I flew on Lufthansa during a recent trip to Europe. Not only was it one of the nicest flying experiences that I have ever had, but it also turned out to be an opportunity to experience a very well-done interactive experience. Despite some shortcomings, Lufthansa’s touch screen entertainment application was a prime case study in good user experience design. I have seen and used other in-flight applications on other airlines, but they were always clunky, often confusing, and not very enjoyable to use. Lufthansa’s application (pictured below), on the other hand, was elegant, simple, intuitive, and did everything that a typical passenger would likely need without mucking up the experience with useless features.
I witnessed something that was a true testament to the entertainment application’s outstanding design. Even before I had a chance to play with it, I looked over across the aisle where an elderly woman in about her seventies ventured to use the touch screen application. She poked the touch screen with resolute force and very intently examined the screen. From having done a number of usability studies, I guessed that she was a rather novice computer user, and I got excited to witness her use the application. From past usability studies with inexperienced participants, I anticipated that she would quickly get lost, confused, frustrated, and would abandon her task. To my astonishment, she prodigiously navigated through the application, browsed TV programs and movies to watch and ultimately played a movie on the touch screen in front of her. Needless to say, I was completely astounded by how easy to use and intuitive the application was even to a computer novice.
After studying my unaware participant, I quickly took out my camera and examined Lufthansa’s in-flight touch screen entertainment program. Below are my observations. I draw on some particular screens to illustrate certain points, and all of the ones that I photographed can be seen in the gallery at the end of the post.
Because Lufthansa is a fairly international airline, they have to appeal to customers speaking various languages. The splash screen (above) allows users to quickly and easily choose their language without having to hunt for something like the Change Language drop down used on many websites.
The help screen is easy to find due to a prominent navigation link on the main home screen (below), and it provides basic information about the touch screen and handset input devices. However, I found it rather lacking since it did not provide any help on the entertainment application itself.
The main home screen (above) is very straightforward, providing easy access to all the main tasks that an airline passenger might require. Help is easy to find, as are the other utility functions.
The Watch-Enjoy main screen is also very simple, providing direct access to watching movies, music videos, and television programs. Another neat feature is the ability to watch what the rest of the passengers are watching on the main screens. This is done by selecting the “Overhead Monitor” navigation item.
At this point in the application’s architecture, however, a few usability issues become apparent. First, the navigation items do not show selected state, while the application is not immediately responsive to touch input. This lead me to keep poking the same navigation item a few times, not knowing if it registered my input. Secondly, the visual treatment on the first navigation item “Overhead Monitor” makes it seem as though it is the section heading; this is quite disconcerting. This problem becomes even more apparent on further screens. Thirdly, the navigation items shift around and some disappear. This interaction paradigm can work well, but in this case it was confusing, and it took me, a relatively savvy user, a long time to learn.
The movie listing screen is shown above. It is very uncomplicated and easy to use. The arrow button at the bottom of the screen is fairly obvious and there are two visual clues that let the user know that more media is available on the second screen. it is also easy to go back to the main Watch-Enjoy screen or the main home screen.
The media detail screen is also a study in straightforward design. It offers the appropriate level of information and functionality without complicated interactions. One confusing thing, though, was that the other available languages used a visual treatment that indicates unavailability. The other languages listed on this screen were, in fact, available for this particular movie.
The video controls (above) appeared upon the user touching the screen. They offer the essential controls and nothing more.
The entertainment program did offer some useful informational content (above) regarding flying on the airline. However, I point this screen out to illustrate how the navigation items shift around; the order of the navigation items has shifted greatly with respect to the home screen. It is also worth noting how the visual treatment of the “Flight Information” navigation item makes it seem like the section heading.
There were other small usability issues like changing navigation paradigms (above) that required some figuring out and learning, but the application was very well done overall. It stuck a nearly perfect balance between information density, feature richness, and straightforward execution. I had a great time using it, and although it was not perfect, it excelled beyond many others that I’ve used in the past.
Below is a gallery of most of the application’s screens. Enjoy and let us know what you think.