Virtual Reality • April 2018 - July 2018
The Airport of the Future
Travelex Group is a worldwide foreign exchange company looking to revolutionise the airport experience and optimise its footprint in the Heathrow Airport Hub. To illustrate and persuade the Heathrow stakeholders about their reimagined travel experience, the goal was to create a fully immersive VR narrative to showcase how they would ease money exchange frictions and enhance the broader customer experience and get buy-in. To fund the new footprint renovations, and re-establish their presence in the UK flagship airport.
VR Creative Direction
3DAR as Production Agency
Somewhere Else Producer
Head of Design - client
I was in charge of the creative and design direction of the whole VR experience and delivered all the creative and final output in less than three months. Based on a script provided by the client, I conceived and storyboarded all the narrative and set the direction for each VR scene, created style guides about the holistic look&feel along with directions and references for the environment, props and characters design. From an interaction standpoint, I designed all the UI screens showcasing the digital application as part of the proposed solution and VR interactions as part of the broader immersive narrative. The final outcome was achieved by collaborating remotely with a studio partner based in Argentina, to which I provided daily creative critiques, steers on the design direction, and creative inspiration.
Travelex research showed that customers associate the brand with cash and there's a relationship of mistrust as people perceive money exchange as defined by poor rates and lack of transparency. More than often, this being a last-minute necessity, also eroded by the proliferation of fintech players Revolut and Monzo offering cheap and reliable overseas financial options.
They also found that customers have very little awareness of their products, and ultimately they don't grasp the different ways the brand can help them when abroad. Inevitably Before – During – After the engagement was very short-sighted by the end-user, resulting in the company being perceived to have a limited product range, and to sit at the 'traditional' end of the financial market spectrum.
The ambition for this exercise was to reimagine and visualise the whole e2e travel experience by leveraging KYC and Bitcoin technology to offer a more personalised digital experience for the user and create new opportunities for retailers and Heathrow airport to monetise the customer presence in the hub better.
How can Travelex take the friction out of travel to offer global citizens exceptional travel and shopping experiences whilst on the move?
DESIGN FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
The VR Experience
The VR experience offers a chance to engage the future of the FX category and step into Heathrow Airport in 2020, where customers will experience the Travelex new digital proposition. While the narrative touches on different themes and analyses both pain points and opportunities, it also offers an opportunity for the user to be immersed in the travellers typical situations, enhanced by a superior digital layer. Thanks to this immersive storytelling, stakeholders can appreciate the customer benefits and how this solution directly increases loyalty to the Airport hub and its retailers.
Travelex partnered with design consultancy Frog to determine the new travelling experience and identify the gaps in which the forex company could leverage technology and maximise the potential. The outcome of this partnership was a strategic blueprint presenting optimised customer journeys alongside critical features for the proposed mobile application. The goal for the VR company was then to visualise and narrate all these solutions, ultimately conveying the idea of a great potential to be exploited. SomewereElse agency was tasked with creating the whole e2e immersive visualisation, from station and money exchange pain points to the airport navigation and retail environments opportunities, including a glimpse of the mobile digital layer, by showing key screens for both the mobile app and kiosks in the physical touchpoints.
Design Process for VR
My role and TLX client were based in London, whereas the production team was based in Argentina. I was keen to provide detailed documentation to both parties to ensure all the details were covered with the greatest depth. Because of the 360 fields of view, production pipelines for immersive content are very complex and articulated. Several elements had to be considered, from the voice over to narrative flow, from UI and motion graphics to cinematics. For this exercise, the goal was to make sure each element of the puzzle would work in great sync to enable to user to appreciate the solution at its best and influence their decision.
Immersive storytelling is all about providing human beings with a virtual environment where they can interact with digital entities just as we do in the real world. When TLX commissioned the work, the goal was to convey a sense of presence and, by describing the reimagined situations of a traveller, deliver a strong message. I came up with a narrative that connects the critical aspects of the TLX app solution and how this agent enables the customers to benefit as a foundation for the new digital proposition. We also adopted a three-layer visualisation framework to bond with the concept of a fully digitalised airport hub.
Storyboarding is critical for any filmmaking process. This artefact allowed me, collaborators, and the client to "see" the totality of the narrative and include thoughts in the production. It helped, in particular, to sell my vision for the project and align the stakeholders on the outcome. I created simple visualisations of each scene and described those with notes to capture the flow and essential actions. An important aspect of the work was to keep the VO's pace constantly in focus to ensure good sync with the narrator.
I envisioned a style that would reflect Heathrow's ambition to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Still today, the ultimate hub goal is to improve colleagues and communities' lives, contribute to a thriving economy, and help tackle global challenges such as climate change. As a result, the HAL brand team released a series of illustrations and marketing campaigns to express the above objectives. The visual style proposed for the VR experience aimed to create a visual identity that would feel familiar with the above sentiment by achieving a pleasant and satisfying immersive experience.
"What I loved about it is that it seemed I was in Paddington and Heathrow stations for real. The environments looked so familiar!"
Londoners have an emotional attachment to their Hubs, and Paddington and Heathrow terminals are no exception. It was imperative to create environments that would recall the typical traveller feelings through each step of the journey. We achieved this goal by recreating environments to the minor details. Ultimately this approach was critical in order to develop a sense of presence and express the full solution potential. I provided to the team several pictures and references to illustrate important details of the environments. Also, we worked on unique and recognisable props to increase the identity of each space to make sure there were no margins of confusion.
After sharing the mood boards with the team, we worked on a few style frames representing the different locations to lock the visual direction. It was incredible to work with such talented artists as they were able to capture the exact mood I envisioned, to create an original representation of the narrative. These visualisations allowed us to work against a precise art target and inform any element in production, from characters and props to ultimately environments and branded touchpoints.
One of the biggest challenges working in VR is to prototype the scenes and communicate spatial objects relationships to the team. Also, three years ago, technology was in its infancy, and no specific tools existed for this particular scope. To overcome this problem and communicate the positioning of the elements in the virtual space, I created low fidelity mock-ups in 3D to illustrate the layouts. This approach enabled me to communicate effectively with the team, convey my solution with short turnarounds, and build the storytelling since the first phases of the project. One of the most critical aspects of designing for VR is to test solutions as soon as possible to get the right feeling of the scene. This procedure enabled developers in Argentina to quickly set up the environment without running the risk of creating something unexpected and rebuild the entire environment from scratch.
We wanted the characters to be charming and harmonious with the holistic design direction. We were looking for something that could inspire and project the audience into a dreamy future where inhabitants of this world have a strong personality, still conveying pleasant feelings. The style we achieved touched on semi-exaggerated shapes, pastel colours and recognisable identity for the TLX personnel. We also wanted them to move sinuously and with a sense of peace, to amplify the feeling of great digital tools and services that can elevate the whole customer experience.
Wireframes and User Interfaces
To properly communicate the new digital model, it was imperative to share how each touchpoint and user interaction would serve the purpose. I worked with the team and the client to create few wireframes to illustrate the signature moments of the digital experience. Due to the fact this was an e2e experience, we designed experiences for different screens and touchpoints to reveal that the ultimate solution wasn't restricted to only a new app. The ambition was to create an entire ecosystem able to empower travellers, retails, and the whole hub by taking advantage of the customer presence. I designed the screens' flows in great detail to allow the wider team to polish the final components and UI according to the style and then accommodate those within the touchpoints inserted in the broader VR experience.
Iterations and Testing
The Travelex new digital proposition was very articulated, and it was essential not to overwhelm the experience with unnecessary information. We had daily meetings for design critiques, testing and iterating on the project versions with the team. It was a very collaborative process. My role was to provide direction, help clear doubts about the design direction and interaction, and ultimately give the team enough freedom to express their creativity by unlocking their full creative potential. Here below are a few captures of some of the early versions we discussed altogether.
The outcome of this work was a long - almost 5 mins- virtual reality experience that was broadcasted in an exclusive location in the heart of Soho in London. It was showcased during a special event organised for Heathrow stakeholders by Travelex to present the solution. The reactions were overwhelming. All committee members who tried the experience said that the immersive experience was very engaging. And that they clearly understood Travelex's vision for the future of Heathrow airport and the role of their footprint in this ecosystem. Ultimately the event and the VR experience itself were a great success. Travelex gained renovated trust in their new footprint model, allowing them to continue being a critical partner of the Heathrow airport and play a very strategic role in the broader digital transformation process meticulously sought by the London worldwide hub.