Adidas Go: How to make music listen to you

At ustwo, we know that it’s most difficult to create those products which bridge the gap between art and science. That’s why we got excited, if a little intimidated, when Stockholm-based creative agency Animal came to us with the initial concept idea for what would become Adidas Go.

With Go, we knew we had to merge the hard data of sensors with the very subjective and personal concept of music taste. We had to understand what runners want from music when they run and how we could deliver those needs in an app that would meet our standards, and at the same time be technically feasible.

About a year ago, Animal had noticed there was an unexplored territory in between running and music, and more specifically a lack of music-focused experiences for the millions of people who run to the beat. In addition to this, Adidas and Spotify had identified that 70% of people running regularly were running with headphones, listening to music or podcasts while making their effort towards a healthier lifestyle. Without a doubt, there is a strong connection between music and moving – they belong together.

However, most running applications aren’t focused on music. Instead, they deliver an experience based on sets of data such as pace, distance, maps and routes.

”We’d like to build a running experience where the music is automatically tailored to the runner, based on their movement” Animal told us. We loved the challenge, and together we set out to make a new type of running experience come to life.

Defining the experience

We started out by asking people who normally run with music to specifically think about their music experience on the go. We needed them to think about and reflect on things like the tempo of the songs and which genre they enjoyed most. Did they want the music to be faster or perhaps more up-tempo if they were running faster? Was there a preference for familiar songs over completely new ones? Over a couple of weeks we did rigorous testing to try to answer all our questions before we started to build anything at all.

We tested changing songs based on pace, only to find out that what is fast for one person might be too slow for another. We tried changing songs more often to boost energy, only to realise that you were really looking forward to that third verse. We experimented how heart-rate, weather, body temperature, terrain and more worked with the possibilities of available sensors.

Reaching the runner's high

In the end, we went for the simple solution, which often turns out to be the best. However, it was not as easy as it seems. It took us about two weeks to really convince all of us in our team that your strides per minute, or stride count, does not change even though you are running faster or slower. But you do – as you run you beat your strides to the ground in a steady pace no matter what speed you’re going at. We started prototyping with Spotify and the step-counter, and knew we found something special. Something that could serve songs in the same BPM as your stride rate.

Watch our running test contraption on YouTube.

With these findings at hand, we could begin to read up on what research had to say about step count and serving songs in the same tempo. Two things were clear. By serving music in your stride rate you improve your running style as it helps the body to keep a steady tempo. The second thing is that, by increasing your strides per minute, you actually lower the risk of getting injured, since it lowers the impact per step. The average runner has somewhere between 150-160 strides whereas the professional has around 180 strides.

Making it personal

The second part, the arts part, where music taste comes in is where it gets tough. For decades, people have tried to figure out the music people like by using algorithms – but it’s still a mystery. Why do we love certain songs, and why do we sometimes connect to them so strongly? Why are some songs so powerful for me but not for my friends?

This is the beauty and nature of art. The subjective views of what is good and what’s not. With Adidas Go we’ve done a pretty good job of listening to your preferred genres and carefully serving new songs to match them, but there will always be songs that aren’t exactly what you expected or fit your taste. However, if you are willing to partially let go of your music taste, with the realisation that even though this is not the greatest song ever, it is still in your stride-rate which will help you run longer and steadier with more ease. And we’re sure you will discover new favourite tracks when you’re out on the trail.

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What lies down the road?

There is still much to do and huge possibilities to explore within the experience of Adidas Go. Which songs do people seem to run the fastest to? And then there is the future. What if we also had your pulse – what could we do with that? Maybe we can add social parameters and look at “most runned-to song” in your city or local area.

What if you could listen to the same music as your friends at the same time but pitched to your own stride-rate? Could we create real-time synthesized music based on data sets such as pace, stride-rate, heart-rate, weather and so on? Would it be better? Would your running be easier, faster, longer or less injured? The only thing we know for certain is that music and running belong together and they just started a whole new relationship.

We want to properly thank Adidas and Animal for giving us this amazing first, small taste in helping millions of runners out there to go further, be less injured and live a healthier life. Get Adidas Go here.