2011-05-01

Future Design Software: The ExerciseUI

Recent research (see Men’s Health, NPR & NYTimes) has shown that sedentary office jobs, like those of designers, shorten lives, increase heart disease and increase weight. Since the research is conclusive and given the numbers of sedentary computer users about to enter their 50’s in the next decade the risk of Health and Safety lawsuits for employers increases. Designers are particularly at risk due to the addition of deadline hyper-focus and overstress. Sedentary jobs could become the next biggest wave of health lawsuits since the OOS/RSI lawsuits of the 1990s. If this happens then work place computer usage will need to change to be less sedentary.

At first employers will provide subsidized gym memberships, but these will be of limited use because gym attendance needs extra hours in the day. Employers will mandate exercise breaks but stressed users will not take these when under deadline pressure. The solution will be to include more movement in the actual everyday usage of computers.

There already is a growing awareness of the fitness potential of gesture based user interfaces. Nintendo already sell exercise related games that are entirely gesture based under the Wii Fit name. PlayStation Move and Xbox Kinect are Sony's and Microsoft’s answers to gesture based gaming. Since the exercise potential of gestural user interfaces is obvious then it will make sense to build exercise into the office computer user interfaces of the future. Imagine controlling your computer and getting a work-out at the same time. An ExerciseUI is the cross over between gestural user interfaces and physical fitness.

Since we already have widely available consumer gestural technology then the only barrier to adoption is social and cultural.

Widespread adoption of ExerciseUIs will cause gym memberships to fall. However, personal trainers can find new roles on user interface design teams where they will consult on safe and good mixtures of movement for users. Since exercise is a very individualized thing, offices will have consultant personal trainers who will work with users to customize their ExerciseUIs for their health and ability needs.

At first people will complain about the extra physical effort needed to drive the ExerciseUI but their fitness levels will gradually increase. Short-term productivity may decrease compared to current mouse GUIs but longer term productivity and morale should increase for many tasks. The reason is that more exercise will improve physical health, mental health and give happy endorphin boosts.

During periods of deadline stress the extra physical movements and speed to drive the computer faster will help burn off deadly overstress hormones. Stressful periods that overwork the body into anaerobic stiffness will physically force users to rest between tasks. This will help them mentally balance stressful work better as they learn to take breaks when their body forces them and rest their brains.

Workplaces will need to change dress codes to allow for more exercise friendly clothing. Showering facilities will also be needed. ExerciseUIs will also require a bit more space per user compared to current office cubicles.

Provided ExerciseUIs give good productivity for common office computing tasks then there are few downsides and many benefits to adopting them. Lawsuit pressure might force this to occur sooner rather than later.

(Read more articles in the Future Design Software series.)
(Read about the first ExerciseUI project: WorkOut Poker Episode 1