DESIGN: SuiteMate
DESIGNER: Geoff Johnson of Parametric, Center City
WHAT'S NEW HERE: A digital device and mobile platform that streamlines the previously clunky, low-tech premium stadium experience.

Geoff Johnson acknowledges he's obsessed with efficiency - first, he designed a digital product to simplify the messy process of splitting a restaurant bill. It did moderately well but wasn't a runaway success, so he transferred his energies into creating a product that uses tech to enhance the experience of watching live sports.

THE BRAINSTORM: Johnson came up with CheckMate in 2010 when he was a mechanical engineering junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Going out to eat with friends was fun, but figuring out how to split the bill was a nightmare.

He and one of his Penn profs, Jonathan Fiene, designed a tablet to ease that pain. Outfitted with a bill-splitting app and a custom case with a credit-card reader, it is presented to diners at the end of the meal and all they have to do is swipe to pay for their own items.

THE PIVOT: A big company that serves stadiums got interested in CheckMate at a trade show and commissioned something similar for its premium suites, where the food-service system was so technologically backward that servers couldn't take credit cards as payment.

"You'd have to give your card to the server, then they'd have to run into a pantry and enter it into a system, swipe your card, and bring you a receipt," Johnson said. "It was a crazy amount of inefficiency."

THE PUSH: SuiteMate soon grew into a bigger endeavor than CheckMate, with tablets designed to be used by servers for streamlining transactions and another version to be used by guests as a "second screen" for ordering merchandise, checking weather, and watching replays.

THE DESIGN: SuiteMate's hardware design is similar to CheckMate's - a plastic case with a USB connection and a card reader to fit around a tablet. The sleek black case is designed to retreat into the background so the a user's focus defaults to the screen.

To design the screens, Johnson spent three or four nights observing staff and guests operate and interact. He and his team interviewed servers, managers, dessert-cart attendants, and guests to collect a list of features to build into the system. They charted about 700 nuanced interactions and spent two months designing about 500 of them.

THE RESULT: SuiteMate debuted March 31 in two Chicago stadiums - United Center and US Cellular Field. Both the guest-facing and employee tablets are in pilot mode. Johnson has on-site reps at nearly every game to observe and get feedback. So far, so good.

"The servers don't want to put it down, because it fits perfectly into what they do," Johnson said.

BIG DATA: In the next five years, Major League Baseball expects to introduce iBeacon throughout the league. These wireless transmitters will be able to "sense" or identify fans along with their patterns and preferences.

"I think the goal of operational technology in these spaces," Johnson said, "will become about gathering information and using it to enhance the guests' experience."

SuiteMate will evolve along with this emerging technology. For example, if you go to a stadium and it's your 10th game that season, the person at the concession stand will be notified when you log in to your tablet. Then he'll surprise you with a free hot dog.

"Now you've generated a human interaction," Johnson said, "through a piece of digital information."

>Inquirer.com

Geoff Johnson demonstrates SuiteMate, used by servers

and guests at stadiums, at www.inquirer.com/carolinetigerEndText

Caroline Tiger is a design writer and content strategist at Philadelphia design and innovation firm Bresslergroup. @Bresslergroup.