Good results, but could try harder

Written on 17 June 2015


Competing in sporting events is more than just taking part – it’s about finding out how you did: in comparison to others, to your own record, or against professional standards. Now that everyone has at least a smartphone in their pocket (whether it’s for music or to monitor your heart rate) it’s possible to use technology to tell the amateur competitor a huge range of information about their performance.

Having completed short distance triathlons in the past, one morning in May I took to the water in the Vitality triathlon in Hyde Park. It was my first Olympic distance triathlon. For those unfamiliar with triathlons it involves swimming 1.5km, cycling 36km, and running 10km. As I clung to the pontoon before the start of the race I wondered how I would fair against the competitors around me.

The swim was a solitary affair; although there are people all around you it is hard to gauge where you are and how you are doing compared to others. You can only see a couple of inches of murky water in front of you, then sunlight, then murky water, then sunlight… The other two disciplines are of course different; you can see who is in front of you, pass people, or be overtaken. People who take part in these type of events are naturally competitive. But it is not all about winning, for me is also about pushing myself, trying to finish under a certain time or beating a personal best (PB). Having a time goal or a PB to aim for provides a benchmark by which to gauge progress and something to motivate you to do better, and this is one of the things I enjoy about competing in these events.

There are many ways of reporting results, apps like Strava and Mapmyrun have taken a gamification approach. Mapmyrun gives rankings and tells users what percentage overall they have come,, i.e. within the Top 25%. Users can also earn awards like ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ for different types of courses. While Strava awards you medals: 1st – your PB, or 2nd – your second best time, and so on.

Adding a competitive element allows users to set goals and strive to beat PBs and get better rankings. With both apps also you can pit yourself against other people, but for the most part this is only for the sections where routes overlap. While both provide useful data they don’t really allow for a clear comparisons to be made and there are limitations on the number of people that you can compare against too.

Race results on the other hand are typically boring and academic. They read like a school report, informing you of the facts relating to you but no more. And with a raft of technology available, such as Garmin’s Fenix and Forerunner, and more recently FitBit, all recording heart rate, time, speed, distance, and much more, many competitors already have access to this data, making race result pages obsolete, providing only an official confirmation of what your device already told you. Furthermore, with the increased popularity of the sport – 33 races this weekend alone in the UK – race organisers need to do more to differentiate their event. The experience needs build excitement prior to the race and build upon the excitement of the race so that competitors remain engaged even after it has finished.

At first glance the Vitality Triathlon results were no different, until I noticed a dashboard option. The dashboard took me to a page that displayed results in an entirely different manner. It seemed to draw on elements of the Strava and Mapmyrun apps, it was engaging and allowed me to look at the data in new ways. Similar to other results, it was broken down by discipline and by your overall result, but it did this in a way that allowed you to explore the data. Not only could you see what your times were but it also clearly presented how your fared against the entire field, and split it by age group and gender.

Another unique element was that it showed you how many people you passed and how many passed you for each section. For me this was amazing, I never expected to see this kind of data and loved having it available. OK, so this may sound like I want to know how many people I beat (or was beaten by), but it is not the case. I think this and the other data will provide motivation to some competitors and potentially new benchmarks by which they can set new goals and gauge progress, and to others it will bring the results to life and give satisfaction in their achievements.

Then I noticed that the dashboard runs over two pages. On the first page you can see the data as mentioned above, but on the second page you can see your average speed for each discipline and also a bird’s eye view of the finish line. The bird’s eye view shows you where other competitors were in relation to you (in the final stretch) as you cross the finish line, and this is broken down by other competitors in your age group and gender.

Despite this fresh approach there is room for improvement. I believe that there are some learnings we can take away –

  • Avoid disrupting the user’s flow – displaying the data over two pages takes away from the engagement; you have to click on ‘Next’ or ‘Back’ to see the other data. Keeping users engaged means avoiding disruptions, and although this is a minor disruption it breaks the flow and forces users to move to another page to continue their enjoyment.
  • Remove unnecessary information – I felt that the bird’s eye view did not add a lot of value. There was no context to this data – did these competitors start in the same wave as me? The one before? The one after? This data is meaningless without context, and this is not something that would motivate me to do better the following year. It felt like Vitality put in just because they could. Removing it would reduce clutter, allowing users to focus on the more interesting or relevant content.
  • Make better use of space – the average speed on the other hand was something that I was interested in, but I felt it took up too much space on the screen, moving it to the first screen would mean that all the data could be in one place and users would not have to navigate to another screen to engage with all the data.
  • Display data in an engaging way – I realised the importance of this when I started to interact with this dashboard. If done right, the data can become even more powerful by allowing users to understand it better, get actionable recommendations, or make decisions on how they can improve their performance. As I found out displaying data in an engaging way can maintain the enjoyment of the event even after it has finished.

Overall, I think what Vitality have done with their results is great and it is a step in the right direction in terms of reporting data and engaging users. Let’s hope others sit up and take note.


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