Hard Rock Cafe Interactive Exhibits

A Piece of the Rock

Hard Rock’s interactive displays put guests in touch with the magic of rock ’n’ roll.

It may have Cafe or Hotel in the name, but Hard Rock is as much a museum as it is restaurant, hotel, or casino. Its vast memorabilia collection chronicles the history and legacy of rock ’n’ roll, from Eric Clapton’s red Fender Lead II guitar to Jim Morrison’s ripped leather pants. Its more than 72,000 pieces of rock ’n’ roll history are divided among 161 locations worldwide, giving guests in each city just glimpses of the complete collection.

With much of the archive already being digitized for its memorabilia website, Hard Rock’s next obvious step was to create ways for guests to engage with the larger collection no matter which location they were visiting.

“The idea was to get the Hard Rock collection out of 'the box’ and into the properties,” says Michael Lemme, creative director at Duncan/Channon (San Francisco), Hard Rock’s agency of record and architects of its award-winning memorabilia website. “Hard Rock wanted to engage guests in the history and culture of rock ’n’ roll in a fresh way. Why not take the same content and let them interact with it at the Cafe?”

Working with a team of hardware and software development partners as well as their own technology, property-development, and memorabilia staff, Hard Rock recently rolled out three interactive elements—a massive touchscreen “Rock Wall” display, custom applications for Microsoft Surface, and a smaller table-side interface—that get guests up close and personal with the memorabilia.

“Now we can show off a greater degree of rock ’n’ roll history, all controlled by the guests who can select what they want to see and hear," says Gregory Thomas, general manager of the new flagship Hard Rock Cafe on the Las Vegas Strip, the first of several sites for the new interactives.

Climbing the Rock Wall

Created by Obscura Digital (San Francisco) with Technomedia Solutions (Orlando), the Rock Wall is a custom, 4-ft.-tall by 18-ft.-wide interactive display that allows up to six Hard Rock guests to explore the memorabilia collection simultaneously.

Obscura Digital created custom software that provides a single contiguous display surface, but breaks it into individual zones as users begin interacting with it. The zones are fluid rather than being fixed. “There is some intelligence built in so that if one person is on the wall, they have full control of the entire surface,” says Steve Mason, Obscura’s director of interactives. “But when the second person shows up, it will split the difference between where the two people initiated contact, then continue that process as more people touch the surface.”

High-end video graphics hardware (of the caliber used for medical visualization or advanced CAD modeling) and high-definition projectors allow the display to deliver 6000 pixels across and run at 60 frames per second, twice the refresh rate of television. “It really gives people the ability to dive in and look at these items closely,” says Mason. “There is no existing software with the juice to make this happen, so we had to build a lot of this from scratch.”

While the wall allows users their own personal viewing and sound zones (thanks to a spatialized audio system), it was also designed to encourage socializing. Obscura built in features that allow users to “throw” interesting objects to one another across the screen. In addition, if two people are standing next to each other exploring different parts of the database (say one person is interested in Prince and the other likes Elton John), the system will begin scanning for information related to both. When it finds something, the image will pop up between the two users. “It’s subtle and people may not even realize what happened,” says Mason. “But it gives them something to talk about.”

Obscura is now working on version 2.0 of the Rock Wall, which will tie in Hard Rock’s social networking elements, including Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. In addition to the flagship Las Vegas cafe, Rock Walls have been installed in Orlando, Seattle, Los Angeles and Berlin. It has been so popular with guests that Hard Rock is expanding its deployment with a smaller version, a 52-in. display called the Rock Wall Solo that will soon be going into an additional 16 Hard Rock Cafes throughout the U.S. and Europe.

On the Surface

Using Microsoft Surface, a multi-touch tabletop that allows users to manipulate digital content using gesture recognition, Duncan/Channon, their software development partner Vertigo (Point Richmond, CA) and Hard Rock’s internal team created apps that allow Hard Rock guests to access the memorabilia collection, explore Hard Rock’s worldwide locations, play rock-themed games, and view historic rock ’n’ roll video clips, to name a few.

“What’s interesting to notice about our guests’ reactions,” says Rick Sconyers, Hard Rock International’s senior director of design, “is how much the younger people are magnetically drawn to these interactive displays. We also see that our ‘older’ guests—perhaps coming from more of a ‘don’t touch’ culture—tend to be more reserved about engaging and experimenting with them.”

But even for shy guests, the rich content is hard to resist. The Microsoft platform is also built for quick development and deployment of new applications and content, ensuring that Hard Rock can quickly roll out fresh features or entirely new applications to any of these interfaces around the world.

New take on a classic

As a fresh take on the classic, table-side jukebox, Duncan/Channon, Vertigo, and Hard Rock also created a touch-enabled interface they call the Booth Interactive.

Designed to include additional features over time, the interface gives guests access to three custom applications right from their Cafe tables. Music mode allows quests to review and vote on the music playing in the restaurant. Guests can find memorabilia related to the music being played or explore the entire collection based on their own interests. And Rock Shop mode is designed for browsing and exploring the stories behind Hard Rock merchandise.

The units have been installed in 38 booths at the flagship Las Vegas location, as well as in Dallas and Nashville. Using the application, guests can explore Hard Rock memorabilia, review and purchase Rock Shop merchandise, and vote on what video plays next in the cafe. Behind the scenes, Hard Rock runs a robust video system coordinating music and video displays across all cafes, hotels, casinos, and live venues worldwide.

Making the wait fun

The new interactives provide Hard Rock with three new ways to engage their guests and promote the Hard Rock experience. All of the interfaces connect back to Hard Rock’s rich and flexible database and change constantly as new items are added to the virtual museum.

The location of the Rock Wall and the other interactives within the Cafe was a strategic decision, notes Sconyers, based largely on keeping guests happy while they’re waiting to be seated. In a typical Hard Rock Cafe on a busy night, he points out, waiting times can average 45 to 90 minutes.

“Now the Rock Wall and Microsoft Surface are placed within the waiting area, and each is loaded with an enormous volume of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia and other fun activities,” he says. “So our guests have additional entertainment to help them pass the time and make their wait more enjoyable.”

--By Louis M. Brill, segdDESIGN No. 30, 2010

Editor's note: Louis M. Brill ([email protected]) is a journalist and consultant for high-tech entertainment and media communications.


Client:  Hard Rock International

Location:  Worldwide

Design and Development Team:  Hard Rock International, Duncan/Channon, Obscura Digital, Vertigo, Technomedia Solutions, Coleman Technologies

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