The first project I completed at UX Academy was based on a fictional company called Zeit, which sells time travel vacation packages. Zeit was looking to design a responsive e-commerce website that would make browsing and booking trips to different points in time as easy and intuitive as possible.
The first major challenge of this project was research, which would be difficult considering that time travel is not a technology that exists. I had to find resources that would be reasonably accessible within my project's timeframe, so I centered my research goals on the "regular" travel industry and its current users.
Learn how current travel websites have designed their user experience
Understand what current users of these sites like or dislike about their experiences
Uncover user impressions about the idea of a time travel vacation website
To kick off my secondary research, I delved into the online travel industry to uncover some key market trends:
Authentic Experiences: Younger travelers (22-39) in particular are seeking vacations where they can fully immerse themselves in the local culture
Omni-Channel Marketing: A seamless, integrated experience across devices throughout the travel browsing and booking process is increasingly important for users
Micro-Moments: A term coined by Google to describe how users consume online content: It’s rarely a linear process, and takes place over long periods of time. With travel in particular, users may make hundreds of searches over several months, visiting a wide variety of online sources (travel agency sites like Travelocity, metasearch sites like Kayak, Google Images, etc.)
For my competitor analysis, I looked at a variety of online travel agencies and metasearch/aggregator travel sites, including Travelocity, Airbnb, Kayak, and Travel Zoo. I also looked at SpaceX – Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company – as they would likely be involved in this hypothetical “time travel vacation” industry if it were to exist.
Generally speaking, the shared overall strength of these competitors was the fact that they are the most well-known and established brands in their respective industries, compared to a newcomer like Zeit. While examining their websites, a weakness of some of the competitors that jumped out to me (and was later validated by my interview findings) was their clunky, cluttered UIs. Booking a trip typically involved a lot of clicking while navigating a plethora of tabs, modals, and pop-ups.
Moving on to my primary research, I conducted 1-on-1 interviews with three participants – all frequent travelers who had booked trips in the past six months. I wanted to gauge their opinions on travel in general, researching and booking trips online, as well as their initial impressions of the Zeit concept. Some patterns among the participants:
Value quick, easy experiences, and dislike cluttered UIs with misleading deals
Positive experiences/associations with Google Flights, Delta, and Airbnb
Negative experiences/associations with Expedia, Travelocity
Travel research is overwhelming because there are too many choices
Value flexibility in browsing/filtering/sorting time travel trips
While some would prefer to have trips organized by location first, others preferred time period, and others preferred activity type (adventure, nature, sports, art, etc.)
Common questions/concerns about time travel: Interacting with people in the past, the transportation experience, trip preparation, and health/safety
All were interested in time travel, but some wanted their concerns addressed first
I synthesized my interview observations into an empathy map using the following categories:
Doing: Any habits or actions related to researching/booking trips, or traveling itself
Thinking/Feeling: Opinions on researching/booking trips, or traveling itself
Seeing/Hearing: Sources of inspiration or information used to research or book trips (blogs, magazines, word-of-mouth, etc.)
Pains: Negative experiences or associations with anything related to researching/booking trips, or traveling itself
Gains: Positive experiences or associations with anything related to researching/booking trips, or traveling itself
My empathy map provided deeper insight into the priorities of my interviewees when researching and booking trips online:
Simple, easy flows are highly valued (website should not be too complex)
Travel deals should not be misleading or hard to find
Travel research is overwhelming (endless information and choices)
Using these insights from my interviews and empathy map, I crafted my user persona, Elliot:
Now that I had a clearer picture of Zeit’s potential users, I needed to figure out how to approach the information architecture. Given that Zeit would be a fairly content-heavy site with a wide variety of vacations spanning many different time periods, locations, and activities, how would I organize all this information for the user?
I started with an online card-sorting exercise through OptimalSort, where I recruited 10 participants to organize 30 cards labeled with examples of Zeit vacations. Two groups emerged: Those that organized by time period, and those that organized by a combination of geographical location and trip type (experiences, adventures, events, creation, discovery, etc.). Between this finding and the fact that the interview participants from my research had expressed a desire for flexibility with browsing and searching time travel trips, I developed a sitemap with a variety of trip categories in mind (Time Period, Location, and Activity):
Next, I created a user flow to flesh out the interaction between screens, and illustrate how a variety of entry points into the site could lead to the eventual purchase of a Zeit vacation:
After organizing my primary user tasks and their associated screens into a UI requirements document, it was time to start designing!
I started by sketching out a variety of potential layouts, which I then used to create my mid-fidelity wireframes:
Since Zeit emphasized their desire for a responsive site in the project brief, I also created mobile and tablet versions of my wireframes:
My next major task was to develop a distinct brand identity for Zeit and create updated prototypes for testing. I wanted the trip photos to be the focal point of the site, so I kept my palette to mostly black and white, with a bright, cheerful yellow as my accent color. I played around with a variety of visual concepts to symbolize both "time" and "travel" for the brand logo, but I ultimately decided on a stylized "Z" that I designed to be reminiscent of a pilot badge.
The final phase of my project was centered on usability testing. I based my test objectives on Nielsen’s usability principles: learnability, efficiency, satisfaction, and errors. My goal was to gauge the participants’ likes, dislikes, frustrations, as well as their impressions of the prototypes’ visual design.
Participants were able to successfully find and purchase trips, and they generally liked the design of the site. However, a few encountered roadblocks when adding a trip to their “Favorites” and looking for the “Sign Up” button.
I organized my test results into an affinity map, then translated my observations into insights and recommendations. After arranging these recommendations by priority, I made revisions to my prototypes:
While time travel vacations aren’t exactly on the horizon, this project was a good exercise in the unique challenges that arise when designing for an innovative service that people aren’t familiar with. The lack of direct competitors to Zeit made secondary research difficult, and interviews can only be so effective when people don’t have an actual reference point for the product or service in question.
Still, it was an opportunity to work with the insights I could gather to begin shaping a usable, effective design for Zeit’s potential users. Moving forward, I would ideally like to design some more screens and user flows, conduct further usability testing, then polish and refine my wireframes.