Greg Walsh

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Step City


Encouraging physical activity is an important public health issue. My team asked: How can we encourage physical activity with a fitness tracker that was fun and effective.?

Design Solution

Our team took an iterative design approach to create a Fitbit-based game. We started with the idea "How might we build a game around a fitness tracker to make exercise more fun?" The team used a Design studio methodology where each team member generated multiple ideas over a fixed period of time. The group met and discussed each idea and generated more concrete design directions. Eventually, the team crystalized around a city role-playing game where a player's steps were used as a currency in the game. Players could spend their steps to construct buildings that generated points.

Integrating the Fitbit API, we released it to over 100 players over a six-week period to investigate if the game helped people be more physically active. What we found was an answer academics hate: it depends. While long-term, active users and novice users didn't seem to be motivated by the game, those that had stopped using their Fitbits before participating were significantly more active while they were engaged with the game in comparison to other conditions.


This project started with a very basic question of how can we use technology to make exercise more fun. It finished as a traditional academic research project that ended up being messy. When working with real people doing real things, the neatness of an academic research project cannot be expected. Instead, researchers and designers need to bridge the scholarly world and the real-life experiences people have in order to build the best thing. As a designer, it was frustrating that this project ended where it did and I was happy to form another team who is still working on this problem in a different way.


leader, facilitator, researcher

Methods Used

design studio, data analysis, paper prototyping, game design

Technologies Used

PHP, MySQL, HTML, Javascript, Fitbit API

Additional Materials