To design a travel app I first had to travel - like really travel.
I don’t write as often as I’d like to. Not sure if it’s the lack of time or the excuses. This year I had one resolution, only one — no more excuses.
So here I am. Let’s get started.
Travel is infectious. Exploration is eye-opening. Discovery is necessary to live — to really live.
The project scope was manageable, the budget was small yet decent, and the creative freedom was ideal. However, it didn’t feel right to begin this project without having that proper wanderlust experience that I had heard so much about and sadly had never experienced. This app included creating and managing trip plans with friends, hosting experiences with other travelers, and exploring the world. I needed that wanderlust experience for a deeper, more empathetic understanding behind travel and how this mobile app can provide true value.
I wrote up a contract. It was returned signed. We were ready to begin. One thing stood in the way from diving in though and that was Thailand.
I’m confident the visual and interface design would have been solid, but an insightful, well rounded user experience of a travel app is lost when you haven’t shared the same life-changing, real world experiences that happens when traveling. That was my own perspective.
I had to take this trip. I had told myself and others for [many] years that I would go, that I needed to do this. I got some great travel advice over those years. One of the best pieces of advice was from a close friend recently; “Just buy your ticket then you’ll have to go.” So I did.
I purchased the $800~ flight back in the late summer. I’ve known for years where I wanted to go and the best time to visit that area — I did my research. This trip that aligned with a new client project was just destiny, but I knew I had to wait to start — I had to experience the world first. The client happily agreed to begin the work after my return. I left from my office at 5pm on a Tuesday and headed to the airport.
The next two weeks of my life were even more amazing than I could have expected — I’ll save the details for another post. I learned a lot. A lot about solo travel, a lot about different cultures, a lot about leaving expectations behind and really going with the flow. I spent five days in Bangkok, which is too much in my opinion, then seven days in Phuket with 2 days on Phi Phi Island, then followed by two final days back in Bangkok.
My biggest take away as far as the app in concerned was traveling solo and the pressures of meeting other travelers that share the same interests as you. With that said, I do not find it difficult to meet people and make friends. I have the tendency and natural ability to bring people together — but I understand how that may not be the case for everyone. I found myself hanging out with different groups every night and those people hailed from diverse backgrounds. It wasn’t until Phuket that I realized just about everyone was there to meet people and have a good time.
But what if you aren’t so great at meeting folks in-person? I wanted to approach the app’s user experience with a few core principles; empathy, familiarity, and safety.
While I was out there adventuring I was quite surprised at the large number of women traveling solo. I had the opportunity to meet and hang out with many solo travelers and groups from various regions of the world. Most seemed to be there for similar reasons I was; to meet people and create memorable experiences. People didn’t seem afraid or hesitant to travel solo. I wanted to circle that back into the app by providing users with a safe experience adventuring as well as maintaining that trust. The app promotes creating and/or joining adventures, meeting fellow travelers, and creating amazing experiences. In order to create a safe experience we decided to use a rating system similar to Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb to maintain accountability while reinforcing trust. Keeping that feedback loop of rating hosts as well as accompanying adventurers will be valuable.
Traveling isn’t easy. It’s especially not easy solo. It is definitely not easy solo while in an unfamiliar place. Although I welcomed the forewarned culture shock with open arms I understand that I am not everyone. It was a humbling reminder that I am not the user, and neither is the client, and to also reinforce empathy when pushing back on client feedback on your design decisions.
There was no real budget for user research and testing so the workaround was using my own life experiences, iterating on solutions, then guerrilla testing low fidelity prototypes with friends and family to quickly gather feedback. I wanted to make sure that my design decisions were intuitive enough for first time users to pick up on effortlessly without much thought. Using successful apps as inspiration I leaned heavily on common mental models and UI affordances for familiarity. The app housed a lot of content and not only was I testing for usability I was looking for feedback on sentiment to influence layout and content hierarchy. Is it easily scannable? Can I understand this in a glance? Are the actions clear?
With all this said I am very excited to say the app is currently in development for iOS and Android. You can find the current landing page at wandergier.com. There will be more updates and enhancements to what we’ve initially implemented, and will be adding new features as we gather valuable feedback from real world use(rs). So we ask you to be patient with us as with all young apps. We are happy with our partners in crime / development company, The Ironing Board. Luke Peake is a good friend and great designer and I know this app is in good hands.
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