How IFE can learn from Broadcast Design

How IFE can learn from Broadcast Design
30 July 2015 Toby McColl

How IFE can learn from Broadcast Design

By Derek Ellis | Chief Creative Officer at Massive.

At Massive, we often draw parallels between the design and strategy work we do in the broadcast space and designing inflight entertainment experiences. I am thankful to have worked on both types of projects for more than twenty years and to have lead a team that has designed more than half of the world’s top Skytrax awarded IFE systems (Emirates, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic). The journey so far has been very gratifying. As a designer it has been fascinating to see the interplay between technology and consumer expectation and behaviour, and the impact of this across both sectors.

Notably, there has been a great deal of change when designing for broadcast, on demand and catch-up services. The shift from creating experiences for a fixed location (traditionally the living room), to a ‘content everywhere’ experience across multiple screens has been gradual yet significant. This has brought about a host of design challenges, including user experience edge cases that have required discipline and focus. 

The same challenges now face the airline industry as embedded seat back systems are being augmented, and sometimes replaced, by more portable ‘BYOD’ systems. Portability is increasingly enabling extended IFE experience to either side of the onboard component of a journey (in addition to throughout the 36,000 feet sector). The resulting complexity of problems we tackle for airlines continues to increase exponentially with the introduction of more passenger and aircraft screens. The broad passenger demographic, psychographic and technology fluency further magnifies this design challenge. 

Thankfully some areas of design that airlines are now tackling such as dynamically scaling a UI or service across multiple web browser screen sizes have matured with the use, development and acceptance of responsive design systems. The tangible benefit is reduced design time and cost. 

However, designing UIs for TVs and ‘lean back’ experiences found in living rooms and business or first class suite environments still present complex challenges. Responding to this task is a responsibility we take seriously as our designs have a significant impact on the experience of millions of paying customers each year. Passengers who after the typical stresses incurred getting through airport security, boarding, finding a seat and getting settled, are far from interested in having to figure out how to use the entertainment system or Wi-Fi portal. 

So why is designing ‘lean back’ video UIs or GUI in the airline sector, so difficult? Why bother engaging a specialist such as Massive?

An opportunity exists for the airline sector to cherry-pick learnings gathered in other multiscreen offerings such as broadcast, and to apply them to their unique environment. Massive has undertaken a vast amount of research and client work that has resulted in highly personalised experiences that are delivered seamlessly from screen to screen (and between locations). Along the way, we’ve tackled solutions to handle identity management, personalisation, content discovery, specialised segmentation offerings, dynamic ad-supported services, notification strategies, rights and network management messaging, and special offerings for child friendly experiences. All of which are applicable to airline products.

Put simply, we have the process and knowledge required to create a best practice, highly targeted, usable solution. Without an educated approach to delivering and distilling the insights and requirements that fully and meaningfully inform a useful design outcome, a client is in dangerous hands. And importantly, the solution has to work on the technology target, be it the latest hardware or a legacy system, so a deep technical capability is also necessary in order to work with engineers to develop the best possible final product. 

We see certain commonalities repeated in briefs across the globe. They often point to a requirement for improved engagement, consumption and uptake, whilst reducing churn and maintaining/growing subscriber numbers. This means that not only must a content offering be good, but also the customers’ ease in finding, viewing or consuming content, must be at least as good and better than the competition. We also know that as content catalogues increase in size and choice, so will user frustrations when finding, managing and consuming said content. A bad journey results in a negative experience, which nobody wants.

To be successful you need to ensure that at a minimum your product has context awareness, that appropriate effort has gone into distilling users and their needs, and that you’ve applied creativity to infuse the brand at all stages. At Massive, our rigorous methodologies yield results. We employ research, analysis, iterative thinking and a tonne of creativity. We’re also very proud to validate our approach all of the way along the journey and continually document key outcomes, findings, insights and iterating until we achieve excellence. 

This ability to simplify complex data, and get to the heart of any challenge is an essential part of our design process and key factor when maintaining market leadership. Also, advancing projects with a ‘product design’ approach, not just a singular UI or app design thinking is critical. 

We consider service experience as one engagement, regardless of how many screens are involved, how long an interaction may last, or the context in which a user views or consumes content. This also doesn’t mean the same UI is presented identically on each screen, rather it is how we harness the strength of each device/screen and translate the experience that matters. Clearly what you see and do on wearable tech is different to a handset or mobile, or a solution for a large screen TV. However, the combined result must present a harmonious experience, providing a singular brand and content narrative that moves seamlessly across all screens. 

Adding personality and intelligence to product is so important when bringing a service experience to life so that it appears to be ‘looking out’ for the user. We work to surface content and information as a passenger needs it (situation, device and context), in a useful, practical format. Ultimately success is evaluated in a number of ways, however, achieving a positive emotional response from customers, when experience moves beyond simple utility, to something that embodies the brand promise and truly resonates, is an important goal worth repeatedly achieving. When we do this, we are certain that we have exceeded all of the requirements in a brief (such as driving brand/product affinity and revenue generation and protection).

Airlines are lucky to operate predominantly in unique and structured physical environments (airports and aircraft) that provide strong advantages when engaging with captive, segmented audiences. These spaces also provide the perfect platform to take advantage of the strength of well-established partner brands/product offerings. As connectivity increases, the opportunity for new partnerships along the entire passenger journey becomes limitless and will drive innovation not previously seen in the airline IFE industry. I personally feel we’ve only just scratched the surface.