UX Design Project: A Travel Planning App

A UX case study on designing a native app for trip planning.

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Introduction

I enjoy travelling — travel means adventure and it opens my eyes. Whenever I travel to a place, I want to be able to make the most out of the trip. I want to feel confident knowing where to go and doing things that I’m interested in — this is when I find myself investing a lot time sitting in front of my computer prior to the trip: doing research and planning an itinerary.

I find trip planning a lengthy, time-consuming process. It involves the work of reading countless reviews from fellow travellers and searching for information from numerous travel sites. It also involves using multiple tools to figure out the best travel routes and putting a schedule together into some type of document.

But what if there’s an app that could make this whole process easier?

As a capstone project for my UX course at RED Academy, I decided to explore this problem: to research on the process of trip planning and design a native app as a solution to improve the overall trip planning experience.

(As a requirement of the project, the app design will be built upon the theme of travelling in Canada.)

App Idea

My idea is to create a mobile app that would streamline and simplify the process of trip planning. It will have the following functions:

1. Let the user explore travel experiences in Canada by providing general attraction information and user reviews.

2. Generate an optimized day-by-day itinerary for the user based on the user’s selection of attractions.

3. Let the user input their own reviews as a way to continue building up content and value for the app.

Target market

Users who will find this app valuable would be someone who:

  • is interested in travelling to/exploring Canada
  • plans their own itinerary prior to the trip (versus a packaged tour)
  • wants to visit attractions they are most interested in
  • values and relies on other travellers’ reviews
  • enjoys sharing reviews with fellow travellers

The primary target group will be the millennials (approximate age from 18 to 40). Based on my research, travel is deeply important to the millennials. They prefer unique travel experiences and they like to plan their own itinerary. Majority of the millennials are social media users, where they enjoy sharing experiences with others and also engage in online conversations. These characteristics align with the purpose of the app and support the user-review aspect of the app.

Users of this app will be Canadians who want to explore their own country or international tourists who want to travel in Canada. Using this app will help them get the most out of their trip through a streamlined, simplified trip planning experience.

User Research

Interviews and Surveys

Based on my initial app idea, I came up with a list of interview and survey questions surrounding these areas:

  • Demographics
    To find out if the interviewees/respondents fits the target market and the most commonly used social media accounts.
  • Overall travel experiences
    To learn about travel experiences in general, such as motivations to travel, what was enjoyable/unenjoyable, and any unexpected or challenging issues during their past travel experiences.
  • Planning a trip
    To learn about the process of trip-planning, such as the steps taken, information that were looked for, commonly used apps/websites as well as their positive/negative features.
  • Organizing itinerary and travel information
    To find out commonly used apps/websites/tools for organizing itineraries as well as their positive/negative features
  • Sharing reviews and photos
    To find out how much other travellers’ reviews/photos are valued and motivations to share reviews/photos

I conducted four interviews in person with my friends who fit within the primary target market. I also received 38 responses to my online survey, of which 84% of respondents are millennials and 92% travel at least once a year.

Affinity Diagram

After conducting the interviews and surveys, I transferred all my notes and responses onto sticky notes on my computer. I arranged the stickies under broad categories based on the themes of my questions. As I recognized more patterns, I rearranged the stickies into clusters under different topics and also marked up any relationships using connecting lines and notes.

My final affinity diagram, with data organized in different groupings based on patterns and relationships.

Key Findings

I was able to gain many interesting insights from the data, and below are some of the more prominent findings.

Travel Stages

I learned about the process of trip planning from the four interviewees and steps that were taken during the process were very similar among the individuals. I summarized the steps into a five-stage journey:

  1. Deciding on a destination
  2. Research on destination
  3. Planning and organizing an itinerary
  4. Travelling
  5. Sharing reviews and photos

From the five-stage journey, I realized that my app idea specifically targets stage 2 to 5 — to improve the trip-planning experience after a destination has been decided. Recognizing these stages became very useful when I was designing a user-flow for the app.

Map is Needed for Navigation

I found out that it would bring more value to the users for the app to generate an itinerary in the format of a map (versus just a list/schedule) with the ability to work offline and navigate. This would help users feel confident getting around at the destination (Stage 4) and help prevent them from getting lost, which is the most common negative travel experience and challenge.

And by automatically generating an itinerary map optimized with the most efficient routes to visit all the attractions, the app is also simplifying the planning process (Stage 3). This process would otherwise be time-consuming if the users were to manually map out all the attractions, figure out how to get to each place, and figure out the most efficient routes and schedule to visit all the attractions.

More Goals

I realized that the goals of the app are not only to provide users a streamlined, simplified trip planning experience and help them get the most out of their trip, but also to help them feel confident getting around at the destination. In addition, the app provides an opportunity for users to help other travellers plan their trip through sharing their own reviews/photos.

Summary of app features and user benefits of each travel stage.

MVP Features

Based on my results and findings, I identified a list of potential app features and prioritized them into must-have, nice to have, and not-needed:

MVP must-have features

  • Users to browse for things to do, foods & drinks, and landmarks
  • Users to read and share reviews/photos for each attraction
  • Users to bookmark and select attractions that they want to go to
  • App to generate an itinerary based on users’ selections, organized in both a map and schedule
  • Itinerary to work offline with GPS navigation ability

Nice to have features

  • Explore nearby function
  • Ability to share itinerary with others
  • Ability to add collaborators to the itinerary
  • Provide general information on destination (language, local customs, weather, safety etc.)
  • Ability to further customize the generated itinerary

Not needed features

  • Booking flights and accommodations
  • Customizable checklist
  • Special deals and offers

Personas

Based on my results and findings, I also created two user personas:

Primary Persona

Julie represents an ideal primary user of the app:

Primary persona of the app.

Secondary Persona

Michael represents someone who is not within the primary target group but could still find the app useful:

Secondary persona of the app.

Competitive Analysis

As a way to gain insights into user flow and wireframing, I looked into existing travel apps that offer similar features. For ideas on browsing information and sharing user reviews, I focused on TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Yelp, which were the most commonly used apps among the survey respondents. For ideas on itinerary planning, I looked into several apps that serve this purpose: Trip It, Inspirock, Travefy, TripCase and Roadtrippers.

I signed up for the apps and tried them myself. It was a great way to gain insights into user flow, layouts and interactions, and to see what was working or confusing from the perspective of a user.

User Flow

Keeping in mind the travel stages and MVP features, the next step was to map out the user journey of the app. This user flow demonstrates how a typical user would use the app:

User flow maps out the user journey from on-boarding to reaching the end goals.
  1. App on-boarding
  2. Add trip (set dates, destination, and other details)
  3. Explore things to do, foods & drinks, and landmarks, and read user reviews on attractions.
  4. Add items that they are interested in.
  5. The app optimizes the itinerary schedule and map based on the user’s added items.
  6. During the trip, the user opens the app to view the itinerary schedule and map. The user can also use the map for navigation.
  7. After the trip, the user can return to the app to write reviews or share photos for the attractions that they experienced.

The end goal for the user is generating the itinerary (step 5) and using the map on the go (step 6). Sharing reviews is optional for the user (step 7).

Initial Wireframes

Based on the user flow, I started sketching ideas for my wireframes using pen and paper, trying different layouts, triggers and responses. After arriving at a rough version, I moved onto building in Sketch. These are examples from the initial set of wireframes that I created:

Initial set of wireframes created for the app.

User Testing

Next, I created a prototype in Invision with the wireframes and used the prototype for user testing. I decided to conduct in-person user testing sessions so I can directly observe each user’s behaviours and also listen to users describing their expectation on every interaction.

I conducted four sessions in total, and in each session the user was able to reach the end goal of generating an itinerary schedule and map. However, based on my observations and the users’ feedbacks, I concluded the following issues:

  • The initial “Add Trip” action was unclear to users as it was in the format of a question instead of an actual “Add Trip” button.
  • The “Itinerary Planner” button at the bottom of the dashboard was not obvious to the users as the menu button.
  • Placing the “browse experience” buttons within the menu caused a disconnection between the action and what happens to the map.
  • Users do not understand the difference between the “Bookmark” and “Going!” buttons.

Revisions to the Wireframes

The testing sessions were a very valuable way for me to identify the flaws in my designs and gain insights to what the users was expecting from each interaction. As a result, I was able to improve my designs with following updates to the wireframes:

  • For the users to clearly understand the initial action of “Add Trip”, I added in a “Add Trip” button instead of prompting the user to enter a destination in question form.
  • I updated the layout so that all the buttons are now directly accessible from the dashboard and are clearly labelled with text or commonly-recognized icons.
  • The main action of adding items to the map was made more intuitive for users by having a “Add Plans” button directly on the dashboard.
  • The “bookmark” button was removed — I realize it was necessary to add items to the itinerary but it was not necessary to save attractions as bookmarks (it could be a nice-to-have feature). I also re-labelled the button as “Add Plan” as it is a more suitable term to imply the user action.

During this phase of the project, I also further polished the wireframe designs to better reflect the iOS UI. These are examples of the updated wireframes:

Updated wireframes after user testing.

Prototype

This is the final prototype of the app, created using Invision:

Conclusion

Although this project was created within five weeks as a deliverable for my UX course, this short period of time was an eye-opening experience for me.

Design is often thought of as “creative”, and it was fascinating to me how “scientific” UX design actually is — involving research, data, analyzing, testing, measuring — some kind of “fact” to back up every design choice.

After experiencing the UX design process firsthand, I came to realize the importance of research behind every design. It was easy to forget that design choices should always be backed up by data and I sometimes found myself making assumptions when working on this project. One of my instructors once reminded me, “Did you think that, or did the users think that?” — I will always remember to ask myself in the future. By the end of the project, I have learned that user research is the backbone of UX design and it is what ultimately supports a strong design solution.

I also came to realize the amount of time and thoughts put into designing every detail that makes up an entire user experience. Now I can see much more clearly the work of UX designers behind every app and website, and I can truly appreciate it.

Thanks for reading!

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