Stop designing for likes! How empathic UX design helped us revolutionize hotel TV
Reimagining hotel TV was an extremely difficult and demanding assignment which required a deep understanding of the hospitality industry. Find out how empathic UX design helped us achieve that goal.
Content management systems in large organizations are usually built as dedicated, well-thought solutions. However, in small or medium institutions they are often neglected. Usually, they are based on ready-made solutions which are deficient when it comes to UX or UI.
Designers tend to create appealing and functional interfaces for end-users, put amazing case studies on display on Behance, Dribble and so on but it seems like they don’t care about people who administer these systems. One thing that comes to mind is: why the hell CMSs are usually so poorly designed?
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are a lot of designers who work hard and responsibly on every aspect of the apps they create. But I can’t shake the feeling that designing CMS is like the iPhone X’s notch — nobody wants it, but we all have to live with it.
One of my first tasks at RIOT was to redefine the hotel TV experience. Our client was aiming at premium class hotels (4- and 5-stars). Sounds like a dream project, right? Especially when you have the possibility of conducting a research in such hotels. If you want to find out what it took to achieve our goal, read on!
During my research, I determined three main audiences among hotel guests: tourists, business guests, and organized groups. Each of those types has various needs, therefore we had to design a system that includes all of them.
One of the issues that were indicated by all three groups were communication problems: guests often found traditional ways of contacting staff inconvenient. They felt uncomfortable when receptionists didn’t speak the same language they did, or when they did not receive full information about additional features provided by the hotel.
We decided to create a system that informs guests about services offered by the hotel (like a spa or a restaurant). Guests can choose an activity they’re interested in (for example book a table at the hotel restaurant). The system notifies the receptionist, who contacts guests in order to confirm the reservation. It’s a resolution that smoothes the communication process for both sides.
It turned out that the needs of the hotel staff were much more complicated and demanding than those of the guests. During interviews, I realized that one of hotel staff’s biggest issues is the communication noise. They are constantly receiving information from various sources: ranging from telephones, to property management system, e-mail inquiries and to guests asking for a fresh set of towels. Adding another system makes sense only if it makes hotel staff’s work easier and better organized. That information provided a significant impetus to design a dedicated CMS. Funny thing — still a lot of premium class hotels use the good old graph-ruled notebook as their booking system…
The system was extremely complex and complicated. For that reason, it required extra care in creating as readable and logical architecture as possible. It needed to be clear for CMS administrators and also for developers, who implement the system.
While building the CMS, I designed DFDs — diagrams which helped our developers understand the way that data flows through the system. It allowed us to create a suitable architecture of the database and plan early stages of the developing team’s work.
Having the results of my research, I analyzed them and thought the architecture of the system along with its hierarchy through. After that I could finally start creating functional mock-ups. Working side by side with a digital designer allowed me to create lo-fi mock-ups and to consult details on hi-fi graphic designs. It was a very satisfying solution for both sides — usually, graphic designers don’t want to just “color mock-ups” — they’d rather take part in the project more actively. It also allowed me to spend time on making some high-level decisions concerning the project.
Eventually, we managed to create a CMS that will revolutionize the hospitality industry. I’ve listed five main features of the system that make it so unique and innovative:
- Managing guests and groups
One of the biggest challenges in the project was creating a simple mechanism that adds guests to the system and creates groups.
Most of the hotels use property management systems that allow administering the history of guest’s visits to the hotel. Our intention wasn’t to duplicate already existing functionalities, so we wanted to integrate both systems.
During research, it turned out that there’s plenty of property management software on the market and almost every hotel uses a different one — therefore we plan to integrate these systems during implementations at the hotels.
However, the CMS is fully functional even without the integration. For that reason, we decided to limit data required for the registration process to the necessary minimum. In order to sign the guest up to the system, hotel staff needs only the information about the time of their stay and room they’re occupying. The rest of the settings is optional, with a possibility of attributing default settings (e.g. guest’s language preferences).
The modules behind managing guests and groups enable, among others:
- Sending notifications to individual guests and groups;
- Attributing recommendations to individual guests and groups;
- Checking notifications sent by a hotel guest;
- Searching guests by adequate parameters.
- Recommendation management system
One of the main features of our system is the individual recommendations for individual guests or groups. Every new guest in the system is automatically attributed to a default group, where the recommendations are set by system administrators. You can easily create a personalized list of recommendations when your hotel guest is someone like, let’s say, Dan Bilzerian. The recommended services should vary for him and for a pair of older people with their grandchildren.
Administrators of the system can search through a full list of services and distinguish those that they want to recommend. After turning the TV on, guests receive a list of services recommended just for them.
- Conference module
Premium class hotels are prepared to host meetings for large audiences. Usually, such conferences last for 2–3 days, are held in hotel conference rooms and participants stay at the hotel during that time.
For that reason, we decided to create a conference module in our system. We designed a tool in the CMS that enables ascribing conferences to groups of guests and creating agendas.
Guests receive notifications on their TVs or via SMS (if they allowed it) about upcoming items on the agenda of the conference they’re attending. The system is also integrated with a module of tablets that are placed in front of conference rooms. Guests can find out which item on the agenda is being processed at the moment and they can also see all of the items.
- Notification system
One of the solutions we implemented was a non-invasive system of notifications, which the staff can acknowledge, but doesn’t have to interact with instantly. The platform also allows sending notifications to all of the hotel guests in cases that usually required calling them one by one.
Marketing departments at every hotel were interested in receiving information about their guest’s interests. Content management system we provided gathers data about guests’ actions, such as the modules or Android apps they use frequently, how much time they spend using particular features of the system, how many notifications they send etc. This information is displayed on coherent charts that help hotel staff learn more about their guests’ needs and come up with solutions that make their stay more comfortable.
That was the most complex and demanding project I have ever worked on. Holistic design process began with defining assumptions, then researching, creating mock-ups and ended with implementing a fully functional system. Apart from learning more about UX, I came to a few important conclusions:
- All of the decisions have to be made even if they aren’t the best. Usually, there’s not enough time nor the budget for all the research and tests needed. Nevertheless, there’s a deadline to meet and there can be no excuses. The worst possible choice is to procrastinate with any decision, especially when the project is coming to an end. It’s hard from designer’s perspective — I think that everyone would like to have all the details of the project perfected. As Charles Eames once said: “The details are not the details. They make the design”.
- The project also taught me that not everything has to be designed ideally in the first iteration. Sometimes you just have to let it go and hope that next iteration will be based on just perfecting an existing product.
- Designing with limited budget and technology requires choosing solutions that may not always be the best from designer’s point of view but meet client’s needs. It’s great to design without such restraints and create almost perfect designs, but it’s not what my job is about. It may sound trivial, but that’s one of the things that helped me understand the essence of design.
- UX designer’s job in big projects does not end at any stage of the process. In order to design the system well, I had to put myself in researcher’s shoes, then think like a true systems architect. I took a holistic approach when it comes to the UX layer of the project.
Designing a CMS turned out to be a way harder task than creating the hotel TV system. We feel like our CMS is a tool that will help make hotel staff’s job easier. Soon the project will be implemented in premium class hotels and will still be optimized by us — we’ll keep on adding new functionalities and develop it as we go.