Always room to improve

A usability study on travel app Peek

Peek is an activities and tours booking site that launched their iOS app December 2013. It’s simple, beautiful, and well organized.

As a designer, I thought the UI and interactions were fairly intuitive.

But what do “normals” think? What will they have trouble with?

So I recruited a few friends who’ve never used the app to test it. I encouraged them to think out loud and explore for a few minutes before giving them specific tasks to complete. Then I sat back and watched. This is what I observed:

Booking options confused users

They weren’t sure what the difference was.

This “Call to Book” option is actually visible on the upper-right corner throughout the 4-step flow. Here, in the final step, users also had questions about the default blank e-mail state.

“I think I would call if I needed more info. I’d rather book it online though.”
-Ronald Alunan

Users assumed Napa activities would be listed under San Francisco

When tasked to book an activity in Napa (users are SF locals), most looked through the activities in San Francisco, then used search, before returning to dig through activities again.

They did this futilely for several minutes. To complete the task, they actually had to first switch their city to Napa.

After seeing people visibly frustrated, I had to step in to move the test along.

“I would have given up. Napa is usually listed under San Francisco in guide books.”
- Kevin Huang

Nobody discovered tapping their current city opens the location menu

Although not a huge issue as location is accessible under the main menu, it would have cued users and mitigated a lot of unnecessary frustration in the previous task.

People weren’t sure what the “map view” icon does

When I inquired, most thought it was either a check-in or showed your current location. Interestingly, when I tasked people to look for activities in a particular neighborhood, they preferred to use search over map view or city guides (even after discovering it was map view).

People weren’t sure if Peek prices were discounted

This may prevent some from booking if they have seen a similar deal on a discount site.

“So, is this like Groupon, or is it retail?”
- Ronald Alunan

Event duration mistaken as travel time.

Some thought it meant ETA to activity location. This actually came as a surprise to me, and I wasn’t mindful enough to probe, but I believe people thought this because it’s next to the location.

Nobody read the City Guides

People saw the wall of text and tapped through within seconds. Admittedly, I tested locals, so I’m curious if people on vacation would read the guides.


I didn’t spot any issues that would break the product (unless you were an SF local looking for stuff in Napa). Even as people were confused about the “call to book” option, they still progressed through the flow.

Improving the flow

It sounds like Peek’s users are either booking their activities last minute, or even making plans as they are on vacation, as VentureBeat reported:

Peek said that only one in five people plan their vacation in advance, and this app is geared toward last-minute bookers.

Because of this, I think the activities page can be improved and optimized for busy, distracted users.

The photos on top are not expandable — they’re gorgeous, and communicate the gist of the activity better than words. I also think the date selectors are unnecessary as there are opportunities to pick dates directly before AND after this screen.

I think the activity descriptions are too heavy, imposing unnecessary cognitive load. I doubt distracted users will read thoroughly.

For my re-design, I had 2 inspirations:

1.) I love Hotel Tonight’s layout here. Only the necessary information is displayed while the details are hidden kept to another page.

2.) In contrast, AirBnb has a long-form page for its layout, with more detailed information available in the main flow, and landscape photographs staggered throughout.

It’s interesting to see the difference between the two approaches.

One consideration is the uniqueness of personal homes vs chain hotels. Hotels are pretty standard, so users already have a solid idea of what to expect, while the quality of homes can vary, and users need more info to make a buying decision.

Because Peek’s activities are varied and unique, I thought an Airbnb-like layout, but with scannable text, would be most successful.

More importantly, as the activities and events Peek sells are “experiences”, I wanted users to be able to imagine themselves doing it. After all, people buy emotionally, THEN verify rationally.

My design solution:

I decided to put captions on the photos; I believe they can draw users into a compelling, imaginative story. This may take up some visual real estate, but in this case, I think it is worth it.

I also put a review blurb above the fold, replacing the activity details. It’s a blurb, because users don’t need to read an essay to know others think it’s legit and fun.

Here, I expect users to scan the page, flick through a few photos, then tap a photo to expand.

Gorgeous photos (preferably portraits for mobile) paired with descriptive captions are key. If people can imagine themselves in the experiences, they’re practically sold. The rest of the booking flow will be filtered through confirmation-biased eyes.

I took a cue from Airbnb here and put another photo further down the page to emotionally re-engage users when they scroll.

Also, understanding that our users are in the middle of vacation, and that mobile content is twice as difficult to understand, I truncated the details into more digestible bullet-points and hid the nitty-gritty behind a separate page, presenting only the minimum information required to make a buying decision.

Lastly, I placed the location at the end.

Check out the interactive prototype too.

That’s it! What do you think? Do my design decisions make sense?

If you enjoyed this post, please say hi on Twitter @LennsHu! I occasionally link interesting articles.

I’m currently studying UX @Tradecraft under the tutelage of Laura Klein and Kate Rutter. Will be graduating and looking for exciting opportunities starting March 2014.