The North American International Auto Show is a big deal. Year after year, over 2,000 of the biggest players in the automotive industry flock to the Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, to exhibit their products and unveil their newest innovations at NAIAS. Public attendance at the event, one of the most prestigious auto shows in the world, consistently exceeds 800,000. In addition, over 40,000 automotive executives, engineers, developers, designers, and analysts attend, and more than 5,000 journalists arrive to cover the event.
When the team at Yanfeng Automotive Interiors (YFAI) – the leading global provider of auto interiors – was preparing for their exhibit at NAIAS 2017, they decided to overhaul their previous showroom display. While it was functional, they wanted an update that better reflected their brand: innovative, cutting-edge, and experience-focused. YFAI’s brand messaging revolves around the experience of interacting with the vehicle interior. As touchscreens and other smart surfaces are increasingly integrated into their auto interior solutions to further enhance the driving experience, it seemed natural for YFAI’s NAIAS showroom to incorporate an interactive touchscreen system.
“We often talk about the smart surfaces in our product technologies and innovations, and we wanted to align how we present and tell our stories with our actual products,” said James Bielski, Director of Events & Marketing Communications for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. “The idea was that our displays would be smart and intuitive – just like our products.”
As part of the showroom development team, which also included experience design companies EWI Worldwide and Dreiform, 2 Fish Company was tasked with designing and programming the touchscreen interface.
The public appeal of NAIAS is the show’s main floor, where leading car manufacturers have enormous, elaborate exhibits. Because YFAI produces auto interiors, they attend shows like NAIAS for the networking, sales, and media coverage opportunities rather than to showcase their products to the public. Their showroom is private and accessible only by invitation.
In the previous YFAI showroom, product information was printed on large sheets of vinyl that were then mounted on product kiosks. Making changes to these vinyl sheets was both costly and time-consuming. By incorporating a touchscreen system, YFAI hoped to not only increase the ease of updating content, but to also add a more modern feel to their display, better demonstrate what their products can do, and show more targeted information to viewers.
Our team’s first step was to choose a software for the touchscreen system. We discovered a tool called IntuiFace, created by IntuiLab. IntuiFace is a fully-featured suite of interactive software that allows customized interactive programs to be built without coding. We reasoned that taking coding out of the equation would save time and reduce costs, and we would still be able to build attractive and highly-functional digital experiences.
As we began to design and program the touchscreens – 24 1/2″ x 40″ display screens from TPK America Display Solutions, headquartered in Holland, Michigan – we focused on creating an intuitive and on-brand system with an easy-to-use interface. Almost all of the screens were built to function identically, making it easy for every presenter from the YFAI sales team to operate every screen and for customers to do the same.
As part of the team that guided the design of the larger showroom, we were well-poised to choose a complementary touchscreen design. To contrast the predominantly white exhibit, we chose the dark blue from the YFAI color palette for the screen backgrounds. The twelve screens also featured a side navigation bar with a curved motif that YFAI often utilizes. A swooping background animation – an extension of the YFAI curve – was integrated on all screens as well, lending a polished appearance and inviting interaction through movement.
In addition, we were introduced to a technology called Phidgets – sensors that are triggered by physical interactions – that could be integrated with IntuiFace. By attaching YFAI products to the walls of the show display with Phidgets magnetic sensors, simply lifting a product off of the display triggered the corresponding touchscreen presentation to instantly display relevant content about that product. This functionality lined up well with YFAI’s experience-focused brand message, further increased the ease of navigating each presentation for the YFAI sales team, and presented customers with more targeted information.
We were able to push the boundaries of the Phidget technology and incorporate unexpected functionalities, too. For instance, on a door panel kiosk, separate decorative trim pieces could be “plugged” into the panel, triggering a different display on the corresponding touchscreen each time.
“We found that the Phidgets were surprisingly intuitive to set up and use with Intuiface,” said Jacob Hansen, the 2 Fish Co. Creative Lead that implemented the design and programming of the touchscreen system. “Once everything was installed at the show, it worked like magic. Everyone was pretty amazed at how the effect turned out.”
As we began to populate the touchscreen presentations with information about each product that would be on display, we worked closely with the YFAI product teams. From weekly meetings months in advance of the show to checking in nearly every day, we gathered the required information and developed customized content pages for each product, incorporating written content and images as well as animations that demonstrated how each product functioned. For a month prior to the show, Jacob even worked from the YFAI Holland location to ensure that all of the necessary information was gathered on time and approved. “It was really helpful that Jacob spent so much time in our office,” said James Bielski. “He got to learn about our products and interact directly with our product development team. That enabled him and the 2 Fish Co. team to make well-informed decisions for the display.”
In December, after a preview run of the touchscreen system, all of the components of the showroom display were shipped to Detroit. Setup began at the Cobo Center, and Jacob attended to assist with the multiple-day process and to provide technological support.
NAIAS 2017 kicked off on January 9th.
“It was amazing to be at Cobo and see the reaction to this surprising new tech we helped implement,” said Jacob. “I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised by the simple interactions and it helped emphasize that YFAI is on the forefront of the automotive industry.”
YFAI’s marketing team was impressed with the performance of the showroom display.
“Attendees were already used to handling parts, but they were delighted when the presentations changed just by grabbing a part off of the kiosk,” said James Bielski. “The interactivity worked very well. 2 Fish Company brought that idea to life.”
Excited by the success and functionality of the touchscreen system, YFAI’s marketing team decided to take it on the road.
“Not only was the interactivity advantageous at the auto show, but we were able to go mobile with it as well,” said James Bielski. “We’d never done a road show that way, and it was hugely successful.”
With planning and execution support from our team, the system was installed in two semi-trailers for a “mobile roadshow” that traveled across the U.S. and into Mexico, visiting YFAI plants and customers along the way. For a previous roadshow, the YFAI team had packed up equipment in trucks, then unloaded it at every stop. Using the new system, event attendees could simply enter the trailers and experience the display with little set-up needed.
To expand upon the success of the roadshow, YFAI is building a new mobile exhibit and has plans to travel even further in 2018. In addition, the interactive touchscreen system will be permanently installed at the YFAI office in Novi, Michigan.
Want to learn more? Read IntuiLab’s story about how we used their software to build the interactive touchscreen system for YFAI.