Case Study: KLM — ‘Geotainment’ Inflight Mobile App

My third design project for the General Assembly User Experience Design Immersive course was a group project shared with fellow students Anthea Jackson and Gaetan Cotton. Our hypothetical client was KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, flag carrier airline for the Netherlands. Founded in 1919 it’s the longest running airline in the world still operating under its original name.

Client Brief

The task in hand was to extend the current inflight services offered to customers through either a mobile app or responsive web site for KLM.

Competitive Analysis

A study of the market showed that most service providers offered mobile apps but that the functionality of these are focussed on the booking and airport check-in phases of the experience. Although the steady digitalisation of many inflight services has been underway for many years, in the main their functionality remains yet to be integrated with passenger’s personal devices. Inflight internet connectivity is expanding although is unlikely to be reliably available on every aircraft even within a single fleet for some time.

User Research

A screener survey was circulated with a strong response of over 140 submissions within 18 hours. Clearly people were keen to share their feelings on their flying experiences. From this nine able to give a user research interview within 24 hour time window our course schedule permitted. Interviewees were selected to provide the broadest representative demographic possible. Given that inflight contextual enquiry was impossible, users with the most recent flying experience were prioritised as their memory recall of their experiences were likely to be the most reliable.

An interview script formed the core of interviews carried out by all three members of our team to make sure that when combined our data would be as useful as possible. Interviewees were very happy to share their flying experiences and a large quantity of rich qualitative information was gathered.

An affinity map of the data distilled key findings. Quality of dining and attendant services were brand judgement criteria. Ability for users to choose from a good selection of films was considered important but a customer expectation rather than a differentiating factor. Shopping was considered unimportant to all our users.

An unexpected finding was that the current location map displayed on either seat back screens or on large shared viewing screens is an extremely valuable resource for a majority of users. Users told us that as they lost track of all the time zones they were passing through and the geography that they were passing over and used it frequently to orientate themselves in time space as well as to help calibrate themselves to their destination time zone. Users also told us of their frustrations with the maps services they had used inflight, citing poor, even cursory information communication as a norm. When maps were not present and available users said they were disappointed. The physical disjuncture they felt with the world below compounded this sentiment.

A related pain point was found in the timing of meals, being landmarks in users’ normal daily schedules around which they plan their time, were no longer predictable or a matter of personal choice and their timings were perceived as both frustratingly arbitrary and mysterious.

A key desire of users was to discover more about their destination during their journey. Although some users planned their journey in advance many wished to use the time during the flight to investigate their destination further although mistrusted inflight magazines’ content due to the quantity of advertising.

Common pain points were the unreliable standard of hardware and software elements of the current inflight digital service systems from which moving image, maps, music and other entertainment could be accessed.

Users said that what they needed to feel comfortable and orientated was time at both home and destination, remaining flight time, current location and when the next meal is being served.

Personas

To anchor our project to a user centred approach to development our team distilled our user research base into three main traveller types and developed three full personas that represented them.

Joyce: the curious explorer
She loves to travel and find out about the world.

Steve: the reluctant traveller
He just wants to the time to pass as quickly as possible, and want’s entertainment options.

Anne: the family traveller
She wants to relish every moment and she doesn’t mind passing time travelling as it’s a rare time in her life when she can relax with her daughter.

As she was closest in outlook to the majority of the users we interviewed, our team chose Joyce as our primary persona.

Problem

Our user research told us that travellers felt that their basic needs are poorly met, as embodied by Joyce. Her not being informed of the time till her next meal added to her psychological need to feel orientated in time and space not being satisfactorily provided for creates a psychological vicious circle. Without the foundation of security supplied through certainty of meals and orientation Joyce can is not in mood to be exploratory, receptive & learn about her destination— even though she is happiest when doing so. We all want more than basic needs met, especially in a paid service environment.

Solution

Given the lack of reliable connectivity onboard a flight we proposed an offline app that integrates access to inflight services via bluetooth, deemed a safe inflight data transfer method, that not only provides for the user’s basic needs, but also inspires them to learn about and explore the world below through a value added feature, an interactive map function tailored to the airline service that provides for our users a natural search for inspiration and education. The maps service reinvigorates the sense of the geographical journey by integrating this orientation and exploration with travel information, film and music. The app also provides food and drink ordering and shopping functionality.

Design Principles

Given the theme of basic needs facilitating discovery in our user research Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was an inspiration in the choice of our design principles. The hierarchy of needs is often represented as a pyramid with five levels of needs and is a motivational theory in psychology that argues that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs as they rise up the levels of the pyramid. In our project they were represented as follows:

1. Physiological / sustenance — the app must inform users when food is to be provided

2. Safety / orientation — provided in the basics of the map feature

3. Sharing — Joyce’s discoveries can be communicated via social media

4. Esteem — learning about the world below as a value added feature of the map

5. Discover: Joyce fulfils natural inclination for adventure, curiosity and inspiration

Feature Prioritisation & Ideation

We knew that we wanted to design an app that put flight mapping & helping people plan their travelling at it’s core, but we wanted to keep a really open mind and not be too influenced by what flight operators were currently providing. The following features came out of design studio sessions to answer user needs and provide delight:

  • Timeline — displays how long left, next meal, time at destination
  • Geotainment — a fun and informative maps feature integrated with the inflight entertainment through curated contextual links to films and music. The geotainment feature is a portal to explore the world from which Joyce can save discoveries and destination inspiration offline for use during her current trip when connectivity isn’t guaranteed to share and to inspire future holidays. The latter would certainly be a business opportunity for this sector.

Paper Prototype & Testing

Our research indicated the features we were developing were technically credible but we needed to test our design to make sure our product would be useful, usable, findable, desirable, accessible and above all valuable. The user test report generated from paper prototype testing recommended we simplify the screens as the app’s core features, although validated as useful were not usable or findable, for example the timeline feature proved to be an information overkill without due information hierarchy. Subsequent iteration recognised the Jakob Neilsen’s ‘aesthetics / minimalist design’ heuristic as laid out in his ten usability heuristics to give a more focussed experience.

The contextual regional film and music feature was given too much prominence and confused users, being mistaken instead for general navigation. Calls to action were not noticed, for example the button to go direct to the destination information screen, and we worked on making these affordances to recognise the ‘recognition not recall’ heuristic in further prototyping. We also organised the site map and moved some features and services on different screens.

Deliverable Prototype

The digital prototype can be found here.

Next steps

Three main areas for the next sprints:

  • Virtual reality or augmented reality, and increasing other interactive functionality, e.g. kids version that could be very playful.
  • Full service integration, with a subtle location based twist, e.g. some featured movie recommendations based on location or destination.
  • Development into the level of destination information that would be desirable, moving beyond cultural and need to know info to recommendations.