Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting Played: 3 design thoughts for improving buy-in for mobile health apps.

Just because it's a game doesn't mean it's fun.* With angry birds, you simply fire up the app and start poking at the screen, but in health games you have to do something you'd rather not- eat a vegetable or run a mile or climb some stairs. To overcome this....

It would be simple.
In any game, there's a gap between input of time, energy, and focus, and the output of points earned, leveling up, or saving the princess. While some games thrive on a wide gap that's filled with a rich story line, engaging graphics, or intricate maneuvers, my health app would have a strict minimum of futzing around. This is because, by the time I reach for the health app icon, I've already crossed much of my gap, and I'm ready for my reward. Now.

It would be social.
Yes, social is all the rage, and rightly so. A less obvious feature of the value of social is that it enables healthy people to encourage close friends and family to be healthy, without precipitating an intervention. Motivating loved ones to eat better and exercise is tricky if you don't want to bring anxiety, guilt, and tension into a relationship. A social game is a perfect way for healthy people to casually encourage others, as well to stay motivated themselves.

It would include your doctor.
A family doc I worked with had some success with his own personal diet brochure. It was especially successful because he had personally lost much weight with it. What if he could point patients to a social game app that he himself played too? Consider the ramifications: The doctor's advice about eating better and exercising doesn't end at the office door. The app is good branding for the physician's practice. Buy-in soars because the virtual presence of patients' doctor connects healthy lifestyle choices with significant disease. Hospitals can adopt it as well, and there are lots of hospitals with lots of money. Local businesses can support it too by advertising their healthy offerings of food, gyms, or exercise equipment. I dare say this is only scratching the surface....

*Check out Jane McGonigal's TEDTalk on solving problems, including obesity, with games.

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