When we look back at some designs that used to be trendy, we now consider them ugly – the overuse of drop shadows or fake 3D elements, for example. But characteristics like clear readability, user guidance and intuitive navigation are timeless.
There are manifold ways to design a GUI, but the best practice for us has been to take guidance from popular platforms as the average user will already know how to use these interfaces.
We try and make the experience for the passenger as seamless as possible, so we lean towards designing UIs similar to Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, Spotify, etc.. iTunes is a good example of a timeless design which has needed few updates over its 15-year history.
Even though you and I can probably navigate through all these platforms naturally, another special challenge in GUI design is that you’re talking to every imaginable user -from the notorious crying babies to octogenarians, including passengers from all corners of the world, with all sorts of different cultural backgrounds.
As I took a flight from Doha to Kuwait City, I sat in a Qatar A350 next to a person who wanted to use his IFE but had trouble even starting it. The GUI was on the start screen which showed a smiling flight attendant, a welcome message and a start button. All text rotated through different languages. My fellow passenger, however, tried to start the experience by clicking everywhere but on the start button which got him frustrated and in the end made him give up on the IFE at all. This opened my eyes to a scenario which I would have dismissed as unrealistic if brought up in a meeting.
Alongside being easily understandable, the GUI also has to look great. It is a major branding touchpoint as the user will be very likely to engage with it for the duration of the flight. If designed correctly it can become a strong airline differentiator, make the company look modern and leave the passenger with a positive feeling. On the opposite side, a poor GUI can lead to frustration and a negative association with the brand.
So far we have established that our GUI design should:
- be timeless
- take advantage of familiar workflows
- take every possible type of user into consideration
- reinforce the airlines brand
Once we are aware of the above we can start designing the GUI using the brand identity as a guideline, presenting the content in the most appealing way and showing the designs to the following stakeholders involved:
The airline is the client. They decide what content the GUI will have, what apps, what movies, etc.. They have their vision that we try to bring to life through our GUI, and they are the ones who can sign off the final designs.
The brand agency
The agency will ensure the design is in line with the visual language they have chosen for the airline. Here, every detail matters. Every typeface has a character and has been selected for it. The experience has to be consistent and seamless.
These are usually working for the company that manufactures the hardware itself – in most cases Panasonic Avionics or Thales. They will highlight technological limitations and functionality details.
The GUI designers (us!)
We bring in our expertise in UI/UX design and are in charge of putting together the client’s vision, the brand’s visual language, the technical functionalities in an appealing way, and design these from concepts to GRD (Graphics Requirement Document – the final document covering every detail in over 300 pages).
We all work closely together throughout the design process itself, and nothing beats face-to-face meetings. Being an international industry, it can get difficult to schedule a call with program managers based in California, designers based in London, developers based in Dubai and clients anywhere in the world. All participants need to meet in person for a 2-3 day workshop on the GUI to ensure expectations from all parties are met.