The Case Against the UI of LifeFitness Elliptical Machines

Ambika Miglani
Sep 19 · 4 min read

Getting to the gym and exercising, for most, is a struggle in itself. You have to schedule it into your day, often pay a lot of money to even use it, and usually when people get there they don’t know what to do unless they have a trainer and hop onto a treadmill or elliptical. This is already enough of a process without being assaulted with the unusable UI of the Life Fitness elliptical machines. Exercise machines are becoming more and more customizable, allowing you to sync your social media accounts or connect your smart-phone to the machine, but people on a university campus often use a different machine every time they go to the gym and don’t have time to figure out how it functions.

Observation of interface in real life

I appreciate that that the designer has tried to make everything clear to read. The buttons are large and accessible, the words are typed in a large, clear font, and it is understandable when one button is selected over another due to the green highlight. The main part that is successful about this interface is readability. However, although the user can read the words on the screen, this doesn’t necessarily make this machine intuitive to use.

The most significant design flaw here is probably the underutilization of space, and the poor spatial layout of the buttons. The entire central portion of the screen is blank apart from the company logo, there are two blank buttons which seem to have no purpose, and the rectangle on the bottom right for entertainment options is also half blank.

The three buttons on the top left of the screen seem to be the only vital buttons in terms of starting a workout. However, because of the other distracting elements on the screen, the user doesn’t immediately arrive at these options. While I think the green highlighting of the “Quick Start” button is effective in drawing attention to it, it gives the false impression that the button has already been selected (which it hadn’t been), as that is the only button that is differentiated from the rest, again misleading the user.

The “USB” button is also ambiguous. Usually one would see a USB sign next to a usb port to lead the user to plug their device in. It’s appearance on the screen seems to not have a major use. Instead, the company could have just created a button for all inputs (including iPod etc.) and not assaulted the user with multiple buttons for multiple inputs when their priority is starting their workout quickly. The USB sign also appears on two other buttons — “virtual trainer” and “media”, and it loses its original meaning. The user then could be led to believe they are all similar and connected somehow, which misrepresents their purposes. They are all very distinct, so connecting them with the same symbol is not only redundant but confusing.

Bad elements of the UI in this design

The designers probably didn’t want to put too much information on the screen, while also displaying the brand name clearly. However, this is an older model of the elliptical machine and many models have been created since to solve these interface problems. This was used when iPods were used more than iPhones and probably could not accommodate more features. The designers of this model probably wanted to highlight the “virtual trainer” and usb capabilities of this elliptical that was new at that point in time. I’m not quite sure otherwise why many of these design choices were made, as the constraints of scalability, brand image, and implementation cost should not affect basic design principles such as using space effectively. It is understandable why the company chose to stick with more rudimentary fonts and a simple color scheme — more complex and sleek aesthetics require a higher budget. If the company was trying to keep up with the trend of implementing an in-machine personal trainer, the budget for manufacturing these machines might have gone predominantly into that technology, but it is possible to create a more usable interface while not having to spend an exorbitant amount of money on high-end technology. I have illustrated below how a simple redesign of the interface can highlight the personal trainer feature of the machine, while making it quicker for people to begin their workout.

While this is a review of an older piece of equipment, and hence the outdated UI, this is a piece of equipment that I still encounter often. It’s a good example of how even if something has a special built- in feature, the UI of the object can present a restriction to using the object to its full capacity .

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade