Who says
work is boring?

Wellness Application


A new plan for
federal fitness

The Problem

Study after study shows that employee performance and physical health go hand-in-hand. The healthier our Federal employees, the more our taxpayers benefit. But for the US Department of Health and Human Services, getting employees engaged in wellness proved to be a significant challenge.

The Solution

Working closely with the team at Federal Occupational Health, we discovered that happiness was the key to wellness, and used research, behavioral science and user experience to create an interactive framework for lasting health.


Putting a spin
on wellness

Any good spin class instructor knows that to keep their students pedaling and engaged, you need four parts: a warm-up, a ramp-up to dial in everyone’s speed, a plateau of constant activity, and finally, a push to the peak, to test limits.

Keeping users motivated in app is no different: we authored an algorithm for placing users at the right starting difficulty, motivating them and periodically challenging with sprints – perfect for adjusting the challenge, or letting the user cool off after.

Related Principle

Aiming into the wind

Users don’t always hit their goals on the first try, and that’s okay. Too many apps focus on a golden path, but what about when life happens? Working with the National Institutes of Health, we learned that a user’s final goal – be it weight, sleep, or stress – is a range of possible outcomes, not a single fixed point.

Where safe, we put users on a slightly higher goal than they ask for, knowing that even if life gets in the way and they fall short, but aiming high, they’ll still hit closer to their original target.

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Key Takeaway

Framing context the way your users see it – most people don’t look forward to a physical, and everyone knows they could be more active and eating better. When fitness messaging is saturated, shame simply won’t work.

We found that participants didn’t have high hopes for blood pressure or weight, but were very interested in improving stress and sleep. By asking a user for their personal goals upfront, we are able to frame necessary requirements like health risk assessments into terms a user would care about.

Ultimately, this traces back to the single thing all of our users have in common: a desire to be happier. And when you can show a user how interrelated small changes in lifestyle, diet and activity can make a big impact on happiness, you don’t just achieve true user engagement; you achieve for a user’s common good.


Force multipliers

A core goal in this system was to help our fitness experts coach our users directly. We had to make permissions and sensitive health details trustworthy and easy to understand. We also had to help experts understand how their curricula were performing, so that Felix can evolve and grow.

Automation can introduce too much transparency. Felix is a core example that if you can build trust and keep that trust, far more users will stay committed and improve their wellness.

Related Principle

Secret show-offs

In childhood, stickers are a premium currency. Our middle-aged participants wouldn’t admit to caring about unlocking exclusive themes or avatars that we painstakingly designed.

But they do. Getting access to a conspicuous perk, in exchange for sticking to one’s goals, is a powerful unspoken motivator that has just the right stakes: nothing you’d start a fight over, but just enough of an edge to egg on some friendly competition.

A commuter walking down an urban street while looking at her cellphone

Visualize your goals

Not everyone is motivated by points and rings that close. Some people are chasing a better night’s sleep, or a little bit of inner peace. We had to rethink the visual language of how a user tracks their progress, and lean into the diversity of the American Federal employee.

There are definitely wonky, numbers-driven gauges and dials for fitness buffs. But there are also calendars with big red Xs for just making it to the gym week after week, and a growing bonsai for those chasing zen.

The antithesis of “one-size-fits-all” isn’t just more sizes. Sometimes it’s completely rethinking the concept of a ‘size’ in the first place.

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Their secret is fearlessness. No one has achieved anything by playing it safe. Brave UX gets that. Their talent, ideas, and passion took an ordinary offering and made it revolutionary. Sometimes, you have to be brave, and other times, you just have to work with Brave.

Tomas Bonome

Director, Federal Occupational Health