Week 2 @ Clearleft

Week 2 saw the start of our three-week design sprint with the Virgin Holidays team. We started by introducing ourselves, chatting about the project goals and sharing background information. The focus of the project is on ‘experiences’, which can be interpreted in a few ways. The essence of it is to focus on the experience of being on holiday and try to make that more central to the way that customers discover the ideal holiday for them. So rather than destination and dates being the starting point, looking at what other factors drive decision-making.

Our project team is made up of four tech and design guys from Virgin and three visual designers from Clearleft and me. We also had some visitors from Virgin HQ on the first couple of days to fill us in on their points of view. It seems that everyone has a slightly different angle, and it was interesting to hear them all and overlay that with our own discussions. One of the elements we spent a lot of time dissecting was the customer personas. Virgin has several different sets of personas, but we honed in on one set that the marketing team had created. We identified two of the four personas as being most relevant to this project:

  1. Hayley, 46, the time poor mother of teenagers, looking for the easiest way to find a holiday that will keep the family happy.
  2. Dave, 59, the seasoned traveller and empty nester, who loves to explore new places and takes pleasure in researching exciting destinations and the bragging rights he gets after visiting them.

We spent some time creating customer journey maps for each of our two personas, following each step they would take in researching and booking a holiday. We then expanded on that by considering actions, questions, happy moments and pain points that apply to each stage. This rounded out our sense of the end to end process that our target audience is following.

A challenge statement helps to create a unified focus as a team, so we worked together to come up with this one for our project:

WHO & WHAT: To reimagine how our customers discover and plan their holidays.

WHY: Because there’s more to a holiday than a flight and hotel. By allowing our customers to plan holidays based on what matters to them, we can help them create richer, more relevant travel experiences.

HOW: Through a smart, frictionless user experience from a brand they trust, we can empower people to do more with their holidays.

I think this summarises clearly exactly what we’re trying to achieve and establishes sensible parameters around the project scope.

On Thursday we all did some competitor research, visiting high street and shopping centre branches of a number of other travel agents. It was fun to go undercover and explore the holiday booking process from a different perspective. I’m finding a lot that I can identify with in our exploration of the various ways that people approach holidays. This process has made me reflect more on my own motivations, preferences and behaviours when it comes to holidays, and I’ve picked up a few handy tips along the way. I found my experience at the travel agent quite positive, with the agent quickly identifying my priorities and narrowing down options for me. She was knowledgeable about the location and she presented some of the benefits of booking through them clearly without ever launching into anything resembling a hard sell. I wouldn’t normally go into a travel agent but I could why people see value in chatting to someone in person to get reassurance before parting with their hard-earned cash. We compared notes on Friday to see how everyone’s experiences differed. There were some similarities, like the importance of weather in many of the conversations, but some stark differences in service quality. One travel agent went over and above, even offering to share his own holiday snaps of the location he was recommending. What was consistent, was the agents’ desire to identify a target destination, or at least a short list, and move you down the decision funnel as quickly as possible.

We also interviewed the manager at one of Virgin Holidays’ flagship shops. She had some really interesting insights about customers’ thought processes when booking holidays. The comment she made that really struck a chord with me was that people go into the shop after browsing the website because they want reassurance that a holiday is right for them before they buy. Enabling customers to get that type of comfort from an online experience could be key to this project. The Virgin retail staff were clearly highly professional and motivated. The in-store experience was head and shoulders above any of the other travel agents we visited. They bring the brand to life in an engaging and unique way, that isn’t quite carrying over to the online presence yet. But hopefully we can improve that.

At lunchtime on Friday I gave my introduction presentation to everyone that was around, which I guess was probably half the total team. I’d been working hard on it as I really wanted it to go well. I always struggle with public speaking, which is contrary to my somewhat gregarious nature, but I guess everyone is afraid of something. That aside, it seemed to go well and I got a few laughs along the way.

Friday afternoon was spent sketching the beginnings of our ideas. We divided an A2 piece of paper into 6 boxes and spent 15 minutes filling each box with a rough sketch of an interface idea to answer a specific challenge, like enabling users to customise their itinerary or providing a search interface for users who didn’t know where they wanted to go. This was challenging for me as drawing is definitely not in my wheelhouse, but it was inspiring to see the incredible work that the Clearlefties came up with. It gave me something to aim for and I’m hoping I can pick up some tips to improve my sketching while I’m here.

Next we did an exercise called design consequences, where you start by drawing a page that will be the starting point of your user’s journey, then handing it to the person next to you who chooses one link from your page and sketches what they believe they will see when they follow that link. Then we handed them around again and repeated the exercise to produce a third page. Here’s an example of a three-page journey (the last one is mine):

And after we’d finished that it was time for the Clearleft Summer BBQ, with some lethal cocktails and a chance to let off a little steam after an intense week. I can’t believe that two weeks have gone already, only ten more to go. I fear my time here will flash by in the blink of an eye. I’ve already learned so much and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I hope I can do them justice with the work I produce.

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