At Avante we’re always on the lookout for new and exciting apps that represent strong examples of effective mobile application design. We believe that in order to design highest quality mobile apps we need to constantly have our eyes open to apps coming out of other design houses that show great promise and potential. We especially enjoy seeing other development studios delivering apps that scratch a particular itch that we’ve been experiencing or that fill voids that we’ve identified in the app ecosystem. And we’ve found one such app: it’s called Strong.
Strong is an workout tracking app available on iOS and Android. Their website boasts over 1 million worldwide users. Strong has incredible ratings on the App Store (4.8/5 Stars from 13.8K ratings) and Google Play (Almost 5 stars from 6.1K reviews). Given the great reviews and critical acclaim, the developers and designers of Strong clearly got a lot of things right. We’d like to share some of the things we liked about it.
First some background. Many of our team members are avid gym-goers. A pivotal part of exercising is tracking progress. You do this to see how far you’ve come and to make sure that you’re making positive progress towards your goals. And we’ve tried them all: paper notebooks, spreadsheets and a good variety of apps. We’ve found that the most successful progress tracker for workouts are our own custom made spreadsheets. But even that’s challenging because we’ve had to recreate the spreadsheet every time a workout cycle ends, and who really has the time for that? So for better or for worse, we’ve often resigned to pulling out the good ol’ default Notes iPhone app and simply logging workouts there. It’s unorganized and non-functional but it works (while leaving much to be desired in the way of really empowering one’s self with the data hidden in workout logs). But most importantly, it didn’t create any extra barriers to starting a workout. You can open the note entitled Workouts and start jotting down exercises, body weight, lifting weight, number of repetitions and sets.
You might think hat a functional exercise tracker app should be fairly straight forward to design. After all, all you need to keep track of is the particular exercise, the number of repetitions per set and the number of sets performed every session. Unfortunately there’s more to it it than that. For example, you may want to keep track of sets performed versus sets attempted. What about slight exercise variants? Rest lengths? Further, a lot of athletes keep track of failure as well as successful lifts so they can remember what worked and what didn’t. These examples barely scratch the surface of the complexity that can come with designing an app for tracking weight lifting progress. If you’re not careful you may be developing an abomination of an app that causes more of a hindrance than a help.
You need an un-opinionated app that gets out of your way gives you the freedom to track as little (or as much) as you want. It should have the conveniences of advanced features that some users may want without fatiguing beginners or people that just want to log their workout and be done with it.
Above all, it should stay the heck out of your way so you can focus on grinding through your exercises.
Enter the Strong app.
Downloading and using the app is a treat. When you first run it you’re met with a visually pleasing splash screen featuring some really strong dude about to lift some heavy metal. The app prompts you to sign up or login with Facebook or Simply select “Not Now” so you can jump right into the app.
This checks the first item on our successful app feature checklist: let users try your app for free. Although Strong lets you bypass login and jump right into the app, our designers recommend that app developers take this a step further. That is, yes, by all means use a visually pleasing splash screen to greet your users, but don’t make them tell you that they don’t want to sign in. Instead, let them dive head-first into your app. Similar to what we’ve done with hipsrv.
So back to the app, now that you’ve bypassed login you’re greeted by this dashboard like-screen called the Profile. Here you can see stats and information about recent workouts and overall performance. However the first time using this app you won’t spend much time here. Remember, our intention was to launch the app at the start of my workout and see if it could handle our needs without inhibiting our workout flow. So we tap on the prominent Start Workout button at the centre of the tab bar at the bottom of the screen. We’re then met with the following.
From this screen it won’t take long to figure out how to move forward. There are sample routines to give you inspiration on what a workout could include and from there you can tap on Start an Empty Workout which presents this screen.
One you’ve begun you workout you’re either presented with this blank slate (or if you’re a regular user you may have a pre defined workout template laid out in font of you)
The simplicity is inspiring, there’s only one real button calling you to action and it’s the Add Exercises button. This continues to inspire confidence that you can quickly select your exercises and get on with your workout already! Tapping on that button presents you with an interactive popup letting you add one or more exercise to your workout and that screen looks like this.
Either scroll through the alphabetic list with accompanying explanatory icons or filter the list by entering the name of your workout into the search field at the top of the screen.
This popup enables you to select one or more exercises for your workout and with a single tap you can add them to your current workout template. Once the exercise has been added you’re almost ready to start lifting.
From here you easily pre-enter the number of sets, your working weight and number of reps you expect to crank out. What’s more, if you’ve previously done this workout it’ll automatically show you your previous weight and reps for that exercise, this is hugely convenient because it saves you from having to pull up your previous exercise log to see what you did last time. That’s it, you can put the phone aside begin your lift. Once you’re done a set simply tap the checkmark to indicate that the set is done. That’s all you need to know.
One more feature that helps make this a comprehensive workout tracking app is that little timer looking button in the top-left corner of the workout view. You guessed it, it brings up a timer to start a rest countdown so you know how long to rest for. This is another major convenience because it stops you from having to use a separate app as a timer. It’s also more usable than most dedicated timer apps (including the native iOS timer) because it doesn’t require you to dismiss the timer alarm when the timer is up, instead it just plays an audible chime notification so you know it’s time to jump back into your workout without having to touch your phone. Here’s a screenshot of that timer.
Here’s a short recap of what we like most about this app and its design:
- Its design is clearly influenced by the notion that it should stay out of your way and let you focus on what matters most: completing your workout.
- The app is comprehensive without providing cognitive overload. It has everything you need to completely log your workout all in one place. Even though it has a comprehensive feature set, the app developers have clearly put a lot of effort into presenting these features in an extremely simple but effective manner.
- The app doesn’t require much more effort to use than a simple notebook system but it provides all the conveniences of a comprehensive workout tracker.
- The app is free to use and provides a complete feature set without demanding payment or ruining the immersion with in-app advertisements.
- The user interface design is aesthetically pleasing, consistent and functional. The interface widgets don’t become unresponsive, it doesn’t crash and the user is given a positive experience while interacting with all of its features. Great app design!
Here are some things that we’re still on the fence about or what we’ll need to spend more time with to refine our opinions about:
- It’s not clear if the app is logging your rest times. This is a useful metric because a longer rest period means you can do more work. If a user sets a personal record lift weight for example, they will want to know if it was after a longer rest period when they retroactively look back at the workout.
- While performing a workout there seems to be no way to dismiss the keyboard conveniently. Tapping the next button on the keyboard will jump to the next field and perhaps even mark your set as completed. This is a small quirk that we’re sure the app designer’s will figure out sooner or later.
- We feel that the app developers could do more to jump you right into the workout logging functionality especially when it’s your first time using the app. We understand that the app developers benefit from you signing up with the app and therefore they recommend logging in, but we feel that focusing on the user experience is a better optimization.
- An entire navigation tab is dedicated to upgrading to the Strong premium offering in an effort to incentivize and advertise the app’s paid features. This tab is non-intrusive and you don’t come across it very often if at all, which are all good things. Yet when you do visit the tab it reads like one log advertisement and feels much spammier than literally every other one of the app’s views. We feel that there are better ways of incentivizing a paid offering without making the user feel like they’re looking at an ad.
- Another small quirk we noticed is that sometimes when adding an exercise to a workout, the app will automatically detect any other previous usage of this same exercise even if it’s not exactly relevant to the current workout. For example, many workout regimens will have you perform a movement (e.g. bench press) on more than one day of your schedule. On the first day you’ll perform a low number of sets with a heavy weight but on the second day you’ll perform a high number of sets and reps at a lower weight. It doesn’t make sense to compare the bench press for these two days yet this is how the Strong app behaves. We’re not sure if there’s a configuration to correct this inconsistency but that’s something we’ll have to spend more time with and follow up with in an update.
In summary, The Strong App is by far the best example of a mobile application designed to assist with a regular real-life activity that truly lends itself to helping you perform that activity more effectively and stays out of your way while you get it done.