A Best Practice Example of Applying UX Principles to Product Design and Development

Koko Fitness Demonstrated How to Do It Right Back in 2005!

June 16, 2011

Koko Fitness, a small company that designs and sells interactive cardio and strength training workout systems, has been a shining example of best practices in incorporating customer experience and user experience methods into their product design and development lifecycle. The Koko Fitness story is a good one to use as a benchmark for how you are doing in creating offerings and experiences based on CX and UX practices.


Koko Fitness, a small company that designs and sells interactive cardio and strength training workout systems, has been a shining example of best practices in incorporating customer experience and user experience methods into their product design and development lifecycle. Since coming up with the germ of an idea for a new business based on a pressing customer need—improving the experience of staying healthy for baby boomers—in 2002, founders Mary Obana and Mike Lannon have included direct customer interaction in every stage of their company and product development. Their story can serve as a model for organizations both big and small who are committed to CX and UX practices.

Koko’s Smartrainer

Koko’s Smartrainer
(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2006-2011 Koko Fitness

Illustration 1. Koko’s Smartrainer is a single unit that is much less intimidating than the usual strength training equipment, in part because the weights are concealed in an attractive housing.


As we explore examples of best practices in user experience-based product design and development, we keep finding ourselves drawn back to the story of Koko Fitness, a small company that designs and sells interactive cardio and strength training workout systems. As we work with clients today on developing a culture of CX and UX best practices, we point back at how simply and elegantly Koko founders Mary Obana and Mike Lannon followed what these practices before they were “hot.” Mary and Mike knew, deep down in their souls, that the key to designing a successful business was to truly understand what their customers wanted to achieve and how they, ideally, would like to achieve it. Here, we present the story of how Koko Fitness was first created and launched—to incredible customer acclaim, by the way.


Identifying a Customer Need

Little did Mary Obana and Mike Lannon know, but when their first baby was born in 2002, so too was the genesis of their next entrepreneurial venture. Like most new parents, they both put on “baby weight.” But at age 43 (Mike) and 39 (Mary), losing it was proving to be more difficult than ever. Both were already healthy eaters and regular runners, but, this time, running and diet alone weren’t cutting it. “I trained for a half marathon after the baby. Running was always the way that I’d lose weight, but my body definitely wasn’t responding to exercise like it did in my 20s,” Mary lamented. “I knew there were a lot of people like us. Everyone our age seemed to be struggling with weight.”

About that same time, “We noticed a lot of grey hair in our health club, and it got us thinking about how baby boomers will define, or re-define, the fitness industry as they enter their 50s and 60s,” Mary reported. “We had no preconceived notions about what kind of business we wanted to build or the kinds of products we would offer. We figured that this major lifestyle trend—80 million people growing old at once—was a golden opportunity.”

They began their customer research in the spring of 2003. “We interviewed 600 mostly middle-aged people—both men and women from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. We interviewed them individually and in groups,” Mary recalled. “We watched them in health clubs as they used the treadmills and exercise bikes, we watched them in Yoga and Pilates classes, we watched them lifting weights, and we interviewed them afterwards. We also talked to men and women in the same age bracket who weren’t exercising. We started very broadly, simply asking what being healthy meant to them. Then we dug deeper to see how their views today compared with their perspective when they were younger and then further still to see how they will define ‘healthy’ when they’re in their 70s and 80s. We got an earful of hopes, anxieties, likes, dislikes, ideas… it was a treasure trove of information.”

Uncovering an Outcome that People Felt Passionate About

It wasn’t long before Mike and Mary began to find a common pattern. Baby boomers are the most concerned about the fact that they were going to live longer than previous generations and wanted to have a better quality of life than their parents.

What was surprising to Mike and Mary, though, was the huge interest and demand for strength training. Women over 40, in particular, knew that maintaining muscle was a key to weight loss and fighting osteoporosis. They felt guilty about not doing anything about it. And for both men and women, the problem was they felt that strength training was too time consuming and the equipment was not simple to use correctly on their own. That was the “ah ha” that Mike and Mary designed their business around.

Understanding End Customers’ Current Context and Issues

Once Mary and Mike had honed in on strength training as an unmet need, they conducted more interviews as to why, if this is something boomers felt strongly about, weren’t they doing it? Both men and women mentioned “time” as a big inhibitor. Although men felt they didn’t have enough time to work strength training into their weekly routines, they did feel that they had some control over their time. “I can get away at lunchtime if I really want to,” one busy business exec reported. “I can usually get to the gym at the end of the day,” others said. Women, on the other hand, felt they actually had very little control over their time. Between work, kids, and errands, it was quite difficult for them to find the time to exercise regularly.

WOMEN’S ISSUES AROUND STRENGTH TRAINING. Apart from finding the time, women’s biggest issues around strength training had to do with “feeling dumb.” “I look into the weight room and there are all those complicated machines.” “I know the trainer showed me how to use them once, but I can’t remember any more.” “I don’t want to wander around feeling stupid.” These were the common refrains that women repeated over and over again.

MEN’S ISSUES AROUND STRENGTH TRAINING. Mary and Mike’s research uncovered the not surprising reality that most men felt more comfortable than women working out with weights and weight machines. They didn’t have as much trouble self-navigating the weight room, but they were concerned that ...


Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.