My life as me – to be and to change

Day 8

Health and lifestyle changes are popular topics in media, but is that what actually makes people change their lifestyle? What is it that really spurs change? What are the challenges? And how can such insights influence the way we design preventive care services?

These questions framed a recent research project at the User Experience Lab which we did in collaboration with our friends at Trendethnography who spent weeks observing and talking to people for us. The ambition was to discover unconscious behaviour related to health and to describe patterns of action.

The ethnography-inspired study looked at events or insights that resulted in change. These turning points are essential in our life stories as they give direction and emphasise the contrasts between before and after. People use these critical moments to create context for themselves and for people around them. The life after a change is perceived as more authentic, positive and whole since it rests on a re-evaluation of the life before. The persons we met in the study often talked about their lives as two or more distinct parts. Frida always talked bout her life as before and after the depression. Anna often said: ”now when I live with Eskil…” . The different parts were sometimes communicated by using metaphors and pictures. Torsten compared his change of attitude as now having ”functioning ABS brakes and brand new tires” whereas he twenty years ago was a ”62 Ford with worn out tires”.

Feelings of success and accomplishment are crucial to sustain an ongoing change, regardless if it is referring to an inner or outer change. People often try to make their change measurable and visible, and in this particular study we could see a link between inner change and new consumption habits. When we met Torsten he purchased high quality products, which he had not done before. Frida’s inner change was very apparent to herself, and she combined that with a style-makeover which made others see it and comment on it.

”My inner value is voiced through outer value. I didn’t use to care much about my look and bought clothes that weren´t special. Now I want to voice my inner value. It is a form of wellbeing, taking care of myself, and dress in really nice clothes. Others always evaluate you. They will put a label on you no matter if you care or not”

Routines are also important to maintain change. Once something has become a routine, it represents wellbeing that exists with fewer struggles and choices. Existing and non-existing routines determine how people talk and feel about lifestyle changes and whether the changes are big or small, permanent or temporary. In many cases people constantly shift between the long-term perspective and the present’s immediate satisfaction as they are looking for the good life of permanent stability and at the same time for temporary exceptions in form of momentary pleasure or joy. Like Robin who usually eats according to the diet-guidelines given by his personal trainer, but when he has followed the guidelines properly for a while he feels sound enough to treat himself with candy.

“I could just slice carrot and dip it in cream cheese. But sometimes I just feel like I deserve the un-healthy. You know, I’ve been so damn good so treats are allowed. As long as it doesn’t become a habit it’s okay.”

The results from ethnographic studies sometimes seem like stating the obvious since it is so easy to recognise our own behaviour in what is being described. However, very few people (at least not us) can view their own lives “from the outside” in such a way that they can extract new insights from what they observe. These dives into other people’s lives is thus a fantastic source of insights and inspiration that informs the design process and is fundamental for our work with looking at the relationship between people and technology.

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Photo by Kenna Takahashi, from Flickr

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