How can TripAdvisor improve its user experience?

That’s the question that interested me when I started on a 2 week project to study and review its user experience with two friends, Derrick and Shuk.

While I am not a huge travel fan, I know many of my friends use TripAdvisor as part of their research while travelling, and would like to understand its appeal.

Research Process

First, we defined which part of TripAdvisor we wanted to study, and decided to focus on its restaurants section. We believe that most of our findings will be relevant to the other sections as well.

Then, we defined our target audience — the travel planners who plan for food in a foreign country.

Next, we defined the relevant stakeholders — in this case TripAdvisor, the travellers, and the restaurants on its site.

We took a three pronged approach to begin our research:

  1. User Interviews of Travel Planners to understand their goals and habits when researching for food overseas
  2. Studying TripAdvisor’s Business Goals through its financial reports and meeting up with an employee from TripAdvisor.
  3. Doing a heuristic review of TripAdvisor’s current website, as well as comparing it to some of it competitors (Yelp, Foursquare, Opentable, Burpple).

User interview findings

Based on our user interviews, we discovered that TripAdvisor only plays a small part of a travel planner’s usual research.

That’s because most travel planners go to google and friends for their first stop for information.

Most of them also trust their friend’s recommendations much more than anything they read online, and they have a general distrust of online reviews because they’re not sure which of them are paid for.

From these findings, we decided to design for these two personas:

We also did a customer journey mapping to understand where they experience the most frustration during their travel planning process.

Business Goals Findings

We learnt from TripAdvisor that their goal is to provide a one stop solution to a traveller’s research, review, and booking for the entire trip.

Their competitive advantage lies in its huge database of user reviews, and the smart tags on each listing have been found to be very useful to the users. That was interesting, because it was one of the features we intended to remove. We had the misconception that led to information overload for the users. We eventually kept the smart tags on the listings page.

Its core business is through advertisements for hotels and restaurants, and it has recently added a new feature to allow users to book through TripAdvisor for these hotels and restaurants — also a revenue generating feature.

While they acknowledge that business goals sometimes conflicts with user goals, they are committed to balancing both so that the business goals do not impede a user from finding what they need.

Here are some of the key focuses and goals for its next financial year:

Problem Statement

Based on the research, we decided to focus on users being able to create lists of restaurants, and share them with friends. We also want to build a system that encourages people to review restaurants, and browse other friend’s shared lists.

Current Website Study Findings

Having decided on our goals, we observed some people use TripAdvisor’s current site to accomplish simple tasks such as finding a restaurant, saving it to a list, and sharing it with friends.

We realised that sharing was much more obvious on the other sites compared to on TripAdvisor, and it took us more time to discover TripAdvisor’s itinerary feature.

In fact, some of the users we interviewed, who used TripAdvisor frequently, do not even know of this feature!


Because we were exploring responsive design, we first made a paper prototype on Invison in a mobile web size.

We tested this with 3 people, and refined some of it features, before doing a more hi-fidelity prototype in Axure here.

Prototyping Iteration 2

Here are two videos that I made to show how Matthew and Catherine will use these new features on the TripAdvisor site:

However, after testing this prototype with 5 users, we discovered a few things we have overlooked, and some things we broke while trying to fix it.

Here’s our slides link if you want to find out more:

Things I’ve Learnt

  1. Designing a new feature into an existing site is not easy! It takes alot of research to guide the prototypes, and even after two rounds of prototyping, there are still many things we broke while trying to fix it.
  2. Working with other people is very enjoyable, especially when they are as dedicated to solving the issue. I learnt about video making in iMovie from Derrick, and alot of marketing and people skills from Shuk.