Lessons in Airline UX/UI: how to design a customer-centric experience

Getting personal: How design influences customer centricity

By taking a customer-centric approach and considering all phases of the customer journey, airlines can ensure that users are getting relevant information at the right time. The user experience and interface design are crucial parts to achieve this relevant and seamless experience, with real-time personalisation strategies.

In conversation with Mark Otero, Experience Design Director at Branchspace, November 2022.

How would you describe the core digital experiences for aviation and travel?

For aviation and travel, the experience normally starts with the planning and dreaming of the trip. The journey continues with booking. Then there might be changes coming up in the period to actual travel, date changes or adding additional products and services such as accommodation, rent a car, a theatre visit and more. On the day of travel, customers might think about booking fast track and pre-ordering a meal to be delivered to the gate before heading to the airport. And during the flight and at the destination customers might think about more services that could enhance their experience. All of this can happen on the website, or increasingly via the mobile app.

Can you give a concrete example of how you designed a digital experience?

Let me take the example of Air Malta. Air Malta tasked Branchspace to create a seamless end-to-end digital experience for their customers with the ability to continuously improve the customer proposition, whilst enabling customers to fly their way.

Branchspace approached this task with a customer-centric methodology. The way we could achieve this was to first examine the customer journey and consider what tasks were most important to users. We identified three core stages for users: inspiration, shopping, and trip management. By defining the key user needs across the customer journey, we could begin to approach each stage and consider what the user was trying to achieve at each stage.

Can you give concrete examples of the key user needs and how you addressed this in the design of the experience?

There were two main customer segments to consider for the digital experience – those looking to visit Malta and native Maltese looking to book a trip internationally. When looking at inspiring users, a contextualised approach delivers relevant content to the right audience, making for a more personalised experience.

To inspire users on the website portal, we designed an inspiration widget which gives users the ability to select a few parameters such as the type of holiday they were seeking and with whom they’re travelling. Through those quick interactions, the user is presented with suggested destinations that they could explore further. As a user is redirected to the destination page, users can learn more about what is on offer and have direct access to the booking flow for increased conversion.

Thank you. Very interesting. I have always been thinking that for new customers the inspiration part is the best to start contact with the customer. Airlines tend to suggest an immediate booking and route decision instead, which might often not appeal to customers.

And what does this mean for the shopping stage of the journey?

As users move into the shopping stage of the journey, it’s important to maintain visual consistency and contextualisation throughout the experience. With this in mind, we created a flexible design system to create a consistent user experience for all users.

When it comes to flight shopping, there are many personas to consider, bringing contextualisation to the forefront. To achieve this, we created a modular design system which consists of repeatable components that could be prioritised or deemphasised for different personas. For instance, if we know a user is making a one-way trip on a business class ticket, the modules can transform to prioritise services most relevant to that user and de-emphasise ancillaries that are less relevant. With a more focused UX, users can move through the experience more quickly and with less noise.

Increasingly travellers want to decide about additional elements of their journey at a later stage. Mobile is becoming increasingly important for this. What can you tell us about this?

In fact, on-the-go Trip Management is becoming increasingly important. And users demand a mobile experience for trip management, whether that’s the ability to change seats, add fast track before the trip, or view their trip details and boarding pass.

The Air Malta app was designed to provide relevant real-time information to our users, whilst allowing them to add or modify their trip within the app. An adaptive home screen prioritises the most relevant actions to a user at the right time. We designed a card-based layout for the home screen, which creates a flexible component structure that can easily adapt based on where the customer is in their journey.  If we know the user is a month from the trip, the primary action is to manage the trip – if it’s the day of travel, check-in or boarding passes are displayed in their place. Persistent travel detail elements remain, but actions and user needs are adjusted.

What are your recommendations for airlines?

By taking a customer-centric approach and considering all phases of the customer journey, airlines can ensure that users are getting relevant information at the right time. In doing so, they must also consider the UX/UI across all those touch points. With a component library and flexible design system, users will enjoy a consistent user experience whilst also having a user experience that is relevant and seamless.