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Virgin Active: The Pack

Group cycle is a popular activity in gyms across the world. So popular that, for a long time, little innovation had taken place around the basic set-up: you strap in, get shouted at, sweat a lot and then exit left.

But that’s now changing, and fast. New products, from a series of new players, have sprung up offering their own fresh takes on group cycle. This, and the huge potential for integrating live performance data, led Virgin Active to decide that the time was right for a radical redesign of the experience. So, following the successful work we supported on redefining functional training through The Grid, they set us the challenge of working with them to develop a new group cycle product to be launched in clubs worldwide.

A simple truth

We used the first phase of the project to look at the opportunity from four different perspectives: the users (both instructors and cyclists), the market, the product and the business strategy.

Our analysis showed that exercise is more rewarding when there’s a shared purpose. Yet the Group Cycle experience, despite playing out in the proximity of other people, was essentially solitary – riders chased individual goals while little was made of the potential for group interaction.

Together we ride

Enter 'The Pack’, a new fitness product inspired by a simple concept: together we ride. With a series of 4 ‘Pack Challenges’ per class, these interactive games would unleash the latent motivation and joy in group cycle by pitting three teams head-to-head in a series of fun yet demanding exercises.

To take The Pack from fledgling concept to full live experience, we partnered closely with Virgin Active’s marketing, technology and fitness teams. Through a series of sprints we designed the individual challenges and overall user experience that could help The Pack deliver the outcomes identified by Virgin Active’s cycle programme, working together with the expertise of their fitness team throughout. Rather than lean towards the pro-performance racers, we designed for the fun-loving ‘Exertainer’ audience, creating challenges with a typically Virgin flavour – Sumo, Speed Freaks, Hold the Line and Big Burnout.

Integrating the experience

With the game concepts for launch in place, we needed to bring everything to life as a cohesive and motivating studio experience. We began by exploring the technical architecture of the fitness product, while working closely with Virgin Active’s studio design team to establish the capabilities of the studio environments.

Working with a team of partners – Deloitte Digital (tech build and implementation), Hutchisons (sound) and Horare Lea (light) – we were able to show how the core concept of The Pack could be supported by every aspect of the in-class experience, from where riders sit to how the studio feels.

I am really proud of the product we have created. There are so many complex moving parts that we have managed to pull together so smoothly, resulting in an exceptional experience” Dael Williamson, Head of Enterprise Architecture, Virgin Active Europe

At the heart of the new product sits the Experience Manager – a smart desktop app we prototyped that aggregates bike data into team data, and curates the screen interface, lighting and sound for a multi-sensory experience. Crucially, the Experience Manager does the legwork, freeing up the instructor to motivate teams to win Challenges.

Setting the stage for success

The final phase of our work focused on showing how the concept could work technologically. This set the foundation for a full build by the Virgin Active team and their partners.

We specified software dependencies and created prototypes to prove that the technology stack was capable of powering a real-time connected studio experience. We also recommended hardware for in-studio computers that would be capable of running the Experience Manager, while meeting Virgin Active’s price and platform requirements.

Working with Wolff Olins, we have created a really unique product which harnesses not only the energy of a traditional spin class but the fun and team spirit which is so much a part of Virgin Active” Clare Gambardella, Chief Marketing Officer, Virgin Active Europe

In a short period of time, we have delivered a unique breadth of work, with a single multidisciplinary team covering a whole host of areas: strategy and concepts; visual, interaction, game and environment design; software development, IT infrastructure planning, as well as go-to-market creative. Crucial to this process was the ability to work closely with a range of specialist Virgin Active teams, from marketing to technology to fitness, drawing on their knowledge and expertise to make sure the work was both feasible and exciting.

The Pack is being rolled out in eight Virgin Active clubs this May 2016, before riding into gyms across the world and hopefully changing group exercise for good.