The Opera Problem

I was bored and dissatisfied with the lack of concept work after a long slog on a project, so I did a design problem and I encourage you to do it as well. You have only three hours to complete this problem from start to finish.

An opera company wants to draw a broader audience and turn newcomers into recurring, passionate patrons. Design a companion screen experience to accompany an opera performance. Consider using either the mobile devices in audience pockets or a tablet built into every armrest.

My solution after the jump.

While I found this to be an interesting design exercise (and I had a lot of fun doing it), I should note that I don’t usually work assuming the level of constraints this problem placed on me. Designers have a professional responsibility to test assumptions and reframe problems. The goal of attracting a broad audience of newcomers and bridging them to loyal, passionate patrons in an opera requires an understanding of motivation and strategies to jump the barriers between the two customer groups. This requires real research that may net solutions well outside the digital realm. Maybe the problem is the musical director’s choice of operas to perform for a season? Maybe it’s an imbalance in the number of classics to new commissioned work? Maybe the seats aren’t comfy? Who knows! Only real, rigorous research can uncover these hidden needs and can push on these assumptions properly.

For this problem, I swallowed hard and only dealt with the digital parameters I’ve been given. That means I worked using gut instinct on what I perceive are the barriers between newcomers and loyal patrons. This assumes a very anglo-centric, well-off white American male view. It’s the price we pay without contextual inquiry.

I’ve done enough mobile apps and tablet experiences to choke a horse and I didn’t feel like it fully captured what I believe newcomers wanted out of an opera experience, so I went in a different direction when it comes to the context of the digital companion screen experience. I decided to create an augmented reality experience for the opera, demonstrating some flows before the show starts and while the show is playing.

For this problem, I had to design the prototype hardware interactions and a basic interaction model for three different experience modalities.

This shows the hardware patrons are required to wear to interact with the companion experience: a pair of glasses. They have three ways of interacting: a left button, middle button, and right button. The left button is dedicated to going back, right button to moving forward, and the middle button acts as a way to jump in and out of the experience.

The first modality is the Opera application screen before the show starts. Each of the four quadrants has a different “app” that a user looks at and presses the right button to launch. Each app quadrant has a hover state to give clues what app I am aiming at.

The second modality shows the in-app experience interaction model. Left serves as back, right serves as forward or select, depending on the content. Selectable elements are on the “stage” canvas.

The third modality shows the experience while a performance is happening. By default, the augmented reality experience is quiet minus translations at the top of the canvas. Activating the experience through the middle button shows a menu that drives extra content or functionality, primarily interacting with the top part of the canvas.

Now let me demonstrate how this works through a few use cases.

Screen Description
Our new patron comes to the opera to watch The Barber of Seville. He sits down, puts on his AR glasses, and activates the AR opera experience. He sees the stage with four applications.
He looks at Playbill and sees the hover state. He taps right button to activate the app.
He sees the stage with the virtual actors for the evening. They are walking on the stage and waving at our newcomer. He hovers over the male lead.
He sees Jack Dawson plays Figaro. He taps the right button.
Jack animates to the foreground, while his cast mates get much smaller. Our patrons reads a bit about him then taps left button.
Jake goes back on the stage and his cast mates are all normal sized once again. Our patron taps left.
And is back on the home screen. He hovers over Now Playing and sees Mozart is playing. He taps right.
He gets a bit of information about the song and sees he can purchase. He taps right while hovering on Purchase.
The purchase process takes a small amount of time.
And then the purchase is complete. The song has been authorized on his glasses. He takes his NFC-enabled phone out of his pocket and holds it near his glasses. He now has the song.
The show has started. Our patron can see the translations at the top of the canvas. The AR app is nowhere to be seen otherwise.
He’s having a hard time following what’s happening. He presses the middle button and activates the menu …
Hovers over “Background” and taps right.
He gets a synopsis of what is currently happening. He presses middle to deactivate and go back to the show.
Later, our patron wants a better view of something. He taps middle to activate the menu…
Hovers on magnify and taps right.
And his glasses serve as a mobile pair of binoculars. He can now magnify in or out or press middle to exit

So how did we help the newcomers become more frequent members? By providing them the tools they need to enjoy and appreciate the opera without a clunky device attached to their hip or the need to demonstrate their ignorance. Translations are omnipresent, but now our patron can get more in-depth information if he’s totally lost. (And he doesn’t have to turn to his companion and whisper, just to be shushed.) He can always pivot off of the music or the actor or the scene to get more information or even possibly download purchasable content if he desires. And he can accomplish all of this with the biggest indignity being wearing glasses and sometimes touching the rims (to press the left, right, or middle button, all natural movements for someone wearing glasses).

Thoughts? Critique?

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