How might we build the future of resistance training at Google scale?
In late 2022, I decided to leave my role within Google’s hardware division (or DSPA – the Devices and Services Product Area), and join Area 120, a small but influential bottoms-up innovation center within Google that was created in 2016 by Bradly Horowitz and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Think of it as an accelerator-like environment, similar to a program like Techstars, but housed within Google.
Here, teams had the ability to work on 20% projects 100% of the time (🥁). The idea was to retain the most entrepreneurial employees by giving them the space and support necessary to build and test their ideas without fear of them quitting to join a startup. Successful projects – “companies” within Area 120 – eventually became attached to core Google properties, while those ultimately deemed unsuccessful were scrapped with love.
I decided to shift gears away from Google Hardware for many reasons. Primarily, I wanted to continue to calibrate my career directly around consumer health. At the time, my work within DSPA was beginning to broaden. I was still focused on designing for health, but my role was moving away from product design and strategy and more towards art direction and consulting.
More importantly, I met the right person in my Cofounder Matthijs Shellekens. Matthijs, already an Area 120 Founder, was spinning up a new idea in the fitness space when I first met him. Over the course of many conversations I became intrigued with his early ideas and his approach to building. Additionally, I wanted to take on more and different responsibilities as a design leader, and the idea of working entrepreneurially was an exhilarating prospect. What began as a fun and casual consulting gig soon turned into a rewarding partnership.
Ghost Fitness, our working name for our product experience, was our take at effectively building Youtube Fitness. Our ambition was to deliver a mobile-first resistance training platform powered by a sports-specific LLM and other generative models. Our platform would remix existing fitness content available on Youtube in order to provide users with a fully bespoke and comprehensive training plan based on science and deeply understood customer needs.
The core difference between our vision and other products on the market was our focus on leveraging existing content to supplement training plans, and our ability to smartly guide and progress users through their fitness journey over time via an accessible, familiar platform.
Ghost fitness was designed to help more people train by experiencing the benefits of exercising with intention. We approached training as an exercise modality that revolved around intentional goal setting, structure, and the measurement of progress over time. We know that people who train with goals achieve better results. Our take was that setting goals and following a principle of gradual adaptation, called progressive overload, would help users achieve maximal results while minimizing the risk of injury.
We also knew that resistance training counteracts many of the effects of metabolic dysfunction head-on. Today, only 12% of American adults are metabolically healthy, with one in three suffering from full-blown metabolic syndrome. Lack of activity and exercise contributes immensely to metabolic dysfunction, a healthspan and lifespan-eviscerating set of medical conditions that affect nearly 90% of US adults.
While not a panacea, strength training provides dramatic improvements to metabolic health. In his book “Outlive,” physician Dr. Peter Attia states that “exercise not only delays actual death but also prevents both cognitive and physical decline better than any other intervention.” Dr. Attia goes on to say that people with low muscle strength are at double the risk of death, while those with low muscle mass and/or low muscle strength, plus metabolic syndrome, had a 3 to 3.33 times greater risk of all-cause mortality. (Source)
Pretty quickly, we “hired” two amazing engineers. Cameron Ketcham and Matt Wong (both previously of other Area 120 teams) joined to lead our development efforts. Additionally, we began working with designer Laura Sanford from local SF agency DesignMap to help bring our work to a higher resolution faster. The growing team brought a wellspring of new energy, skills, and ideas to the table as we iterated from whiteboard sketches to working code.
As de facto head of design for Ghost Fitness, I was responsible for developing the overall design direction and vision, conducting research, gathering feedback, and much more. I worked on product interactions, behaviors, and visuals, creating low-fidelity prototypes and building a user testing plan. Additionally, I led branding and marketing design efforts with both Area 120 colleagues and external agencies. I spent a considerable amount of time thinking like a product manager, which was a rewarding stretch of my skill set.
Design, however, is a team sport and I continuously collaborated with my cofounder and our engineers to iterate on our design decisions, bringing them in early and often to share feedback and provide direction. I also constantly championed our team in cross-functional environments, communicating ceaselessly with other leadership teams about our work, progress, blockers, and goals. This involved collaborating with directors and other organizational leaders and teams in product areas like Fitbit and YouTube, always with an eye towards synthesizing feedback for implementation.
In January of 2023, Area 120 was severely impacted by mass layoffs at Alphabet. Nearly the entire organization was let go, myself and the rest of the Ghost Fitness team included.
Even though our time was cut short, I’m deeply proud of the work we did. We delivered a lot, including:
And, I think above all else, we created a solid team dynamic. We worked well together, towards something we all believed in, and had fun building along the way – which, I think at the end of the day, is all someone can really ask for.
For this document, all images and product screenshots have been redeveloped and redesigned by myself to illustrate broad concepts only. No private work has been shared.