Image via Global Eagle, Creative

APEX Insight: Tal Kalderon, IFE manager at El Al and part of the team that created the graphical user interface (GUI) for the airline’s new IFE system, shares his tips on GUI  design – from understanding each partner’s role in the process to favoring a staggered rollout.

Tal Kalderon

Tal Kalderon, in-flight entertainment manager, El Al. Image: Sivan Farag

The APEX How To series features experts in fields ranging from product design and operations to sales and marketing, who offer guidance and tips on topics that influence the airline passenger experience. In this installment, Tal Kalderon, in-flight entertainment manager at El Al, offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of creating a unique, contemporary and innovative GUI.

Kalderon was part of the team that spent 18 months designing the GUI for El Al’s Panasonic Avionics’ eX3 in-flight entertainment system, which launched on the airline’s Boeing 787 aircraft in September. The GUI is currently flying on two aircraft, with another scheduled to be added to the fleet every three months, until all 16 of the airline’s Dreamliners are operating.

What is the key to designing a successful GUI?

Four partners were involved in this complex project: EL AL, Global Eagle, Panasonic Avionics and Ackila. The key to success was understanding each partner’s role and integrating them into the project while adhering to a tight schedule.

Where did your team start?

We did research to determine the most suitable screen sizes for the distance between the passenger and the screen. We requested and received data from the seat manufacturers and the results were amazingly accurate. We also researched the optimal quantity of content to offer by consulting other airlines’ content libraries, but we took into consideration that Israeli passengers have different standards than passengers from other countries. For example, while other airlines offer an average of 4-6 episodes in a series, we decided that for Israeli series, entire seasons would be included.

“We took into consideration that Israeli passengers have different standards than passengers from other countries.”

Can you identify any sources of inspiration?

We wanted to create a unique, contemporary and innovative interface that gives passengers a user experience close to what they know from home: A large touch screen featuring an immense variety of content and applications.

What is the most critical stage in the process?

The most significant stage in the process was deciding on the categories and subcategories. The basis is a given: films, TV, music, games, etc. But in order to enrich these categories with a wide variety of content, we had to subdivide these categories  so that users would be able to find relevant content quickly and conveniently. The skeleton of the user interface was constructed according to determined categories. There is no room for error as the design is fitted onto the skeleton and incorrect determination has repercussions all along the way.


Image via Global Eagle, Creative

Did the destination play an important role in the design? 

Yes. The idea was that, with the very first touch of the screen, passengers would enter the experience of the trip or journey they were embarking on. So, immediately upon entering the system a video appears that describes a typical site at the passenger’s destination. We went through hundreds of video segments to find the frames that would make passengers feel like they’re traveling to one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

“Upon entering the system a video appears that describes a typical site at the passenger’s destination.”

How are content recommendations incorporated into the system?

The central element in the interface design is the background, composed of pictures that change every 10 seconds, based on scenes from the films and the content that is embedded in the system. The correct selection of scenes and determination of the quantity and mix of the pictures emphasize the rich and varied content that is available, exposing passengers to the diverse options offered by the system and assisting in the selection of content to view.

Did you customize any aspects of the GUI for specific audiences?

We chose to isolate two different audiences, both of which prefer to enter directly into their designated categories: children and ultra-Orthodox viewers. The ultra-Orthodox audience does not watch movies and TV programs (for some, this is forbidden by their rabbis) and they prefer to listen to lectures or specific music, which we uploaded for them under a category called “Tradition.” For children, we created a separate category that brings them straight into a rich, diversified world of content that is meant for all ages, including an interactive map showing information about countries and cities. Children can also view characteristic animals of each country and play with them by touching the screen.

“Children can also view characteristic animals of each country and play with them by touching the screen.”

Did you also update the map application for adults?

Yes – the map application is no longer limited to information about the location of the aircraft and the duration of the flight. Passengers can choose the observation angle of the flight from within and outside the aircraft, including the cockpit, and view stylized information about the flight destinations and main tourism sites – including detailed, accurate ways to reach them, with Google Map accuracy.

Does El Al’s Dreamliner GUI have a chat feature? Why or why not?

The aircraft cabin is ideal for creating a social network to connect passengers with similar travel needs, such as sharing a taxi at the destination or recommendations of restaurants, sites and attractions. On another entertainment system that we developed, we saw that chats were very popular among passengers, and we came to understand that the passengers had to be directed via chat rooms and designated forums.

Image: Sivan Farag

Do you have any tips for the rollout process?

From my experience, it is preferable not to provide all of the options and apps when launching the system. In the first stage, we provided basic – though extensive – options: video and audio content, games, reading material and one or two applications. At this stage we confirmed that all functions were working properly and all bugs were ironed out. The second stage is when more complex applications can be rolled out, such as those that enable sales and payments through the system, live TV channel viewing and and many more diverse options that we are working on now.