British Airways — a UX case study

Jon Marshall
Sep 4 · 1 min read

Introduction

I was hired by Bio Agency as a freelance UX lead in mid 2016 to deliver nine pitch-winning ideas for British Airways’ iOS app.

Post-pitch kick-off workshop

I held a kick-off workshop so we could understand the pitch winning ideas in more detail and so we could understand the existing experience at BA’s largest airport (Heathrow T5 in London). We mapped the typical customer journey through the airport and the various triggers in-app that we might need to create/use.

We used swim-lanes to capture the MVP (and beyond) for each pitch-winning idea and started to document any tech complexity (or equivalent blockers) that needed exploring further.

Post-workshop we also created a wall documenting the existing app IA. The existing BA app (in 2014) had the following features:

  • A ‘dashboard’ home screen themed around your next destination
  • Inspirational planning: match your needs to a location, or choose a country and view the cities you can visit
  • Flight booking (completed on the web)
  • Flight management
  • Airport map PDF and a downloadable boarding pass at the airport
  • Account login and amend details
  • Flight status and schedules

Customer needs

I used a large customer needs wheel to start to map app features (and competitor/potential features) across three stages in the customer lifecycle. We were steered away from the curiosity phase (discovering BA and downloading their app) as this was being dealt with by BA’s brand and marketing pillar.

Most of the pitch-winning ideas were about improving the experience after a customer arrives at the airport, but I wanted to understand the broader context for customers so we could craft better experiences.

Customer journeys

Bio are excellent at service design and so customer journeys were an important part of our process. We used them to highlight opportunities for BA’s (existing) personae across BA’s typical touchpoints: planning, booking, flying, earning and re-living.

Customer segments

I also encouraged the team to map their experiences (per feature) across BA’s customer segments. For example: ‘Skip the gate queue’ functionality for families is a great way of giving them more space to get settled for the flight. But for passengers with a fear of flying, or business passengers using airport WiFi, they might prefer to board the plane as the last possible moment.

Mapping tech complexity

One of the most challenging aspects of this project was dealing with legacy systems and very complicated data handling. It was important to lean on (excellent) business analysts to understand the exact implications of selling a last-minute seat upgrade at the airport gate (for example).

I collaborated with business analysts to map everything in LucidChart, we ensured each new data point in the suggested flow would be accessible.

Evolving the design system

Another aspect of this project was trying to align the legacy app core flows with the new direction of the pitch-winning ideas/flows. The legacy flows often resembled a web-app, whereas we were converting the new flows into a series of super-simple (yet engaging) moments.

We decided to overcome this problem by creating a new unified design system that would work for both old and new. We created component libraries and trialled some different approaches for the core app flows.

The Timeline

After our first sprint we realised we would need a new unifying ‘home’ experience to enable passengers to understand our revised IA. We tried a few solutions before settling on ‘The Timeline’ which had a superior mental model, but also leveraged ribbon notifications and auto-scrolling to aid focussing. I head-to-head tested the timeline against the existing experience and it was well-received with lots of unprompted positive sentiment.

User-testing each feature

We recruited BA’s typical customer (not necessarily an existing customer) via a third party and conducted user testing sessions on-site at Bio. Everyone wrote scripts for each other and we tried to mix up the testing pairs/flows as much as possible so that everyone had visibility of each-other’s work (and to avoid self-moderation).

I collated the testing feedback by running a small workshop so that research moderators could agree on the majority-case feedback. We used ‘All’, ‘Most’, ‘Some’, ‘A few’, ‘A couple’ and ‘One participant’ scoring (across six participants per feature).

Finally I collated our findings into a user testing report that documented the findings from each sprint, this document was then presented to stakeholders for sign-off.

Managing stakeholders

We had a few different stakeholders: British Airways POs working on-site at Bio, as well as the new CEO’s feedback directly. Stakeholders were very warm towards the user testing reports and liked that we were working in a transparent fashion. It was a huge success that the reasons behind various UX decisions could be shared by any member of the team, at any time.

We held regular design feedback sessions (which involved Bio’s creative director too). By agreeing the best way of giving appropriate feedback we fostered an environment of supportive collaboration. The design system and our latest flows were always on display.

Handoff to dev

Another of the more challenging elements to this project was working with a remote dev team. This was compounded by the existing app being transferred from an old partner to a new one. I helped to mitigate some of this risk by talking with Tech Mahindra’s technical architects directly (who were also on-site at Bio).

Tech Mahindra had visibility of our LucidChart maps and were involved in any new feature kick-off. For example: the implications of upgrading a passenger’s seat after they’ve already checked-in; or how it might be possible to pay for overweight baggage at the check-in desk using digital credits in-app. I also captured all the various states of each flow, which started to become especially complicated for the timeline!

Disruptions workstream

After working in fortnightly sprints to deliver the pitch ideas I was put in charge of a new disruptions work stream which was tasked with radically improving flight delay and cancellation experiences for BA passengers.

Defining the brief

The kick-off for this work stream involved understanding the precise legal obligation of BA during times of flight disruption and the existing logic they used to match passengers to flights, hotels, food/drink, taxis and/or refunds. I then started crafting experiences that would exceed expectations.

Once the brief had been fully defined, I broke the work down into individual flows that would each fit into a design sprint. Project managers could then plan/cost the work accordingly:

  • Tweaks to the timeline,
  • Ongoing disruption updates,
  • View your passenger rights/contact BA,
  • Confirm matched flight/request a refund,
  • Select an alternative flight,
  • Purchase food/drinks using the app as payment,
  • Confirm matched hotel/select alternative,
  • Plan journey to/from the hotel,
  • Photograph your expenses/receipts and submit digitally.

User-centric design

The next step was to empathise with passengers that had experienced flight disruption, which was achieved by interviewing real customers as well as talking to users of frequent-flyer forums.

With user needs informing the priority of functionality, I started working in the same fashion as before: fortnightly design sprints.

Summary

In total our team was 3 UXers, 3 UI designers, 3 business analysts and rotating project managers. We consulted with devs (Tech Mahindra) to ensure the work was feasible. We worked in fortnightly design sprints and ensured a thorough handoff to dev at the end of each sprint.

Delivering the pitch-winning ideas took 3 months and I then led the smaller disruptions work stream (2 UXers, 2 UI designers, 1 business analyst) for a further 3 months.

Awards

BIMA awarded BA the 2018 innovation award for their in-app experience.

    Jon Marshall

    Written by

    Freelance UX expert: I enjoy solving problems with insightful research, intuitive flows and elegant interfaces. I’m now back in London, after 2 years in Paris.

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