Pitching to your audience: multi-touch experiences, qatar airways and surface

This story may be familiar. You have a great client, a brand full of promise and future. Then you get to help them construct a brief.

Qatar Airways had a real desire to create a rich immersive experience focussing on promoting their pivotal involvement to create the New Doha International Airport and their continued success as the World’s 5-Star Airline. A conference for high-line investors was already scheduled at the beautiful Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the famed Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, in Doha, Qatar.

Qatar Airways also wanted to use Microsoft Surface and its multi-touch, multi-user experience to bring the essence of their brand and future plans to life by showcasing the new airport, their state of the art fleet and 5-Star traveller service.

Ok, so… a rich immersive experience, surface and a large group of influential investors. What kind of experience would be right? We theorised around the future of airline travel and brainstormed the traveller experience before focussing our proposition around the investors and the service offering that Qatar Airways and the New Doha International Airport (NDIA) has as a vehicle for investment.

Our client provided some great video, virtualisations and imagery of their fleet, their 5-Star experience and the NDIA. Turning to the experience design, we wanted to make use of the multi-orientation and multi-user aspects of surface. I thought about bubble-like objects that could be moved around the surface, independently, simultaneously and viewed from any angle. I worked up an interaction idea of fans or blades, one set belonging to each bubble.

Bringing the experience design, visual execution, content and surface development together is where the fun really started. I hooked up with my previous collaborator; surface, silverlight and all round WPF and XAML super-star, Richard Griffin, to handle the technical and UX development. When thinking about visual execution we turned to Mike Lewis and Origin Interactive. Our client was completing the collaboration and we had… 3 weeks to make it happen.

Designing gesture based interactions.

Thinking carefully in ‘gestures’ is a lot of fun with any touch or multi-touch based experience. Some of the finer detail emerged when thinking how to display multiple flight times from a particular departure point. I thought about how gesture based experiences allow for a move away from the grid-like time table that has been used so much in the travel sector. I sketched out a few interactions within the information design before settling on a dialer-type approach using a ‘flick’ gesture.

It was getting close to the conference, so we flew to Doha, completed and optimized the development and got familiar with the conference location. We met the model makers who had created the architectural model of the New Doha International Airport, we positioned the surface for optimum flow around the conference venue and had a few late nights bringing it all together.

We shot a lot of video leading up to and during the conference. Some great sequences are guerrilla-style user testing and the investors’ engagement at the conference. The videos show how naturally people get the multi-touch experience and that the pinch and flick gestures, made ubiquitous by the iPhone transcend audience demographic and device.

The possibilities for touch and multi-touch experiences within airlines seem endless … offering capabilities to build brand equity and real commercial propositions. What began as a prototype to build investor confidence and brand awareness has come full circle as we now re-visit opportunities surrounding future travel experiences.

Julian A D Harris