This summer we have been lucky enough to roam freely at FINNs offices in Central Oslo. Six hopeful students entered the office in mid-June, excited about the eight weeks ahead. The first week was a whirlwind of new information and new people, as we got to know FINN first hand. The team consisted of two designers and four developers, coming from different universities in Norway.
Our challenge for the summer was:
“FINN’s travel services are very effective if you know where and when you want to go. However, if you haven’t decided, FINN doesn’t offer much help.”
So, in other words: how can we inspire and help users of FINN to find trips they otherwise wouldn’t have discovered? And of course we had to do it “the FINN way”.
Just like with most new projects, when starting out, you have more questions than answers. We also had a few: what are people’s needs when booking trips? What is FINN doing today? What is happening in the travel market in general? And did someone mention going live in seven weeks?!
Even though we had strong beliefs in our abilities as an interdisciplinary team, we were lucky enough to have amazing and resourceful supervisors guiding us through the summer.
As FINN has a lot of data on prepackage trips; holidays that include both flight and hotel, our challenge was scoped to use this as a starting point. The existing prepackage search, which is a part of FINN’s travel application, can be a bit overwhelming, with around 15 million results. We wanted to simplify the process of discovering the best results, and limit the number of results to an amount that was more manageable.
To get started with the project, we read up on the insights FINN already had on the user experience of booking prepackage trips, including user surveys, user tests, workshops and presentations. Afterwards, we decided it was time to talk to some users ourselves! From the user interviews we learned that people find travel inspiration on many different platforms. Also, they always have some preferences when they start hunting for inspiration, where price and images play key parts. So, how could we make a service meeting people who are not ready to dig into the nitty gritty details of booking a holiday, and present them with results that are relevant, inspirational and appealing?
In parallel to this, the developers spent some time learning how FINN’s infrastructure work, and all of their terms and technologies. An important step in the process was looking into what data we could get our hands on. Combining FINN’s data with other data sources like weather, maps and events opened many opportunities.
We wanted to try out functional programming in a real-world application. After a little discussion and experimentation, we decided to write the backend in Scala. For the frontend, we used React with TypeScript. React was an easy decision since FINN has plenty of ready-made React components, giving us a much-needed boost to get the app live in just seven weeks. To get started, we put up our first application, while trying not to take down FINN doing so.
We were constantly sharing our findings as a team, and pulled it all together into an ideation workshop. Many a crazy idea was shared, as should be in these sessions, but always ensuring real insights made up the foundation. With many ideas comes great responsibility, so we had to choose just a couple to dive into. To make sure we stayed on track with our goals, the ideas were evaluated based on some criteria:
- Does it give value to users?
- Does it give value to FINN?
- Can we pull it off in seven weeks?
- Is it scalable?
After hours and hours of brainstorming, we landed our concept. The concept we believed to be the best was something we called ReiseFinneren. It revolves around presenting destinations with the most favorable prices, instead of specific prepackage trips. ReiseFinneren makes room for exploring new destinations based on your needs, and at the same time takes the very important price aspect into the equation. Through multiple prototyping and user testing iterations, the concept has evolved into what you see on FINN today.
ReiseFinneren starts out by asking a few questions which are quick and easy to answer, and presents holiday destinations based on this input. The design is mobile first, as people tend to search for inspiration on the go. The questions are presented one by one, letting the user easily focus on one thing at a time. The user is presented with questions about when to travel, the length of the trip, preferred temperature and whether it should be a family friendly trip. Next, we present relevant destinations, sorted by price, to help you find the best offers. You can browse the available destinations, and when you find something you like, we take you right to FINN’s prepackage search to choose your hotel and flight. By splitting the process into sections like this, it becomes easier to find the right holiday for you in the haystack of available options.
So how does it work? When the user has answered all the questions, we start filtering destinations behind the scenes. We access a climate API to remove all destinations that are too warm or cold, and apply a “family friendliness filter” to remove destinations that doesn’t fit the user’s preferences. Then, we do a lookup in the prepackage database to find prices, ratings and other data about the cheapest package for each destination.
Eventually, the solution was ready and we decided to go live on Friday, one week before the project was over. There were still a few things left to fix, so by the time we were done it was just about time to head home. Despite developer best practices we decided to put our website live for FINN’s 6.5 million users, on a Friday, to leave running over the weekend. Thankfully, it all worked out fine, so you can now find us here: https://www.finn.no/reise/oppdag-destinasjoner
Before handing over our product, we shared some ideas on further development of the application with FINN. The next step should be to add a separate page for each destination, with useful information about attractions, weather, prices and so on. Our future vision also includes broadening the spectrum of categories to divide destinations into, and to adjust the input questions based on the chosen category. For example, choosing a beach holiday should yield different questions than a sightseeing trip. We also know that bookings are mostly done on desktop, so to simplify the transition to booking, an option to save a destination to a user’s profile could be added. This way, it is possible to browse while on the go, and easily continue the process later on desktop.
Wrapping this post up, we must say we have had a FINNtastic summer. It’s been great getting to know FINN, all its people and working on a challenging and interesting project. This summer’s highlight (although nerve wracking) must definitely be going live on FINN! If someone reading this wants to do something really cool next summer, they should apply for the summer internship at FINN. Or book a holiday with ReiseFinneren :)
Greetings from the summer interns of 2019,
Eivind Dagsland Halderaker,
Ingvild Unander Netland,