After eBay spun off PayPal, the ecommerce pioneer realized that it needed to inject its culture with more energy and communicate its brand to both visitors and employees in a new way. No longer was eBay solely the province of collectors trading in ephemera: Of the 1.1 billion live listings, 81% marketed new merchandise. “Our team is evolving tech every day,” says Lars Kongshem, eBay’s director of corporate digital experience. “We wanted our campus to show that.”
EBay enlisted ESI Design—an experiential design firm that uses architecture, technology, and media to create interactive spaces such as the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s Senate role-playing game—to help it find the best way for people who visit eBay headquarters in San Jose, Calif., to “walk into its brand.” The solution, a new building on campus called Main Street that doubles as eBay’s “lobby” and its group event space, is a tech-infused environment whose signature features are large touchscreen walls, as well as a half dozen 10-foot-tall columns that also double as interactive displays.
The multi-touch surfaces showcase how large-scale interactive technology can be used to make a bold architectural statement. At the Fast Company Innovation Festival, ESI senior designers Ed Purver and Emily Webster explained how they did it.
Purver had considered using data visualization to make something compelling, but first he had to discover a data source. Do not base a project on data that doesn’t exist! Or that would make work for someone to create content just for the displays. When he stumbled into a page filled with data on what’s trending on eBay’s corporate site that was not really linked out to the public, he found his data source. Purver started with domestic sales data, but in 2018, eBay will debut a live global sales map that will let users follow transactions as they happen.
Make it good to be around even when no one is using it
eBay’s screens are “never dark,” says Webster. On the five-screen installation in its main hall, by default they depict global trending moments, interspersed with panoramic nature scenes as “palate cleansers,” to give viewers a breath of fresh air. The effect is to tell eBay’s story in a series of rapid snapshots.
Invite people in
“What if no one wants to touch [the screen]?” asks Purver, communicating the worst nightmare of an interaction designer. To overcome this fear, a sensor installed in the ceiling above the large display in the lobby detects the presence of a person approaching it and it then cues up an offer for her to touch the screen. “You have to design an invitation,”Purver says.
Have some fun
The screens are playful depictions of popular eBay categories such as toys and games and business tools, which users can swipe and swirl to drill down into a subset of clever icons within those sections until they get to data about top listings within that group. The screens can also be programmed with such things as an animation of flying bats in advance of Halloween to keep the content topical and lighthearted. As Purver says, “Does it fill you with joy?” If so, then that’s the animating question to guide a successful interactive display.