool to help them with health goals they already have. But we also have to consider people that don’t have any clear objectives.

This is where designing for humans instead of users becomes paramount. Motivation is different for everyone. Friendly competition between friends may work for some, but other people need different incentives. Features like in-app rewards or badges might spark some users’ desire for status and achievement. In-app currency, that could be redeemed for real physical items, might entice users to come back to the app. And in some cases, it might be a fun and addictive game that gets users out and about.

Making behavior change intuitive is all about understanding goals. There are two major considerations at all fitness levels: their primary motivators and immediate goals. In order to best help people create healthy habits, health technology must meet users where they are in their journey. Ultimately, tools cannot create behavioral change, people do.


DOWNLOAD OUR FREE EBOOK for practical tools for designing great services in healthcare!

Careers at Smashing Boxes


Open Positions

We don’t just make great products, we help build great companies.


Contact Us

Get exclusive access to Smashing Boxes news, case studies, and events.

Sign up now
close ×

Get exclusive access to Smashing Boxes news, case studies, and events. Sign up now!

* indicates required