Roam is a travel app that provides users with authentic, personalized and unique travel recommendations. The app will match users together based on their travel preferences and behaviours. Users then see tips and advice that has been provided by other travellers they have matched with, based on their similarity scores.
- Timeline: 8 weeks
- Role: Product Designer
- Tools: Sketch, Figma, InVision
For this project, I wanted to look into the travel industry. It is an industry that is worth over a trillion dollars each year, but there continues to be a problem of fake reviews and misinformation.
The problem space that I wanted to look at for my capstone project is the lack of clarity in the travel industry about the basis on which businesses and websites make recommendations to travellers. This has been an issue in the last few years as travel websites have increasingly seen a problem of fake reviews. British consumer association ‘Which?’ carried out an investigation into Tripadvisor in 2019 and found that 1 in 7 reviews of the 10 top-ranked hotels in 10 popular tourist destinations around the world were fake. In response to this, Tripadvisor said hotels had been issued with warnings over fake reviews, however, these warnings were not made clear to website users.
Another area that I felt was important to look at was the issue of overcrowding at popular and frequently recommended tourist spots. A McKinsey & Company report in 2017 said that ‘overtourism’ can not only degrade someone’s tourism experience but also alienate local populations and pose a threat to local heritage and culture.
- Challenge: To create a mobile app solution that could provide users with genuine, authentic recommendations, while also being made aware of the impact of tourism and travel, such as the potential negative impact of overtourism
- Target Audience: Young professionals and parents with young children.
How might we help travellers get more personalized and authentic travel recommendations at a lower cost in order to reduce ‘overtourism’?
To further understand my problem space, during my secondary research I looked at the information around how travellers typically conduct their research before a trip and the general attitude towards online reviews. My objective was to get an understanding of people’s habits, motivations and how much they rely upon the opinion of others when making decisions about vacations. Some of my key findings were:
- Mobile interactions accounted for 40% of visits to U.S. travel sites in the first quarter of 2016.
- Over 40% of travellers say they bounce back and forth between dreaming about and planning their next trip, looking at all the details for one destination before also looking more broadly and reconsidering all the options again.
- Reading online reviews is common across a wide range of demographics. However, people under the age of 50 are especially likely to regularly incorporate them into their buying research. A little more than half (53%) of 18- to 29-year-olds and 47% of 30- to 49-year-olds say they always or almost always read online reviews when buying something for the first time.
User Interviews & Survey
As part of my preliminary research, I carried out 5 user interviews and a quantitative analysis survey. For the user interviews, I spoke to 4 young professionals and 1 parent who travels with their young child. Given I wanted to get an understanding of both my key demographics, I developed the survey to gain more insights into the pain points and travel behaviours of parents. I had 5 responses from parents who travel with their children.
Some of my key themes and observations that came out of this research were as follows:
- Overcrowding and too many tourists at attractions is a big pain point for travellers. It can put them off visiting sites and lead them to look for places less populated and off the beaten track.
- For travellers both with and without children, cost continues to be a big driver behind decision making and a key motivation for choosing certain destinations.
- Travellers enjoy planning and researching for their trips. They use a variety of websites to gather information about places to visit and deals.
- For those travelling with children, it can be very stressful. Priorities for parents are very different, with a focus on the availability of child-friendly activities and childcare.
During user interviews, several people mentioned that they like to understand the context in which someone has made a review — such as their age, whether they travel with a partner or not — to get an understanding of whether it might align with their opinion. Based on this, and the knowledge that a younger demographic rely heavily on online reviews when planning a vacation, I decided to further develop my project brief to look at designing an app to deliver personalized travel recommendations, based on the premise of matching travellers according to their travel preferences and behaviours. Users would also then be able to see peak times and population density at attractions, restaurants and so forth, to help ease the issue of overcrowding.
After finalizing my two key demographics, I drew from my user interviews and secondary research to develop the following primary and secondary personas. Freya Jones, 27 from Toronto and James Bailey, 35 from London, UK. Freya is a young professional who likes to travel with her friends. While James is a dad who travels with his partner and young son.
Drawing from the details of Freya Jones and her experiences and preferences travelling, I developed the following experience map to understand how Freya would go about planning a trip, as well as her pain points and emotions during this process.
The map also demonstrated some key opportunities for intervention during her journey. Primarily, to reduce the number of sites she has to visit to gather information, as well as making it easier to find accommodation and recommendations that meet her particular needs and preferences.
User Stories & Task Flow
For developing and writing user stories, I identified that the core epic for this design was focused on building profiles and matching users. For my design, I wanted to be able to showcase the different ways that the app could help Freya and other users to find their tailored recommendations, but also to give them context on the basis on which they would be matched with other users. For this reason, I decided that the primary task flow would be to design a search flow for a traveller looking to find recommendations for a trip to Paris, and also an onboarding and sign up flow. One of Freya’s key motivations is to find unusual places off the beaten track when researching for her trips, so this felt like an ideal way to showcase how that might look.
Sketching & Wireframing
After developing the basis for my solution, I began sketching and wireframing. I went through several iterations and then settled on the designs below. These were then the groundwork for my mid-fidelity wireframes.
For my design, given searching and gathering information is a key function of the app, I wanted the design to be clear and accessible, as well as being easy to navigate through. It was also important to me that the designs feel light, airy and not overly busy, given the amount of information that would need to be included.
One of the key changes that came about between sketching and wireframing was the addition of a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. I wanted the user to be able to more easily jump between screens. Before finalizing my screens to take through to high fidelity, I went through 3 iterations of my mid-fidelity wireframes to finesse the design.
After creating my initial set of mid-fidelity wireframes, I conducted 2 rounds of user testing. I had made several assumptions about the usability of my design and how easy it was to navigate, so it was an important part of the process to iterate on the wireframes after each round of testing.
For each of the two rounds, I carried out 5 video interviews, where I asked testers to interact with the prototype.
Some of the key findings that I incorporated into my iterations were:
- The verbiage on the home screen and in other areas of the app could be improved.
- Testers wanted to click on features on the profile page and see more, so that should be built out more.
- Inconsistent use of navigation icons meant that testers didn’t always know when features were clickable or what they might be for.
- The matching of users in the app was not shown or demonstrated upfront in the experience with the app, and therefore came as a bit of a surprise for testers when they see that further along in the flow.
- Indicating on the tab bar at the bottom where you are in the app would improve usability and help users know where they are.
Inspiration & Visual Identity
One of the most important aspects I kept in mind when taking my designs into high fidelity, was how to achieve a design that could encompass and represent some of the feelings and emotions that vacations and travel can conjure in people. Given my key demographic was young professionals, it felt important that the designs should encourage feelings of joy, relaxation and excitement, without being overwhelming.
In terms of visual identity, some overarching feelings I wanted the app to evoke for the user were:
- Exciting but reassuring
I had drawn together inspiration, some of which you can see below. The photo of the hot air balloons really captured my imagination — the subtle sensation of movement, the bright blue sky with the pop of colour from the balloons that feels hopeful and bright — that felt like a perfect representation of the experience I hoped the user would have with Roam. I then put together the following colour palette to take through to my designs.
I also drew on these images to develop my logo, which can be seen below. I wanted that feeling of gentle motion and excitement to be core to my brand identity.
High Fidelity Designs
Given I had pulled together a bright and vibrant colour palette, I still wanted the designs to be able to breathe and to let the colours highlight feature of the design, rather than overwhelm it. I, therefore, decided to opt for a more minimalist design, using the colours to accentuate and accent the key parts of the design.
Multiple Platform Design
When considering alternative devices and platforms for Roam, I decided that the best fit for this would be a desktop web app. This is because of the channels my primary persona, Freya, interacted with when exploring her journey of booking a vacation in the experience map. Through this process, Freya flits between doing vacation research on her laptop and phone. This also reflected the insights I gained from my user interviews, that people carry out some of their research on a desktop device. This, therefore, felt like the best fit for the needs of Roam users and their experience in gathering information for a trip.
Product Marketing Site
When it came to my marketing website, I wanted it to have continuity with the app designs. I wanted the user to get experience the feeling of lightness and excitement that I tried to inject into the app design while being able to see and understand the features of the app in a clear and concise way. I also wanted to keep the tone of the copy light and casual, to match the general tone of the app itself. I designed both a responsive desktop and mobile marketing website, to give users more options and to make it available to more viewers.
The goal of Roam as a product is to change the way people research their trips. To give them an opportunity to do all that planning in place. To reduce the cognitive load for users when trying to establish the validity and reliability of online reviews.
However, it is not just about providing users with personalized and unique travel recommendations. Roam’s impact also hopes to achieve a sense of community, of people leaning on each other and developing a connection based on their shared interests.
Next Steps & Future Thinking
When considering the future for the project, I reviewed the ‘Tarot Cards of Tech’ by the Artefact Group, to think about some areas of the product that I may need to address further down the line.
One card that particularly spoke to the possible impact of my project was ‘The Superfan’ card. One of the questions it asks is: “What ‘rules of engagement’ does your product rely on, and how might these be subverted?’. Given that reviews and recommendations from users are such a fundamental part of Roam, this felt like a very pertinent issue to consider. Particularly, how as a brand and product we could protect users from potential fake or placed recommendations.
Security and reassurance for travellers on these issues is very important. Roam hopes and aims to help users build a sense of community and to understand more about one another to help them make more informed travel decisions. However, if that reliability cannot be guaranteed, that could undermine the whole goal of the app. I would, therefore, like to look more at potential options for users to verify that recommendations are authentic, without that possibly taking away from the overall user experience.
I would also like to develop the visual design of the app more. While I am largely pleased with the results, I would like to revisit some aspects of the design to make it more accessible, as well as streamlining some of the flow for users.
This project was an incredible learning opportunity. It was the first time I took a design from start to finish as the sole UX designer. One of the key learning outcomes for me was that keeping the project goal and user pain points central to the design process is crucial. It can be easy to stray off course into making designs aesthetically pleasing, and addressing one aspect of the solution while leaving others behind. Going forward, I aim to check in with myself more during the design process — to readdress my How Might We question, to review interview insights — to make the design more responsive to the users’ needs and goals.
Another key learning was that a pivot from the original solution does not mean that the initial idea was not a good one or a valid approach to solving the problem space, but more that the creative process requires designs to evolve. Whether that is in response to user testing feedback or practical limitations, those pivots can often lead to an improved interaction for the user.