ESI Design takes eBay's Main Street from Concept to Reality

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In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Emily Webster, Senior Designer and AV Technologist for ESI Design. They discuss ESI Design’s role in creating the new eBay headquarters known as Main Street, in San Jose, California. Emily describes the process of taking the concept to completion and setting the tone for the company’s culture as well as taking communication to clients and among eBay staff to a new level.

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TRANSCRIPT:

This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Emily Webster of ESI Design. 

eBay is all about communication and the new eBay headquarters called Main Street is a sight to behold with innovative communication technology everywhere. The building surrounds a huge interactive video display showing up-to-the-minute developments in the company. ESI Design Senior Designer and AV technologist Emily Webster gives us the story on how it all happened, coming up on the SVC Podcast.

Emily, it’s very good having you on the SVC Podcast from ESI Design to tell us about eBay’s new headquarters building, Main Street, and the design features that you came up with for it. I’m really knocked over when I see the pictures of this place. So what does ESI Design do and how did you get into this project? It looks fascinating.

Well, thanks for having me on, Bennett. ESI Design is an experience design firm. We’ve been working in the industry for over 40 years, and what we like to do is to transform places into experiences. So we have worked with a number of different brands and organizations and cultural institutions, and we really try to fundamentally change how people connect with each other. So we’re often going in to look at a different brand or a different organization and figure out what’s really interesting about that brand? What can we lift up and elevate and show to the rest of the world that people will really engage with? So trying to figure out what’s the most interesting story that a certain brand or organization or institution wants to tell about themselves. [Timestamp: 1:50]

Well, you certainly had your work cut out for you on eBay because that company is all about connecting. That’s really the culture of the company. Not only connecting with clients but the communication between the eBay people. How does your design reflect that culture of the company?

Yeah, well, and you know, you’re really kind of spot on because I think what we were ultimately trying to do was to create a place that was for the eBay community. When we came to the project, eBay had just recently started the process of separating themselves from the PayPal Company. So until 2015 eBay and PayPal were sister companies, and so what that meant was that eBay could go to PayPal’s campus and use their facilities and their resources to have meetings that brought together thousands of people from their companies. So it was really a way for them to bring their community together and have discussions and meetings and events. So when they separated from PayPal they no longer had access to a space like that, so they were really needing somewhere that their community could come together, and at the same time they wanted to create a new front door for themselves, so to speak – a grand way to welcome visitors and potential clients and vendors and partners. And to do so in a way that was really dynamic and expressed the fact that they are a technology company and working to innovate on a daily basis. So before Main Street they didn’t really have a space that could be both a showcase and a practical space, so it really is reflecting their culture because there’s a lot going on at eBay. There’s buyers and sellers and auctions and bidders and charitable events happening and hack-a-thons, but it all sort of rides on this backbone of technology and they didn’t really have a space that sort of expressed that. So they wanted a very dynamic greeting place/meeting space/community space that could really bring everybody together in a really compelling way. [Timestamp: 3:45]

Well, once you’ve seen this place you’ll never forget it.  

Yeah. I mean, we hope so. And we really designed it to be something that was impressive and something that you could come in and say this is eBay. This is really what we’re all about, but then also really use that space very practically to have meetings. They have thousand-person meetings a couple times a month, so it really needed to work for them as a very practical kind of meeting and gathering space.  [Timestamp: 4:10]

And when you walk in there the main attraction is going to be that huge central interactive display. It’s gigantic and you know, I’d just love to sit there and watch the effect on people and watch how they use it before I even tried it myself. How did you arrive at the design for that main interactive display?

Well, we knew that we wanted to tell a very up-to-the-minute story about what was happening on the eBay platform. And so the multitouch wall is what we call that big surface, tells the story. So it taps into a number of different curated data feeds from the eBay web site to show data about what’s happening on eBay right now. So you can walk up to the wall and tap on an icon and that icon represents a product that’s sold on eBay. And once you tap on the icon it kind of expands into this dashboard view to talk about number of items sold, top buyers, top sellers, the value of those products and then you can tap through all the different business verticals that are sold on the eBay platform, so home and garden, electronics, fashion. So it really tells that product story. It helps to tell the story about the speed at which products are being sold, the value of the products being sold, and really just tries to express this idea that there’s a lot going on at eBay and there’s a lot of opportunity happening on the eBay platform. And there’s just a lot of diversity of products and buyers and sellers. And it’s really also stories still about the people and the people who are using that platform. So we came to that after having a lot of discussions with many different stakeholders at eBay and really interviewing them and talking with them and just figuring out okay, what do you guys think is the most interesting? What is the story that you think that we should be exploring and researching and then trying to lift that up to a place where it could be interesting both to an employee, because the employees come there every single day and they walk through the space every single day. So it needed to be interesting to them over time, but also be sort of digestible and high-level enough that a person, just a random visitor who might be coming in to buy a piece of eBay swag from the store could learn about eBay as well. So it had to be for both the public and the employee. [Timestamp: 6:22]

Well, to go through all of that information in such a complete form up until now you would have to be some sort of a library nerd going through books and spreadsheets and things like that and you actually make drilling down through all that a tremendous and fun experience. That’s got to be revolutionary.

Well, yeah. And to be honest all those spreadsheets and data points and factoids really, you know, we got the spreadsheet that says proof of all the research that it took to get to there. So to make things feel intuitive and look simple, there’s a lot of work that goes in the background to make sure that that really does come across very clearly. [Timestamp: 6:55]

You’ve also got some columns out front with their own displays. What to you show on those?

Yeah. Those are double-sided LED columns. So there’s six of them and they are really kind of quick snapshots into the life at eBay. We new people were going to be coming in through this threshold and walking through there kind of quickly, so we didn’t want that information to be too heavy, take too long to read. So it’s really kind of tidbits about what’s going on. And so there are various moments taking place on those columns. There’s a global moment that talks about the number of products sold globally, so two million handbags sold in the last 24 hours or whatever. Then there’s also a product moment and that relates to actually that big multitouch wall interactive that we were just talking about. So let’s say that on the multitouch wall there is an image of a bag that’s supposed to talk about the fashion vertical. Then there’s a product moment on the columns that says okay, 1,500 hats were sold in the last hour. So it’s really relating to the story on the multitouch wall. Then there’s also a moment that talks about their charitable efforts. There’s a moment that talks about the weather in every single one of eBay’s offices around the world that kind of helps talk about their global impact and their reach. And then there’s also a special message. One of the big ideas for Main Street was that it needed to be very flexible so that it could morph into an appropriate space for another event, whatever the event was that day. And so we wanted to make sure that the content – the text – that you could put on those columns was editable so if the mayor was coming in you could quickly go in that day and write a message to them that would allow that message to be really specific to the event happening that day. So you can customize the content. Just recently we went back and we added to the media schedule and came up with two other moments; one that’s sort of a product explosion moment. So before we were using icons to tell the story about the products sold. Now if there are two million handbags sold we show images of all those handbags, and that’s images that come directly from the eBay web site. And there’s a logo moment that eBay is going through kind of a rebranding with some of the colors they use in their logo and their brand, so we wanted to help tell that story. So some of those moments show up on the columns. [Timestamp: 9:19]

And I would think that this building has so much glass in it that for communicating just between company staff they can almost just look up from their desks and wave and communicate through sign language.

[Laughs] Yeah, well we really wanted it to be a bright, airy space that people wanted to go to. We didn’t want you to have to go into a kind of dark auditorium. Everybody is stuck inside all day anyway so we wanted to make sure you were getting these kind of beautiful vistas out to the spaces around you and really feeling like it was a refreshing space to enter into and hang out in. [Timestamp: 9:50]

Now, have you had other projects that sort of led you up to this, I mean that you got the ideas from and maybe combined some of them on this one?

You know, I mean eBay was definitely a unique one and every time we work on a project we really do make sure that it’s appropriate for whatever the client is. But we always kind of take the same approach. What is the audience we’re trying to talk to? What is the story we want to tell? And how do we want people to experience that in an immersive way? So it’s a new kind of output. It’s a new idea, but the thinking and the logic that got us to this approach is very much a similar process to what we’ve gone through before. Now this building, it’s an actual building that we designed. We designed everything in the building from the sun shades outside to the software interactive to the data API was everything – was all designed by ESI. And we sometimes are working within a building on an exhibit or whatever, but this one the entire building was designed by us. [Timestamp: 10:49]

We’ve talked a lot about how it looks but I would think that with all of the glass in this building that the acoustics could be something of a challenge.

Yeah, it really, you know, it was a challenge. And what we’ve done in the space is that there’s a panelized façade wall and on the interior some of those panels are acoustic panels. And actually we did have to change some of the design. On the inside in the main hall there’s a second level mezzanine that has a glass railing and we wanted it to be straight at first, but after we did the acoustic study we made that mezzanine railing pointed so it kind of came out at an angle into the room which allowed – helped with sort of bouncing sound around in a different way. It didn’t create the kind of echo chamber. But we definitely study all those things before we’re building them. We’ll work with acousticians when we need to, to make sure that we’re picking the right materials and finishes that won’t create an issue. [Timestamp: 11:43]

I’m sure it was an interesting job getting it to look that good and sound right at the same time. You’ve got this one to point to now and so what sort of projects does ESI Design have coming up?

We’re doing a lot of really interesting work right now. We are always trying to weave the physical and the digital together, and we can do that for a lot of different industries. We’re working on the Statue of Liberty museum and a number of really immersive exhibits are going into that to help tell the story about how the statue was made and the process that it’s evolved through over the years. We have worked on a number of buildings and continue to collaborate with Beacon Capital Partners, who is a commercial developer and they buy properties all over the United States that we help to refresh and give a little makeover to to help them become more enticing properties to lease and sell. And we will be very soon unveiling a new video art installation in a shopping mall in Chicago. So a lot of different projects across a lot of different spectrums, but all of this idea of just really an immersive and dynamic space. [Timestamp: 12:50]

Well, turning ESI Design loose on the Statue of Liberty. That’s something to think about. It’s been fun listening to this one. The more I saw on it the more I wanted to know just what went on behind the scenes and how you came to this. It was nice of you to give us a look behind the curtain on this one. Emily Webster, Senior Designer and AV Technologist with ESI Design and their design project for eBay’s Main Street. Thanks for getting with us on it.

Thank you, Bennett.

And good of you to join us for the story on ESI Design’s eBay Main Street project. As always, show notes and links for the podcasts are on the Sound & Video Contractor Magazine web site at svconline.com. Get right back here with us next week for the SVC Podcast.

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