I find an ongoing set of inspirations in the way in which innovation appears in restricted circumstances. In the case of Reaktor’s in-flight entertainment system for Finnair (one of the candidates for the next Service Design Achievement of the Year, to be announced on March 18), that limitation was old, if not yet outdated, technology. In installing new software, they had to navigate both the corporate structure through which their client, via Panasonic, tends to handle its design in matters relating to the in-flight screens, and the technical limitations of the screens, the replacing of which would have been really expensive.
It very much seems to me that in the 14 months between kick-off and implementation, they pulled of a significant, if not radical change. What’s interesting is the how, as it sort of contradicts many recommendations for design thinking. Some of the facets were of course quite traditional: a benchmarking of the old system against its competitors; the building of a test lab once non-installed screens were procured; plane visits; user tryouts. Most importantly of all, a client-demanded content first approach. On the other hand, implementation was done with a single run and no chance to test before flight, and many of the facets one would expect to have included in the design process were not – probably due to the client’s standard practices for outsourced design. This is a risky, but understandable, decision in a situation where the express purpose of the system is to prevent boredom during long flights.
Interestingly, however, I would define what was done as an interface design, not a content-driven process.As a matter of fact, the content itself was, and still is, something provided by the client and its associates, and not something the in-flight entertainment system could affect. Furthermore, it appears that neither content heuristics nor data gathering is used with the system, meaning that while it does have options for more, to me the full potential of the entertainment system is undermined. We saw small glimpses of it, in e.g., content filtering, but both the interface design and the information systems scholar in me cringed, when we were told what the client apparently did not want to have included.
Nevertheless, what Reaktor has produced is a shining example of the fact that sometimes an incremental change (in this case a new, easier interface) can still be a radical change, in that it turns an almost inert, obsolete system again into an enjoyable user experience, one that adds value to the entire flight. While I may not see the process as really content-driven, it does allow the content to shine. And for ease of access, leading to increased use, that is extremely valuable. Small things matter, and they produce new life in even older contexts.
You can find an advertisement video for the system here.