How do you create a product that helps people who are interested in group travel?
Agent is a concept mobile application that helps people plan trips by serving as a central place to discuss ideas and secure itineraries. Once users input desired travel locations, Agent can suggest affordable, popular options for activities and travel accommodations depending on preference. Travel groups can continue to use Agent throughout the vacation itself, to keep everyone organized and on schedule.
My role: Product Designer, User Experience Design (iOS), User Research, Wireframing, Prototyping, Visual Design, Presenting
* This was a project completed at the School of Visual Concepts
Planning a trip for more than one person requires organization, communication, and lots and lots of patience. Planners have to act in a timely manner to secure the best deals, and may end up policing other group members who procrastinate. We set out to create a tool that could address the pain points of decision-making when planning a trip, while utilizing smart algorithms to help with planners research what to do.
Agent is a virtual “smart” travel agent. Our goal is to enable users to create a base travel itinerary easily, and share with friends as quickly as possible.
- The app uses top recommendations from online rating systems (i.e., Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp), serving as a trusted researcher and narrowing down the number of sources that travelers have to scour themselves.
- Agent compares areas of interest in itineraries of previous travelers to create one fit for the user’s group. Once it understands the travel group's preferences and activities, Agent can secure reservations with specific companies and users can exchange money within the app.
- If travelers don’t have a time frame in mind for a trip, Agent can notify the group when the best seasons for travel are, depending on price or busyness.
- In each group trip, there are dedicated message boards for travelers to hash out details and vote amongst choices.
- Travelers can create more than one trip at a time, or even use Agent alone to get a little help with planning.
To understand the typical process of group travel planning looked like, we approached research in two ways: Observation and Interview. I combined my findings with my teammates, and started grouping the process into themes.
- I observed one user attempt to plan a couple's international vacation. He opened many tabs with popular travel sites (Travelocity, Google Flights, Expedia), but was lost knowing where to start and how to track of information.
- I interviewed another user who had recently come back from a group trip, and found that she used many different platforms to keep track of her travel planning process, including emails, text messages, Google Docs, and Facebook Events.
- There are currently no easily-accessible, central place for travel planners to keep their information
- Most people are money-conscious; getting the best deals means a lot
- Groups need a way to figure out how to split the bill
- Some individual needs can be forgotten in group planning (i.e., dietary restrictions)
- There is usually one main planner for each travel group; the rest are individuals who contribute to a smaller degree.
After reading this post on designing UI flows, I mapped out the essential steps a user would go through in order to plan and share a trip, coming up with the idea of a digital travel agent to help each user. Having a complex engine simplified into a single search bar encompassed the feeling of a concierge that would go to lengths to help the user.
Next, I created wireframe sketches to illustrate the main flow. I hypothesized that users would most need access to trip planning, itineraries in progress, and group chats, and included icons in the bottom menu for all of these.
When the opportunity arose to meet a few friends (including a UX designer) for happy hour at a bar, I packed my laptop to go with me. Call it guerrilla testing. Each person played around with the Axure prototype as I observed and asked them questions.
I learned that users didn’t want their travel to be limited by one location. The ability to add multiple destinations or make the trip one-way are all travel considerations that I hadn’t initially taken into account. Additionally, one user wanted to search for trips by activity (‘Good places to kayak’), which prompted me to consider how else Agent could act as a concierge.
For the most part, users understood the solution to the problem and thought the app had a lot of potential. However, not having all screens built out caused some users to be confused about the flow of inviting group members to join trips.
Branding and Design
Since travel can be expensive, Agent needed to have a trustworthy, simple interface that would make people feel comfortable conducting transactions with large amounts of money. I wanted the app to feel modern, confident, and sleek. I did this by choosing simple iconography, clean lines, and a color palette of navy and bright blue.
During the last week of class, everyone gave a 5-7 minute presentation on their findings and prototype. I built a short Keynote deck, and walked people through my process. I answered questions about the design decisions I made, and got a few chuckles at my guerrilla user testing in a bar. By the end of it, I had a lot of people on board with having a simple, mobile travel Agent!
Consistency is key. I chose the colors of certain buttons to reflect airline colors, but it didn’t translate for the audience. Instead, users were confused as to whether buttons with different colors where “clickable” or not. User interface is just as important as the structural design of a product, because it acts as a signifier for how a product can be used.
Balance breadth with depth. In creating the initial prototype for users to test, I focused on going in-depth with a higher-fidelity mockup instead of building lower-fidelity wireframes that fully demonstrated an end-to-end experience. This caused some confusion during user testing that could have easily been avoided. I learned that UI comes secondary to proper architecture and user flow. If something doesn't make sense for the user, no matter how cool-looking it is, there's a high likelihood the user won't stick around.
Tina is outgoing, insightful and persuasive. I think she'll tear it up as a UXer.
Max Eichbaum, SVC UX I Teacher