Building Design Ecosystems with Red Antler

Red Antler acts as a design & strategy partner to startups looking to disrupt direct-to-consumer business models.  Well known for creating the distinguishable look and feel of Casper, Allbirds, Brandless, and Otherland, Red Antler has a visual style that almost anyone can recognize. Building fluid design ecosystems require thoughtful inquiry and we defined our approach with answers to the following questions:
At Red Antler, I worked across 10+ projects including Goby, Embroker, Glosslab, OnDeck, Territory, Fluent City, and Urban Remedy. I led digital discovery, UX research, and supported the design process while working closely with strategists, copywriters, producers, brand designers, art directors, and photographers.
“Many of the trends today in the luxury market are pointing toward one overarching theme: personalized fulfillment. At a macro level, demand is growing for the accumulation of travel memories drawn from transformative moments that resonate deeply with the individual traveler’s ideal of personal fulfillment, and his or her best aspirational version of themselves.”
- Skift

Creating a Customer Journey Map Focused On Luxury Travel

Skylark came to Red Antler to better understand the larger market of luxury travel. Through user research, a competitive analysis, and the creation of 2 user journey maps I worked to document the highs and lows of the process of booking, planning, and experiencing travel as a luxury consumer.

Through conversations with the Skylark team we gained an understanding to the level of personalization that their team takes into consideration when planning for members. They provide an overview of destinations based on preference, booking accommodations, recommending experiencing, scheduling airport pickup and drop off, and more. The Skylark team is available 24 hours a day to take care of their travelers questions or to take care of needs as they come up.

Understanding The Competitive Landscape

In order to understand the pain points of travel, I conducted a competitive audit. The travel space is extremely dense with new experiences launching frequently and it was important to understand how people begin their research and planning process. We wanted to gain insight into the tools that are leveraged as travelers work their way to a “yes”.

The travel industry is constantly experiencing algorithmic changes often triggered by the locations you research on your browser or the searches you complete in Google Flights or Expedia for example. This information can be leveraged to create dynamic and often confusing results when looking for flights, hotels, and experiences. This coupled with the planning process for a personal or family travel can be exhausting.

Leaders In The Travel Space

In the kickoff with the client we learned that Virtuoso is a long-standing leader in the luxury travel space. Their approach on digital focuses on creating experiences, and similar to American Express Travel they limit the amount of information that is readily available online.

The Skylark team also pointed us in the direction of Black Tomato, an agency that targets a younger consumer then Virtuoso and caters for solo to group travel experiences. They cast a wide net and this suggested that they are pegging their growth to the increasing rate of solo travel for millennial audiences.

The Cloak Of Invisibility & The Proposal of User Interviews

Similar to the luxury fashion industry there is a level of privacy in the luxury travel space. There is on one hand a sense of exclusivity within the space that must be maintained. On the other hand, luxury travel agencies find it increasingly important to ensure the privacy and protection of their client’s preferences and to create a sense of exclusivity within the space. As a researcher this created a bit of a bubble, and we proposed conducting user interviews to understand the metrics of success for the luxury space.

For user testing the Skylark team gave us access to 5 existing clients.  As a team of designers and strategists we ran 30 minute sessions targeted at understanding the key differences between luxury and regular travel in addition to understanding the pain points of the pre-booking, research, and planning processes. We asked questions about their travel experiences, and the ways that their previous experiences compared to their experiences with Skylark.

Luxury Travelers & Understanding Their Pain Points

Through the user interviews I began to develop an understanding of the luxury market, and realized that my hypotheses around highly personalized experiences was true. A majority of our testing participants were working professionals who traveled 2-4 times per year, often opting to extend business trips in locations abroad. Each traveler contributed to my understanding of what pain points existed in the research and planning process but also provided insights into the value of service and logistics when on the ground at their chosen destination.
- Carroll I.

Understanding The Pain Points Of Travel Agents

Through each testing session it became more clear that the process of phone tag and emailing back and forth with a travel agent was burdensome. Several participants expressed frustration with the offline process of defining what their preferences were, planning everything through forms and coordination via the telephone. Instead they preferred to have less strict guidelines about their vacation experience and wanted the flexibility to discover things on the go.
- Anna H.

Discovery Goes Wide

While all the testing participants were comfortable leveraging travel agents, a majority had booked flights and hotels themselves for luxury trips. The discovery period is wide and several mentioned that they utilized search engines such as Kayak and TripAdvisor to ensure they were getting the best pricing alongside the best experiences. It became apparent how invaluable TripAdvisor content is to anyone traveling. The ability to leverage crowdsourced reviews and specific insights from how to hack trips to must see destinations is unmatched.
While TripAdvisor does not cater to necessarily a luxury market, it does surface the most important details such as location, price, and appeal through uploaded content from thousands of people.
- Daniel H.

Deciphering the Value of Points & Miles

In user interviews there was a consistent frustration with the convoluted ways that points, miles, and travel perks could be applied for monetary value in the booking process. Several people admitted being certain that they were entitled to perks but outside of American Express Travel, few could recall if they could successfully redeem the points or miles acquired on business trips for personal travel.
- Daniel H.

How People Define Luxury

When asked to define "luxury", each participant provided a different answer. A majority of participants referenced the stresses of day to day life and wanting to have environments where they were able to decompress from life’s stressors. For some participants this includes a stay at the Ritz Carlton, but for others this meant having the opportunity to explore new possibilities and environments for them to have exciting experiences.

Synthesizing Research Finding

I synthesized research findings into 4 different buckets: Service, Logistics, Planning, and Booking. These categories were used to contextualize responses and insights from the research sessions in order to guide thinking about how to position Skylark in the luxury market. Our next step was to leverage these findings through the development of a customer journey map specific to the luxury travel market. We also needed to design a travel planning and booking process which differentiated the brand.

Defining Areas Of Improvement In Pre-Booking & Travel Prep

The areas of improvement we identified were specific to Skylark’s website and mobile app interface. Several participants indicated that their primary interaction with Skylark was through phone calls and email, they rarely interacted with the website and few participants knew that a mobile app existed. I defined opportunities for the team to improve their digital experience specifically to support the discovery and preparation process.

Travel Specific Customer Journey Map

I created a customer journey map that told a story about the highs and low of the overall of travel industry and provided suggestions to Skylark in areas where they could differentiate themselves from competitors. I contextualized this map with pain points, challenges, and major takeaways from our user testing. This overview was intended to provide the Skylark team with data points in order to inform experience design versus their specific customer journey map.

Defining Areas Of Improvement In Pre-Booking & Travel Prep

The areas of improvement we identified were specific to Skylark’s website and mobile app interface. Several participants indicated that their primary interaction with Skylark was through phone calls and email, they rarely interacted with the website and few participants knew that a mobile app existed. I defined opportunities for the team to improve their digital experience specifically to support the discovery and preparation process.

Skylark Customer Journey Map

I designed the Skylark customer journey map based on the user interviews that highlighted the highs and lows across their product. To package this up for the Skylark, we prepared a client presentation to walk through the design and research that went into the creation of each map. We provided slides that contextualized the user interview findings and synthesized areas of impact. During the walk through of the customer journey map we provided insights on pre-booking, planning & research, booking process, pre-trip, airport experience, on ground, trip back, and post trip.

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