Responses by David Schwarz, founder, HUSH.
Background: The purpose of The Orbit is to create an understanding of the HBO Max brand specifically as a place for all original, high-quality HBO content, as well as a huge catalog of best-in-class favorites like Friends and South Park. We set out to condense an overwhelming amount of complex data and information—in this case, HBO Max’s entire content library—into a simple, beautiful and approachably human experience. The audience for this project is, of course, new and old HBO fans, but the installation also speaks to all TV fans, introducing them to HBO’s robust catalog in an exciting, magical fashion. The experience also appeals to retail customers, both in-person and online, as a form of interactive play, exploration or gamesmanship.
Design thinking: Our objective was first and foremost to showcase HBO Max’s depth and breadth of content beautifully. We also wanted to create a destination-worthy experience for retail customers. Once perfected, we also planned to scale the concept across AT&T flagships and experiential spaces. The Orbit is a prime example of how we can begin to design post-COVID branded and retail experiences through touchless, gestural interfaces.
Challenges: We strung together several advanced technologies—from machine learning to capture information from many terabytes of video data to skeletal tracking and voice recognition—to create an experience that feels magically simple and fast. While each of the technologies is robust in its own right, combining them into a seamless user experience involved incredible constraint, simplicity and a focus on how technology can serve the user experience without the experience becoming about the technology specifically. Instead, we wanted The Orbit to focus on big ideas and feelings around infinite choice and the speed of light.
Favorite details: The user interface is designed to help customers understand the possibilities of interacting with The Orbit as well as the how-to of it all. We wanted to make the big-picture experience exciting, cinematic and attractive. Still, if people didn’t understand how to play and interact with the experience beat by beat, they would be frustrated instead of inspired.
We’re particularly proud of the interface motion. The content moves on X, Y and Z axes that help create the feeling of infinite space in all directions. And since The Orbit tracks users’ body movements, it knows where their eyes and head are at all times, enabling it to pinpoint their perspective and translate that into the movement of interface and content that mimics the real world. We wanted the motion to be quick and snappy, so we really pushed to ensure every detail of the experience supported the “speed of 5G” value proposition: No waiting to load. No slow frame movement. Everything is fast.
Finally, while the actual physical space was constrained within a typical retail environment, we maximized the perceived volume of space by immersing audiences in an audio-visual-material box, in which we would be able to affect their five senses in significant and specific ways. We used reflective materials, interactive lighting and a 100-percent-complete digital field of view.
Visual influences: In early-stage concepting, we were inspired by the idea of the zoetrope as both a form factor as well as its relationship to early animation and film. Something circular that moved in constant rotation to emulate movement and create dynamism felt like a nice metaphorical territory to play in. Many of our animation and interface tests played with the ideas of horizontal, cylindrical and rotational motion as a starting point to create the infinite, fast world.
New lessons: While the concept and brief began in the flagship retail context, it quickly expanded to experiences on the web and on mobile to democratize access to The Orbit. Translating a retail-scale experience, its technical backbone and its user interfaces to these different media, audience types and platforms proved to be complicated but very rewarding.