How do you give tens of thousands of people a hands-on experience with a new phone when you have only a handful of prototypes to share?
That’s exactly what Microsoft did at the Mobile World Congress February 15 with the introduction of the Windows 7 Phone Series, the next generation of Windows Phones. Through a major press conference featuring Steve Ballmer and a splashy demonstration, Microsoft impressed bloggers and media with one of “its most ambitious projects” in the words of Engadget. And Microsoft pulled off the feat without having the finished product at event. Here’s the inside scoop.
In December 2009, Microsoft approached my employer Razorfish with a challenge: could we create an interactive simulation for its new Windows Phone 7 Series? There was one catch: the simulation needed to be done in time for the Mobile World Congress, only weeks away. Only a few prototypes would be ready by then — but the event happens only once a year, and given its prominence and the need to generate market enthusiasm for the phone, waiting to share the finished product at the 2011 Congress was not an option.
According to my Razorfish colleague Jonathan Hull, the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team in Atlanta collaborated with the Razorfish Microsoft account team in Seattle to build a touch-based phone experience that emulates the user interface of the new software. The emulator would be the only way that Congress attendees visiting the show room floor could interact with the software (only a limited number of media would have access to the prototype devices), and the team needed to work in complete secrecy. (The phone interface was kept under wraps until launch day.)
The challenge for Razorfish was to reverse-engineer the design, animation, and interaction of an actual device. “Accuracy was extremely important, and we had to ensure the design and motion in our experience was a perfect re-creation of what Microsoft believes is a game-changing mobile experience,” Jonathan said.
To ensure the job was done correctly under the tight deadline, Razorfish used the Razorfish Touch Framework (RTF), a software that makes it easier and faster for designers to create multi-touch experiences on a variety of surfaces such as in-store kiosks, interactive window displays, and mobile phone applications. (RTF is based on Microsoft technologies such as Windows 7, .Net, and Windows Presentation Foundation.) By using the RTF, Razorfish developed the application from scratch in less than four weeks.
While the team was working through the details of the technology and experience design, it received a new challenge: could Razorfish also build an online experience to support the official announcement?
“Our team took on the project with less than three weeks to build the web experience,” he said, with once again the Atlanta and Seattle offices combining their know-how to create an online advance look at the product (embedded with the ability to share content through email, Facebook, or Twitter). Razorfish developed the website with Microsoft Silverlight.
When Steve Ballmer went onstage February 15 to perform a live demonstration of the new phone, the simulator was ready, too, with huge crowds watching the demos. As Jonathan reported from the Congress, “It’s been very gratifying to see conference attendees and members of the press experience Windows Phone 7 Series for the first time, flicking and gesturing through the 3D user interface and learning about the key features of the operating system on 40-inch monitors.”
The engaging experience was crucial to the positive reaction that the launch received from the likes of The New York Times and Engadget. The New York Times noted that the phone software has a “cleaner look than most of today’s smartphone software.”
To me this story demonstrates the changing role of the agency-client relationship. Agencies have an opportunity to help clients solve business problems like launching new products and services. But assuming the role of business partner means the agency needs to do more than devise messages that say things more effectively. The next-generation agency creates experiences that make brands come to life. Only a strong blend of technology and experience design, coupled with a deep understanding of the client’s business needs and customers, makes this kind of relationship possible.
You can learn more about what happened at the Congress on the Razorfish Emerging Experiences blog.