What comes to mind with professional sports? Competition. Winning. Statistics. Rankings. Even at the highest level, at the Olympics, the best of the best. The accompanying digital experiences match this emphasis, because they’re typically designed for the fans.
In 2022, the Special Olympics USA Games are coming to Florida. The Games take place over multiple days, with 4,000 athletes, and 125,000 fans. Their mission is to give people with intellectual and physical disabilities a chance to compete on the national stage. They came to Blink to design the companion native mobile app for the Games, which would be used by everyone: fans, sponsors, coaches, and athletes. Since athletes are of utmost importance, together we asked ourselves: what if we designed the mobile experience for athletes first? By doing that, could we also design a great experience for everyone else?
Like all Blink projects, we started by gathering evidence and talking with athletes and coaches, through one-on-one interviews and co-creation sessions. We heard three big things that reshaped our expectations of what sports were all about.
First, competition is about connection. Athletes emphasized that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, everyone is high fiving. Second, logistics brings anxiety. The games are crowded, and athletes are often confused about where to be and can easily get lost. Plus, they’re often waiting, either for their team to get results or in lines without knowing what else to do. Third, every athlete deserves celebration. They know how hard athletes worked to get to the Games, and want them all to be recognized. These insights informed critical design decisions for the mobile app.
By focusing on empowering athletes first, Blink helped the Special Olympics design a sports experience for everyone that goes beyond highlights, medal counts, and awards. The result is a purer and more human experience of sporting events. The app is currently in development, launching prior to July 2022.
The mobile app we designed is a digital companion for both athletes and fans that enhances and extends the games beyond the field.
Meet Jolina “JoJo” Harris. JoJo is autistic and has trouble speaking. She competes in swimming and a number of other sports, and this is her first time competing on a national stage. The app makes logistics delightfully simple for JoJo. It greets her in the morning and shows her a personalized schedule, including what uniform to wear. She sees a message from her coach, where to meet her team, and how long she’ll be at the pool, which helps her feel more connected to her team. She can easily find friends who are competing nearby and add them to free blocks in her schedule. Transportation and walking directions are one tap away.
The app also helps fans encourage and celebrate JoJo. Before her match, JoJo receives some digital cheers from her family, friends, and fans. She gets a playful “Good luck” from a friend, and sends back a similar message with one tap, a feature JoJo loves since she has trouble speaking. The message options are tailored to when athletes need the most encouragement: preparing for, during, or after finishing their competition.
“Thousands of athletes would use this [cheers] section every minute of the day. I think this is important. I like the immediacy of it. The simplicity and color scheme are great too.”
— Athlete and referee
The digital experience also creates sharable mementos of the Games, no matter the results. After her match, the app congratulates JoJo and lets her know the results, alongside professional photos of her competing, and photos taken by family and friends, all of which she can automatically share or post to social media. At the end of the Games, JoJo receives a note that her Official Mementos are ready, aggregating all her competitions into a personalized storybook, a slideshow, and an official event poster — a full ESPN-like spotlight on each and every athlete, extending the experience long after the Games end.
“For a lot of the athletes it’s their first time away from home and flying and being independent. Having positive encouragement is very helpful. Now that they are at a national competition it’s huge.”
“Would be awesome. So you can show your family back home how you did. So you can tell people how you did and so you can have a souvenir of what you did.”
“This is going to be a game-changer for the Special Olympics movement, not just the USA Games in 2022.”
— Games CIO Lonnie Snyder