Most of us view technology as something that makes things easier. For many people, however, the experience of using an airline website is too complicated and daunting. The numbers depict this clearly:
I commenced the project with online research on best-in-class airline websites. I considered travel websites and aggregators as they are solving a similar problem for users; Offering comprehensive interfaces to enter travel destinations, dates, and details.
I narrowed my search to three European airlines with high ranking in SKYTRAX, and one globally acknowledged travel aggregator.
Still early in the research phase, gaining more quantitative as well as qualitative data was essential to understand the users' experience on popular airline's websites. An online survey with both open-ended and close-ended questions was easy to put together and fast to be shared online. Soon I had even more valuable insights to add to the ones gathered from benchmarking and note-taking.
Since usability testing is the best way to answer the why behind the users' actions, it was the next logical step.
“ In general I don't care about the benefits; I think they just want more money in my head.”
As the research phase came to an end, it was now time to analyze all the data I had gathered from the competitive benchmarking, online survey, note-taking, and usability test. We organized it by creating an affinity diagram.
After creating the affinity diagram, the next step was to build on the findings it offered. I was now looking at comprehensive groups of issues with the booking process. It was time to see the product, the airline websites, through the customer's eyes.
With the research and analysis phases complete, it was now time for me to get into design mode. Before designing any screens, I first had to plan and specify the flow. I had to consider each step the user would take and design each screen and screen state with those steps in mind. I focused on one primary use case - search and select flights - and proceeded to define the high-level flow of the airline website users.
After designing the high-level flow, I was ready to begin sketching my new airline website's screens. Sketching is a quick and inexpensive way to express design ideas and a vital step before prototyping.
I collected all the analysis findings and poured them into my sketches in an effort to solve the current issues on airline websites - particularly during the booking process.
The flow diagram and sketches had helped me define much of the solution to the problem. The next step was to create a mid-fidelity prototype to test my solutions/designs. Were they adequate to address the users' issues with the airline booking process (on desktop)?
The final step for this project was to make it development-ready. For that purpose, I created a detailed set of wireframes to hand over to the developer, along with documents containing the IA of the website and the user flows.
This project was revealing of the complexity of airline websites and the booking process in particular. It has fortified my belief that the UX process can guide a designer through the most complicated software problems. If you stay true to the process, it can help you organize and analyze a vast amount of data.
It is critical always to remember we are not the target audience – we are not designing for ourselves but for the end-users. As UX designers, we need to empathize as much as we can with the people we are designing for to provide great experiences.
The research process plays a vital role in that; You have to get to know your audience before designing any screens. If you don't do the research, you are only making assumptions about your users' goals, behaviors, context, and pain points. Assumptions always need to be explored and validated via research and prototyping. Only then can you be confident you are solving the right problems.