Written by Tony Meredith, Remy Lebesque, Cormac Eubanks, Howard Nuk, and Michael DiTullo.
Working out at home may be convenient and cost effective, but why do the machines for home use echo gym units so closely? Can a home machine be appropriate for and respond to the home environment it is meant to live within? Can we make it a source of pride so it does not become layered with laundry or relegated to the garage? The frog design team asked these types of questions when we partnered with Nautilus to take a fresh look at their Treadclimber products. Together, we tore down the existing product and built it back up to become the Mobia, more reflective of its intended environment and users and more efficient in its manufacturing process. We designed it to be visually iconic, with reduced parts and cost, and passed those benefits to a larger audience by producing it at a lower price point than its predecessor.
We spent an initial block of time in a primary and secondary research immersion by diving into competitive products, learning about the retail environment they are sold in and identifying and observing a group of home exercise users in their domestic settings. We found that the majority of existing home workout machines had finishes that tended towards dark paint and metal accents, having more in common with an assault rifle than the living room. While this look and feel might be appropriate to a high tech commercial gym where everything is focused on working out, it feels alien co-existing with a family in their personal space.
The visually aggressive machines above lurk in the most mundane of home environments. If you put pillows on the deck of the treadmill below, it would make a very nice bed for a small guest.
Or what about this treadmill just stuck in the corner with the television pointed at it? Not exactly the luxurious bedroom look you might be going for.
Even in rooms where a professional interior designer was obviously involved, exercise machines stick out like a sore powder-coated thumb.
Multi-purpose office-and-workout rooms are the saddest of them all. This room is begging you not to enter it; it feels like a torture chamber.
Getting back into the studio for an initial whiteboard session, we listed out existing characteristics we wanted to avoid, while compiling a list of opportunities to build something different than the competition, something that actually belongs in the home. We knew we wanted to stay away from dark and harsh materials. We wanted to create a more holistic design that bridged the complex mechanisms. We wanted the device to look like it belonged in the home without specifically picking up superfluous accents of a particular style of home décor. We wanted it to be inviting by being understandable. In our project room, we posted up images of the people and homes we investigated to continually remind us who we were building this for. Armed with a sense of where things were and where we wanted to take them, we busted out the bic pens to develop a language that felt like it belonged.
Three directions rose to the top and warranted further development. First, the direction seen rightmost in the image below mixes architectural elements with those of contemporary consumer electronics the user might also own to create a hybrid language that feels like it belongs in the home, while retaining a technical and confident feel. The second concept takes the more traditional construction of existing machines and overlays a logical framework, making a stronger overall silhouette. Finally, the third direction feels more angular, picking up on cues found in contemporary furniture, but skewing them slightly to lend a sense of motion and hint at the device's function.
At frog we believe in a convergent process in which industrial, interaction, and graphical user interface design are done in parallel—if not in the same room—whenever possible. True to form, as we defined the architecture of the form language, we were also building GUI concepts that reflected the overall themes. We wanted to break away from the tradition of using raw LEDs and develop something that felt more refined, revealing itself when needed but remaining hidden when not in use. Our solution: a construction that transmits workout information through a seamless plastic sheet to reduce the number of parts in manufacturing—usually a good way to lessen costs—keep the instrument panel impervious to liquids like sports drinks or perspiration, and achieve that hidden aesthetic. With only four buttons, using the Mobia is simple and intuitive. When not in use, the LED readouts disappear for a clean look.
frog and Nautilus then regrouped to review which direction we felt matched the initial goals most closely. As often happens, we discovered that each direction had strong elements that needed to be in the final product. Specifically, these were the home-meets-consumer-electronics language from the first concept, the stronger silhouette of the second, and, finally, the horizontal read of the GUI from the third. We set about the task of remixing and editing those elements into a cohesive holistic vision. When done right, the result of a refinement session is a stronger design.
As we honed the details of the final design with our internal engineers we began the task of preparing production documentation for the Nautilus team. Ed Flick and his design and engineering team started the long process of finalizing the design, simultaneously costing out and sourcing components, selecting materials, conducting LED studies, making electronic and assembly technique prototypes, matching color with flame retardant plastics, gathering powder coating samples, studying motor cooling ventilation, investigating graphics, refining ergonomics and interface design, and reducing cost—all while maintaining the design vision. The last 10% is always the most arduous—so much can go wrong or simply be costed out. The Nautilus team did an amazing job developing every detail, and with design languages that are this simple, every detail must be executed superbly.
Above is a small-scale FDM grown model and a full-scale foamcore model of the Nautilus Mobia. Mock-ups like these help us to iterate through details and find solutions that are impossible to refine otherwise. Economically designed for fast assembly, the Mobia is shipped to customers in three easily handled boxes, saving money and resources. Nautilus is a customer-driven company, so white glove delivery and assembly is available to most all purchasers.
In just one year, Nautilus brought an entirely new product to the market. As designers, we rarely get to see a mass-produced project that challenges the status quo to this level and is fully commercialized in such a rapid time period. This speaks volumes to Nautilus's commitment to great product, the work they did to generate a brief they truly believed in, and their dedication to our joint vision, working closely with vendors to implement a product so true to our final design. Ultimately, the Mobia enabled Nautilus to bring the cost of the unit down 20%, opened up an entirely new market for them, and, best of all, makes home fitness more appealing and affordable to end users.