Optimizing the Hostelworld Web experience — a User Research case study

Uncovering opportunities by following a User Centered approach

About Hostelworld

Research objective

My Role and Timeline

The Design Process

A product solution lies at the intersection of user needs and business goals

But it’s also true that for any business, happy customers lead to success and growth. Hence in order to solve our challenge, we followed a user centered approach to understand the pain points and motivations of the users to get a deeper understanding of their needs and behaviors.
We also assumed a common business objective of increasing the booking conversions of hostels on the website.

Our 2 weeks

The double diamond design process

In this case study, I will focus on my role in the project which was the Discover and Define phase i.e. Designing for the right thing.

Discovery Phase

Understanding our Users — Developing Context

We conducted contextual interviews with 4 hostlers and the managers in both hostels. We grouped the questions for the hostlers in the following themes:
1. Traveling Choices
Example: How often do you travel? With how many people?
2. Reasons behind choosing a hostel
Example : Why did you choose to stay in a hostel and not Airbnb?
3. Ways of booking a hostel
Example : How did you book this hostel? Is this usually how you do it?
4. Expectations from the hostel
Example : What are your expectations from this hostel keeping in mind the ratings and reviews?

Interviewing users at Nice Way Hostel(left) and Pilot Design Hostel(right)

The people we interviewed were from different nationalities, cultures with varying traveling preferences which helped us in gathering diverse perspectives.

As an example, one of the hostlers was a 23 year old from Netherlands who travels roughly around thrice in a year. An interesting thing he pointed out to us, was that he always books a hostel from the hostel’s personal website. He uses booking platforms like Booking and Hostelworld to search and find hostels but he never makes a booking using them. He believed that by making a reservation for the hostel from the hostel’s personal website, they would know for sure that he is coming. It was interesting to know that he trusted the hostel’s website more than the booking platforms.

Organized data from the first set of interviews

How much can we achieve in 2 weeks?

Applied user story mapping

The following are the steps for the exercise:
1. Each team member creates a user story that defines a user’s journey using the product.

2. Different parts of the user story are allocated relevant themes.

3. We identify and label parts of the user story that can be solved by features in the current website

4. Finally, we vote on the bits of the user story which show the most value and impact.

Following the exercise, we came up with the following themes:

  1. Events : While attending a concert in a city, people might want to stay in a hostel.
  2. Social influences: Staying in a hostel based on suggestion from friends or through social media platforms.
  3. Trip planning flexibility: Choosing a hostel because the duration of their stay could be flexible.
  4. Personal Passion : Living in hostels as a way of fulfilling their personal passions like traveling or adventure sports.

Designing experiments to deliver learning

  1. What makes a user choose one property over another?
  2. Where does the user face pains/gains during the buying process within the dynamic/static pages?
  3. How the hostel location played a role when a user is choosing hostels?
  4. How does a user discover new hostels?

We crafted a combination of Usability Testing and User Interviews to capture our intended learnings.

2 Hostels, 10 Users from 5 different countries

Usability Testing task :
We created scenarios of two different types : Group and Solo Travel.

Each task had constraints regarding the location, check in and check out dates, the budget and any necessary amenities.

Given these constraints, the users were asked to book the hostel of their choice.

Some of the User interview questions:

  • Have you ever made a trip where you stayed in more than one hostel? If many, why? (Trip Planning Flexibility)
  • Do you know about theme based hostels? If yes, What are they? How did you find about these hostels? (Social Influence, Personal Passion)
  • Do you follow hostels on social media? Why? (Social influence)

Define Phase

Screenshot of user recordings and our observations

Analysing the data

Organized data of issues observed during usability testing

Prioritizing Usability Issues

The result is depicted in the graph below which shows even if an issue has occurred once in testing, it might occur 65% of the times in the real world while if it has occurred five times in testing, it might still occur just 60% of the times in the real world.

Keeping the above result in mind, we decided to use this decision tree(shown below), created by userfocus to prioritize usability problems.

Decision tree to prioritize usability issues by userfocus.co.uk

The above decision tree shows that to compute the severity of a usability problem, it has three key attributes:

  1. Does the problem lie on the Red Route? : The red route is a route that is either frequently visited by the user or is a critical task. An example could be a user booking a hostel on the website.
  2. Is the problem difficult to overcome? : Understand whether the problem affects task completion? An example could be a functionality hidden under a right click which is hard for the user to identify and hence becomes difficult to overcome.
  3. Is the problem persistent? : Identify whether the problem exists on multiple pages? An example could be all hyperlinks on a website are not underlined, as a result the user faces the same problem in multiple pages.

Based on this matrix, the problems could therefore be categorized into critical, serious, medium or low issues.

The following is the screenshot of the prioritized usability issues based on the decision tree.

Prioritized usability issues based on the decision tree

We’re almost there. So far we have seen the entire process of how we went from understanding the challenge to talking to users to analysing and synthesising the user data. But before we jump into defining the problem statement, let’s probe into the most interesting finding we had during the usability test.

Looking into the Serious Problem

Video showing a user switching to Google Maps from the Hostelworld website

Users preferred using Google maps instead of Hostelworld map view

Ads for booking websites when searching for an hostel/hotel in Google Maps

As you can see, once the user abandons Hostelworld’s website to visit Google Maps, he can find other booking platforms offering the same property for a cheaper rate.

At the beginning of the project, we had assumed the business objective of increasing the booking conversions on the website. This particular issue could adversely affect booking conversions and might also cause a problem of retaining users.

Why were users abandoning the Hostelworld Map View?

Current issues in Hostelworld Map

Problem Definition

How might we improve the Hostelworld Map Experience?

With that we finished first, of the two diamonds in the double diamond process.

We won’t dive into detail but I would like to give you a peek into our final solution that was done by my teammates : João Araújo and Harita Sahadeva.


UX Designer at MakeMyTrip. Find me on : https://sarthakveggalam.com