Weevil Labs Weekly Report
Week 12 | 20 Mar — 24 Mar
This week, our team debriefed after our research trips, compared notes on interviews of frequent travelers, and began assembling a preliminary synthesis of discoveries for our upcoming mid-semester presentation.
On Wednesday, we gathered to share our evaluations of the hotels we’d visited, selected because of their innovative integration of technology. Our research consisted of fly-on-the-wall observations, a critical examination of service touchpoints, and interviews with managerial staff. We consistently found that many tech solutions were implemented in ways that felt clumsy, conspicuous, and gimmicky:
- Tablets in lobbies that served to provide recommendations of local attractions or inform the guest of hotel amenities often felt gratuitous and ostentatious, and seldom functioned in a meaningful or satisfying way. We noticed that the common spaces in which they were found were usually crafted to accommodate open interaction and promote “buzz”, but fixed, personal tablets reversed this social engineering and introduced a tension between two design impulses.
- When available, we found in-room interactive panels to be easier to use than mobile apps, which required a download, sign up, and lots of nested tapping to perform a basic function.
- Mobile apps were generally disappointing: Content felt stale and trite, and when promotions were featured, it felt like they served the hotels’ interests more than those of the guests. In some cases, mobile apps were even destructive to the user experience, for reasons including severe bugs, overheating the phone, or requiring a vast number of permissions for download. The best apps were those that linked to content curated by external professionals, like a local events website.
Some tech choices added great value, however:
- Control panels placed by the bed that allowed the guest to manipulate lights (full light, dim light, reading light, and darkness) and choose housekeeping preferences (“do not disturb”, “make up room”, etc) were welcome.
- Self-serve check-in kiosks with keycard activation were also a big hit.
- Context-aware messages on a digital panel in the elevator (“You’re awake, early bird: Check out is not until 10am”) were appreciated, and served to softly promote the brand.
This week we had also conducted interviews with “expert travelers”: Individuals who travel frequently and have developed routines and expectations. This exercise drew thoughtful answers and we decided to continue exploring this domain with rolling interviews. Among other findings, we seek to learn what travelers need to bring or acquire on their visits, how they appraise the validity (i.e., personal application) of recommendations, how they characterize features of “authenticity” at their destinations, and whether/how they interact with other tourists and locals.
At this point in our research, we’ve begun to identify and crystallize our findings into problem spaces that are worth pursuing as well as those that seem less fruitful. We see opportunities around re-framing what it means to be a “tourist”, supporting the needs of currently underserved guest personas, connecting visitors to other visitors/locals, and connecting visitors to stronger itinerary recommendations. We also know we want to avoid standalone technical solutions, which are often unsustainable and superfluous (one manager described his hotel’s app as “merely a gadget”), even when a hotel employs full-time IT staff.
As we approach the ideation phase, we are reminded that slapping technology onto a problem will not be effective. Much of the technology we encountered seemed to be part of the theme of the hotels visited but rarely boosted the service quality — we want to avoid solutions that “sprinkle some screens” onto the current offerings. Our challenge will be to find a way to substantially improve the service or allow the hotel to offer something new. Narrowing our design scope to a more targeted diagnosis should lead to specific, actionable solutions.