by Aaron Fries
With the holiday season fast upon us, people everywhere are scrambling to make some final holiday travel plans. We thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look at a great example of how one aspect of usability can impact user experience, and even provide a competitive advantage.
Booking travel online has become the primary way to plan travel—it’s fast, convenient, and almost always provides the best price on airfare, hotel, and other costs. But there are a lot of sites competing for attention. Why use one site over another? They can all find flights, so what makes one more useful than another to a potential customer? Offering users superior control and flexibility over how they search and display travel information is a great way to stand out.
We took a look at Kayak.com as an example of a best practice in user control and feedback in a relatively complex search experience. At every step of the process, Kayak’s layout and functionality clearly anticipates users’ needs in a rather elegant way.
Let’s say we want to fly from the San Francisco bay area to New York. Both metro areas have a few major airports, so Kayak offers the ability to include nearby airports in the search. That will allow us to compare a flight fares in the same results and let us decide which airport we should arrive or leave from.
Before we even hit the friendly orange search button, Kayak is already telling us over on the right what the best fares are on all the days of the current month, offering a quick link to see the fares for that day.
Once we run the search, Kayak offers some really smart features that let you pinpoint exactly the flight you want. What if we need to arrive by 8pm, but we can’t leave until 9am? Most travel sites simply let you specify a Morning, Afternoon, or Evening set of options. With Kayak, users can use sliders to specific time ranges for landing and takeoff, for both departing and arriving. On top of that, we don’t need to run the search again—it automatically updates.
So now we’ve got a short list of reasonable flight options. If we want to get really picky, we can choose results by all sorts of common travel variables. Price range, specific airlines, layover duration, aircraft type, no red-eye, are all options that users have control over. Would you rather see that price in Euros? Kayak has you covered there too. By the time you have made all your choices you have a list of results customized just for you.
All of the controls are easily accessible on the left hand side, and all the results update automatically. The user is never required to go to another page to find what they want because they are offered complete control and feedback in a single place.
By designing a system that deeply understands what users want to know and allows them to refine on the fly based on real-time feedback, Kayak delivers a unique experience that users will remember and return to every time they need to perform the task of finding not just the best fare, but the best fare that fits their specific needs.