I’m trying to lose weight again at the moment, so I am stepping on my WiFi connected scales every morning. A few seconds after I step off the scales, a server somewhere on the internet gets told how good or bad I’ve been, and it sends a push notification to my phone. The payload with that notification contains my new new weight measurement, and it’s stored forever in HealthKit. It’s really quite amazing.
Along with that push notification come some words though, and it’s those words that I want to talk about today. Here’s two of the messages that I receive from the app I use. I’ve deliberately not highlighted the name of the app as I’m about to (gently) criticise it.
I don’t really like the wording of either of these notifications.
The first problem I have is with the second notification. That’s the message that arrives when today’s reading is higher than yesterday’s. I believe that honesty with yourself is a critical part of losing weight, so I’m disappointed every time I see it avoid the fact that some days I am heavier than I was yesterday. The scales that I was staring down at just a few seconds ago told me I had gained weight, so why does the notification hide it?
My second problem applies to both notifications. It actually doesn’t matter much at all if today’s reading is higher, or lower than yesterday’s. What matters is the trend of my weight over a longer period of time. I may be heavier today, but that could be a completely normal weight fluctuation as part of a downward (or upward!) trend. That’s what I really need to know.
So I took a crack at rewriting them…
I deliberately tried to keep the wording in my rewrites very neutral and emotionless. It’s tricky to tell people they’re gaining weight, and we’re taught it has no place in polite conversation. We’re allowed to suggest people may have lost weight, but never that they may have gained it. I can imagine those thoughts going through the mind of the person writing the original notifications. The thing is that these notifications aren’t being spoken out loud to humans in polite conversation, they’ve been requested by me and I’m very probably the only person who’s going to see them. I want honesty and data.
I’d be much happier if my rewritten versions greeted me every morning. They give me something more than the scale just gave me, and they’re honest. That helps me be honest with myself, and that helps me lose weight.
The really interesting thing is, even though I was trying to keep those messages as clinical and emotionless as possible, my bias towards losing weight snuck in. It’s that word “But” in the rightmost notification that let me down.
It’s OK to put a bit of emotion into the copy your app uses. Humans respond well to it, and as long as it’s appropriate (which is the tricky bit!) it can yield great results. So I leant into it with these rewrites.
But now my bias towards losing weight is really out of the bag… Just think how bad these notifications would feel if you were trying to gain weight, rather than lose it. Erk…
The thing with most weight tracking apps is that they usually ask you what your goal weight is, or how tall you are so they can calculate a goal weight for you. The apps know if you’re trying to lose, or gain. So that could absolutely be part of the logic that creates notifications that would be welcomed by people trying to gain weight.
It’s really important to remember that if you’re going to use emotion in your in-app copy, that you need to be really careful to think about how it night be read by all the different types of people that use your app.
I think there’s just one more improvement I’d make to these notifications. If we know the rate of change, and the goal, then we can predict when the goal might be met! So what about incorporating that into the notification? Here are my final attempts.
Does any of this actually matter? I’d say it really does. This notification is probably the primary way that I interact with this app. I open it once a week or so to look at the graph, but I see the notifications every single day.
When was the last time you looked carefully at what your app’s notifications really said?
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