Managing a cinema is hard... Cinema Manager isn't

The journey to create Cinema Manager, our first browser-based application in the traditional Vista Cinema suite has been long, intense, exciting and rewarding.

That journey began two years ago in early 2016 with an initial round of research. We observed cinema managers in their native habitat, learning everything we could about their daily activities, and from there how Vista software could better support them.

We identified two key personality types among managers: those who enjoyed exploring Vista’s software and trying new things out to see how they worked, and those afraid to do anything ‘off script’ in case they broke something.  These personas helped us define what Cinema Manager needed to be: a product that delights both types of user, supporting explorers and giving other managers more confidence to use the software, without anxieties.

Our first goal was to structure Cinema Manager to match how managers would expect to navigate the application.  One of the key issues that we identified in the Back Office is that there are a lot of menu options, not all of them intuitively located, and some poorly named, so searching didn’t always help.  We knew we could do a lot better. 

The design process started with a high-level ideation workshop: we gathered some of Vista’s top minds – product directors, developers, marketing and even our CEO – in a room for a day and allowed everyone free rein to design a navigation system and structure for the new product.   

Ideas ranged from the fanciful, such as a three-dimensional globe that could be rotated to find various options… to the artistic, (like a cinema floorplan on which you could select assorted physical elements of the cinema to manage them), through to the minimalistic (why have a menu when everyone just uses search anyway?)

Ideas were reviewed by our design team, and several wireframe designs were produced. Using a tool called InVision, these designs were set up as usable prototypes that simulated how the various menu structures might work. 

Usability tests were performed on each of these prototypes, followed by collective open discussion.  Changes were made to the prototypes, which were again tested. We repeated the process several times until we came up with our ideal solution; a left-hand main menu gave familiarity to existing Back Office users, helping to increase their confidence in learning a new application. 

From this main menu, a sub-menu would slide out, offering navigation options split into clear topics, so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.  You’ll never feel lost as the navigation, and your current page is always visible.

To support this navigation design, we performed an activity called Card Sorting, in which managers named and grouped possible menu options in a way that made sense to them.  This helped ensure that all options appear in the most intuitive location in the menu and allowed us to validate the naming of each option; if managers had to ask what the option meant, the assumption  was it the description needed work.

Once we were confident our site layout reflected real user needs, we began implementing it in code.  Usability testing of the site framework and navigation was performed continuously and proved invaluable in creating a high-end experience that delights managers when they use it. 

Every aspect of Cinema Manager has been approached with a similar level of care and attention to details, from the seemingly trivial, (such as displaying the number of bank bags to be dispatched in CashDesk when the courier comes to collect them, meaning the manager no longer needs to count how many are listed), to the revolutionary, such as being able to undo the cash up of a POS session to fix mistakes.

Every decision made in creating the application has been considered from the perspective of the users and based on real manager needs and goals.

This care and attention has proven its worth.  Cinema Manager is now in use in a number of sites, and the feedback has been excellent.  At one site, a new duty manager struggling to use the previous version of CashDesk was asked to try out Cinema Manager.  They completed all their cash management duties for the day without needing any training, guidance or additional help.  Another site now uses Cinema Manager to perform stocktakes on an Android tablet. The managers there predict the new process could halve the time required to complete the stocktake. There is no duplication of work in counting stock and then entering the counts into the software in the office…  the streamlined UI makes entering the numbers simple on the tablet device.

We’re still in the early days of Cinema Manager, and there’s more enhancements and refinements to come.  We’re excited to hear from managers as they begin to use the application so that we can continue to improve it and the user experience. 

The process of designing and implementing it, with continual feedback from real users throughout, is one that is now being applied to more of our software library, resulting in big changes across the Vista suite.  A new Design Thinking revolution has arrived at Vista, motivated by technology change and customer focus – and the real winners are our users.

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