JetBlue creates thoughtful digital signage centerpiece at new headquarters

When JetBlue Airways opened its new corporate headquarters in Long Island City, N.Y., this April, the company redefined the concept of “office space.”

After all, the headquarters is an open-plan, collaborative environment that includes chat rooms, environmentally-friendly furniture and materials, employee lounges and plenty of natural light. The design is meant to showcase the JetBlue brand while also offering a connection to the airline’s operation. And tying it all together is a massive, 40-foot-tall digital signage display, aptly named the “Wing Walls.”

The dynamic, ever-changing Wing Walls help set the tone of a company that is known for thinking outside of the box, with colorful and lively animation, social media feeds, QR codes and more. The display is a huge hit with JetBlue employees (known as “crewmembers”) and visitors alike. As Chris Griggs, manager of brand design for the airline, puts it, “The Walls are really a trigger … to intrigue and delight and inspire visitors and guests, and engage our own crewmembers.”

Outside of the Box
Although the Wing Walls are JetBlue's first real foray into the world of digital signage, the project seems to be a natural step for such a forward-thinking company.

“The architects (HLW International) and the corporate real estate team internally had decided that we were going to use signage to tie the brand into the space and provide a corporate communications tool,” said Chris Vazquez, senior analyst of corporate communications at JetBlue. “Also, that spawned off the idea of eliminating print and paper usage, as well as signage around the office. We used to use a lot of poster signage to communicate internal events.”

Griggs agrees: “It's part of our culture, how we try to declutter our space and keep things clean.”

The Wing Walls certainly add a streamlined, clean look to JetBlue's new headquarters, and they're the perfect addition to a unique space. In it, two monumental open staircases connect the building’s floors. The angular steel and concrete staircases are enclosed by glass railings, and each surrounds one of the Wings—a 40-foot-tall, wing-shaped, back-lit tower. Both Wings are self-standing, exposed structures comprising 14 ultra-slim bezel TVs.

The Wing Walls help liven up the headquarters' fifth, sixth and seventh floors. More than 1,000 crewmembers and countless visitors experience the Walls every day. Their content ranges from colorful branding, patterns and JetBlue tailfins to crewleader announcements and recognition and corporate communications.

Griggs said the Walls also feature the company's live Twitter feed, which encourages crewmembers to interact and give feedback. QR codes and website links often appear to further engage viewers, who can scan a QR code for instant information or check out a link once they get back to their desks.

“The response has been really positive,” Griggs said. “A lot of JetBlue crewmembers love the visuals and the branding, and it kind of livens the space up. And it brings the brand alive, because you usually just see that static, on the web or in print. … We can track internally how many crewmembers actually logged in to the section of the website that's being featured, as far as how much traffic we're getting, which helps us to gauge the response, internally. People definitely have been engaging with the graphic design.”

A Collaborative Effort
Both Griggs and Vazquez worked closely on the creation of the Wing Walls. Since this type of digital signage project was entirely new to JetBlue, they collaborated with outside experts to plan and execute the complicated installation.

JetBlue's architect worked with integrator Saddle Ranch Digital and a third-party consultant, Digital Signage Experts Group, to determine how to best showcase digital signage in the headquarters' unique stairwell. In the end, each Wing Walls' 14 Samsung screens were masterfully installed, without bevels, to create a clean, fluid appearance.

Creating engaging, entertaining content to fit the unique Walls was another substantial challenge.

“Designing it was a little challenging because, when you look at it in elevation view, you're seeing a nice, beautiful tower of what could be, potentially, one massive video,” Griggs said. “But in reality, as a guest or as a crewmember, you're only seeing 'chunks' of it at any given time. So, you only experience it in partial pieces, or if you look straight up or straight down at it. So we really had to design it so that content would coordinate and almost repeat and be visible on different floors. Even if it is something that moves through all 14 screens or just takes up three or four screens at a time.”

Luckily, people within JetBlue were open to the massive undertaking as well—and were more than happy to get involved.

“We have to give a lot of credit to our corporate real estate team, because they were the ones who really figured out how the form would take shape and be engineered," Griggs said. "It's a big thing – it's daunting, it's heavy. Fourteen screens, as you can imagine, and they're big too. They figured out the installation of all that. The challenge for Chris and I was to see how it tests itself out, and we couldn't see that until everything was done and installed."

Branding and Design
Over the course of four months, Griggs and Vazquez and their teams worked together to create JetBlue's first animated design elements. Until the Wing Walls came along, the company's logo and imagery were really only used in static installations.

“We basically started from scratch to develop the animation together, using some of the brand outsets that we had and then working with the corporate communication team to communicate essential messages that had to be put out,” Griggs said.

In the weeks before JetBlue's big open ceremony at their new headquarters, Griggs and Vazquez could be found testing and retesting the Wing Walls to ensure all the elements were coming together correctly.

"Everyone was going to see it for the first time, so it had to be working," Vazquez said. “So we had to literally come to the Wall and study it and test timing and speed and make sure the quality was there, the Wall could handle it, everything.”

Now, Griggs' and Vazquez's departments continue to coordinate on the Walls' content and branding. Corporate Communications owns messaging and content, while Brand Design handles visuals and design elements. “We're really teaming up to do this,” Griggs said.

The pair use Hiperwall software to manage the Walls' content, enabling them to combine still images, high-definition video and even live data feeds to make their vision come to life. They're able to set up a “playlist” to tailor content to specific days or events or even to welcome important visitors.

Lessons Learned
With any complicated digital signage project, there are always unexpected complications and lessons learned. In JetBlue's case, creating the initial Wing Walls content was a bigger project than expected.

“The biggest lesson I learned was, it really pays to know what the message is,” Griggs said. “You need to know what you want to communicate before you even begin developing. As far as messaging goes, it comes back to what's more important, for the customer.”

The Wing Walls especially create a challenge, due to their unique size. Each viewer sees the Walls from his or her own angle and for different amounts of time.

“People may be walking by it or sitting right next to it, waiting for an interview,” Griggs explained. “So you don't quite know how much time you're going to have with each person. You have to be smart about how you 'talk' to people.”

That insight comes in handy when Griggs and Vazquez are developing new content. Now, they're able to strike a balance that produces content that is neither too slow nor too fast for the average viewer.

Another unexpected challenge: Having to re-imagine JetBlue's branded elements for animation. Since the brand had previously only appeared in print, Griggs and Vazquez had a lot of decisions to make—quickly.

“We also had a little bit of a challenge ... designing some of our branded aspects, like our tail-fin patterns, simply because they had never been animated before, and it was all new,” Griggs said. “It was a challenge to go through and decide 'So, how does this move?' for the very first time.”

In the end, the teams were able to collaborate and create content that is on-brand and on-message, and has the “wow” factor that JetBlue was seeking.

Looking Ahead
Already, the Wing Walls have been a huge hit with crewmembers and visitors alike.

“We've had a lot of requests for different communications and internal events, from people that see the value in communicating on the Wall as well,” Vazquez said. “So, the response has been very positive.”

Now that JetBlue has entered the digital signage world, there's no looking back. Since high-tech, streamlined and sustainable methods of communication are such a big part of their culture, it only makes sense for the company to expand their efforts.

“We're looking at doing that in more places,” Griggs said. “We also want to do that for our customers, so we're looking into new ideas in other spaces. A lot of [airport] terminals, like Las Vegas, now are going digital, with log-in/log-out, common-use spaces. So we're constantly looking at ways that we can coordinate our branding, our messaging, QR codes.”

For this forward-thinking airline, digital signage—and all that it entails—is the perfect fit.