Site Redesign: When Hell Freezes Over Use a Blowtorch


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Hotwire is a data-driven company: all projects have to have clear financial return; all customer interactions - purchase, quote, drop-off and click rates - are closely tracked. As a result, there was never enough support from the numbers alone to complete a redesign since Hotwire’s launch. So, when hell freezes over… use a blowtorch.

Based on my experience driving the first successful Site Redesign at Hotwire, I will share strategies and tactics to:
* Sell your large-scale UX project, gaining support from executives and approval to
augment UX and Engineering staff to resource the effort.
* Make your project happen by creatively distributing the work, all while showcasing UX
leadership and maintaining momentum toward completion.
* Demonstrate UX successes and build equity within the organization for future work.

I will also share lessons from successes, failures and pain at Hotwire to help guide those embarking on a large-scale UX project.

This presentation will not simply be a user experience case study of the Hotwire redesign, but rather will focus on strategies to successfully use your project to position the UX team and manage the organization from start to finish.

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  • Background
    Welcome to “Site Redesign: When hell freezes over use a blowtorch”
    My name is Melissa Matross
    Head up User Experience at Hotwire
    We’re just finishing out a Site Redesign
    This talk is about the organizational sides of running a large scale UX project – how to get buy in, manage the project, demonstrate successes and things to look out for...
  • Hotwire is a data-driven company:
    all projects have to have clear financial return;
    therefore it can be very difficult to get buy in on solely a UX focused project.

  • Executive commitment
    A better site!!
  • Pick your guinea pig:
    A project came up that was going to significantly impact our Flight Search Results page
    The page was significant in number of page views, but low impact to the site from a financial perspective
    It was 1 page only

  • Find an advocate:
    My boss – the VP of Product, supported the experimentation.
    I needed to approve all work for the guinea pig by him, but he allowed us to experiment and helped convince other execs when we went live.

  • Break YOUR rules:
    We didn’t have a clear style guide, but we COMPLETELY changed the look and feel, breaking any rules that we may have had

  • Take the time & Get it right:
    This is what is going to be the example that you use to apply to the rest of the site.
    You will use this design to convince others that you need to redesign the site.
    Shop it around – after launch (especially if you have financials to back it up!)

  • Talk about the mess you have today (current state) and WHY
    Areas for improvement
    Inconsistency : resulting in a “patchy” look and feel
    Not scalable : requiring in major work to add new features
    Brand is not clearly communicated
    Technology and look and feel not current
    Talk about WHY this is the case:
    Lack of communication of updates and changes between departments
    Lack of education (brand, style guide, standards) and enforcement
    Time between updates (things change)
    Lack of ownership of the pages (hosted by vendors)
    Lack of resources for updates
    Give a relevant evaluations/statistics that execs care about
    According to the 2007 JD Power study, Independent Travel Websites received the lowest marks for appearance/design
  • Opportunities
    JD Power awards
    Improved Branding
    Site will become more consistent and branded, leading to an improved brand perception and increased user trust
    Increased User Loyalty and Trust
    Improved user retention: More visits from existing users whose needs are better satisfied
    Greater credibility
    Faster Time to Market and Better Knowledge Management
    Improved CM
    Reduction in page drop-off (and hopefully a better quote rate) from a more consistent design
    Navigation to features that help save consumers money, resulting a better PR and improved word of mouth
    SEO improvements
  • GOALs & Vision
    This is an area that you have to be really focused and clear on
    It may take a lot of time or revisions – but that’s ok
    Don’t be general - Be specific:
    I initially said that our “vision” was to be Useful, Usable and Desirable. How is that different than any other site??
    Our goals for the project were to be: Branded, Simple, Consistent and Efficient
    Use their language.
    I incorporated marketing’s branding terms into our vision for the site.
    GET AGREEMENT on the goals
    Talk about infrastructure improvements in your goals.
    Efficiencies gained – explain how you are improving infrastructure generating time savings
    Be willing to let some stuff go
    For me, as sad as it is – I let go of persona development (since we have strong customer segmentation and lots of user research knowledge within the team)
  • Be prepared. Have a plan.
    This means:
    Assess the nature of the redesign: navigational overhaul? Interaction design changes? Look and feel update? Both?
    How are you going to plan out the work – phased or all at once? Why?
    What are the benefits of each approach?

    Take into account resources – what do you want?
    How much time do you need to do the work? What are your targets?
    I came prepared with Developer costs both contract and offshore and UX contractor costs
  • While many companies redesign in one phase, Hotwire should not:
    Typical redesigns require that all work be done at once - this will lead to significant workload on both the UX and Engineering teams
    Due to our small teams, we would likely need to use outside agencies
    Outside agencies require a significant increase in workload of Business Owners to review work
    All the work at one time requires more significant risk in QA and launch support

    Hotwire has tried the “typical” redesign in the past and it has been unsuccessful for the following reasons:
    There was not a lot of buy in at the executive level
    There was not a lot of collaboration between departments
    The redesign was done by an outside agency (without a full steering committee) and was not in line with the business goals or brand direction
    It required a significant investment from Engineering, and Engineering was not informed for the planning of it

  • Attack and launch the redesign in phases
    This will allow us to get pieces of the new design on the site more quickly
    The improved experience will be on the site earlier
    Project work will be more evenly distributed (rather than the entire redesign with one launch)
    We have the opportunity to learn from early launched projects and correct for other parts of the site
    Will not require a significant temporary staffing for redesign push

    Organizational development will run in parallel to direct site work
    Effective development of research and standards will allow us to be more effective on future projects
    User Research and segmentation documentation will run concurrently with project work (separate resources)
    Deliverables and standards will be defined as part of each project
    For example: After each Interaction Design phase is completed, the Inventory and Template Guidelines document will be updated

  • Disjointed user experience during redesign process
    As a result of launching sections of the site at different times, the site will not have a consistent user experience while in transition

    Increased design and development complexity during redesign process
    During a phased redesign we would likely face more extensive design challenges and duplicate work due to the two different designs
    Communication around standards development is critical to it’s success – by running it concurrent with projects there is risk that items will fall through the cracks
    Car Details & Local Car

    We will need to apply extra effort on projects that are complete to keep consistent with current project learnings

    There is a risk of rushing the redesign resulting in frustration, overwork and lower quality deliverables; also, a risk of letting things lag and losing momentum

  • Depending on the size of the site and team, a phased redesign can take up to a year or longer.
    A lot of factors can get in the way of completion:
    loss of momentum,
    conflicting priorities,
    resource constraints, to name a few.
  • Site Refresh
    Updates are only to the look and feel of the page without changes to functionality or architecture
    There may be changes to page level interactions and behaviors

    Site Redesign
    Updates to the look and feel of the page with changes to features, functionality and architecture
    Fundamental architecture changes would be investigated and carefully considered
    On a smaller scale with a Site Redesign, we would consider:
    Re-architecting sections to streamline the experience
    Identifying and planning for new features that may be added
    Removing pages or sections
    We did both.      

  • The goal of the Site Redesign Queue is to provide steady resources dedicated to most of the Site Redesign projects. A certain percentage of resources will be dedicated to the constant stream of work and will be handled separate from the standard Project Prioritization list. This will allow us to use our resources more efficiently by rolling from one Site Redesign initiative to the next, and will allow us to complete the Site Redesign efforts according the redesign goals (targeted completion is approximately a year from July).

    Site Redesign Queue (SRQ): Smaller areas of work that do not provide immediate benefit from a functionality or architecture overhaul, do not allow for significant functionality changes or version testing
    Lighter-weight efficient process as a result of the smaller scope:
    Business Partner fills out a Requirements doc (heavy-weight Creative Brief)
    Functional design consults (in some cases provides a lightweight doc)
    Engineering & QA work is done by a GSI team
    Managed by a producer

    Projects : Larger scale areas of work that Identify areas of significant benefit from or in need of new functionality
    To date, examples include: Billing, Confirmation, Homepage
    Planned for My Account & Help, but due to conflicts we scaled it back and moved it into the queue – we’ll address new functional pieces later
  • The goal of the Site Redesign Queue is to provide steady resources dedicated to most of the Site Redesign projects. A certain percentage of resources will be dedicated to the constant stream of work and will be handled separate from the standard Project Prioritization list. This will allow us to use our resources more efficiently by rolling from one Site Redesign initiative to the next, and will allow us to complete the Site Redesign efforts according the redesign goals (targeted completion is approximately a year from July).

    Resource allocation:
    Offsite team for Eng
  • With every Site Redesign project/effort, we are documenting and developing standards for the site

    Less UX project development time:
    Interaction Design: borrow from standards to get started with WFs, less research/discovery of instances
    Visual Design: fewer comps & annotations, reference standards
    Potential Engineering advantages:
    Front end development: May save time if leverage component based framework; similar code snippets or standards can be used
    QA: Less unique instances may lead to less QA time
    Could some small projects become enhancements as a result?
    Risk mitigation:
    Knowledge of states:
    There have been instances in the past where knowledge of functionality has not been documented – as a result we have lost functionality over the course of minor updates
    Example: Code share states on flight updates

    Design Errors:
    The more standardized we become, the less errors and bugs should exist
    Fewer templates and variations will exist
  • Find ways to involve others demonstrate cross departmental leadership, gain support, visibility and to cover your ass when things go wrong.

    Business Partners
    For queue efforts: business partner is critically involved as key stakeholder
    Lightweight requirements document
    Attends all review meetings

    Site Redesign Committee
    Cross functional committee including Creative Director for online advertising, merchandising, front end architect, marketing
    meets 1-2 times per month
    Goals of the committee:
    Ensure cooperation and collaboration between teams
    Serve as department representatives
    Ensure that all teams are aware of redesign decisions
    Provide a forum for review and decision making for cross functional items
    Discuss and develop common point of view on everything from CMS to Flash

  • Frequent updates:
    Let people know when stuff is coming
    This helps maintain momentum

    Executive updates:
    After each release, let the execs know. Talk about:
    Wins & successes early and often.
    What’s next
    Who is involved?
    Re-iterate goals repeatedly
    Talk about standards efficiency

  • JD Power awards

    Recognized in a book

  • Opinionlab also has numerical ratings that we can benchmark against over time.
  • Quantitative:
    PR/Conversion lift
    Drop-off decrease
    Bug fixes
    Customer Care call decrease

  • The impact:
    Drop-off: No clear change

  • Standards
    SRQ:SRQ has been successfully tested process and could provide longer term value to the organization

  • My Account
    Be flexible!
  • Purchase Rate: Overall BREAKEVEN

    Learnings from new page:
    Unexpected sensitivity on Hotel Details– in the future, we will test any changes to the hotel path
    For investigation: Is there a difference in response based on customer segment (HFC vs. other repeat vs. new)?
    For investigation: Should Air Details now have a ‘Continue’ button above the fold?

  • Site Redesign: When Hell Freezes Over Use a Blowtorch

    2. GOALS Executive commitment Resources A better site!!
    5. ROGUE TACTICS Break YOUR rules
    6. ROGUE TACTICS Get it right
    10. FORMAL PROPOSAL Goals & Vision
    11. FORMAL PROPOSAL Be prepared. Have a plan.
    12. Typical Redesign
    13. OUR PLAN “It’s going to take a little getting used to... but I think we should consider the idea of a major relaunch completely dead.” --Jared Spool, “The Quiet Death of the Major Re-launch”
    14. Phased Approach
    16. RECAP Don’t be afraid to engage in ROGUE TACTICS In your FORMAL PROPOSAL, talk about: Current state Opportunity Goals & Vision Your plan Risks BE REALISTIC!
    18. MAKE IT HAPPEN Refresh vs. Redesign
    19. MAKE IT HAPPEN Site Redesign Queue & Projects
    20. MAKE IT HAPPEN Resource allocations Resource Team Resource Estimate Additional Notes/Exceptions Functional Design ½ person/month UX – Visual Design ½ person/month Additional resources required UX - Copy ½ person/month Contract resources required Dependent on new hire (contract if hire not UX – Interaction Design 1 ¼ persons/month available) SWE – Software Engineer ½ person/month Likely GSI – need to have local for SWE – Web dev 1 1/3 persons/month phase 5 Likely GSI – need to have local for QA ½ person/month phase 5 Customer Care 1 MM for Queue duration PM YES
    21. MAKE IT HAPPEN Standards Goals Benefits Improve consistency Time savings Increase efficiency Risk mitigation Improve maintenance Reference guide Create documentation Continuity between library channels
    26. DEMONSTRATE SUCCESS Qualitative & Quantitative Benchmarking
    27. DEMONSTRATE SUCCESS “Overall, I am very impressed with Hotwire`s web design. The side columns indicating rates from nearby airports helped me find the flight I booked today. As an IT guy, I have to say congratulations to your Web Design team on this User-Friendly site! As a veteran of several major software projects, I can see it`s obvious your team is logical and efficient in their designs…” --Hotwire user, OpinionLab 12.14.08 “The navigation and minimal prompts are very convenient. Hotwire has the best site overall. Very user friendly.” --Hotwire user (GMH), OpinionLab 1.6.09--Jared Spool, “The Quiet Death of the Major Re-launch”
    28. DEMONSTRATE SUCCESS Quantitative Measures Purchase Rate & Conversion lift Drop-off decrease Bug fixes Customer Care call decrease Opinionlab ratings
    29. DEMONSTRATE SUCCESS Talk about goals & business Things that would not have been possible otherwise
    30. Billing   Old New
    31. The impact BRANDED SIMPLE • Chunked billing info into an easy step-by-step process of digestible modules • Reduced length of checkout process by removing Traveler Info/Login page • Improved contextual help/error messaging to better help the user prevent/recover from errors CONSISTENT EFFICIENT • Gave users the ability to add/edit info on page via layers • Fixed over 30 bugs • New modular layout more prominently displays value-adding features such as Trip Protection & CDW • Layout enabled addition of CDW in much less time Learnings from new page: • Due to stepped approach, help & error messaging improvements, we are now able to investigate: • Stepped approach also allows for segment specific process • Layer by layer drop-off • Possible shortcuts for HFCs (for ex: add-ons) • Specific Error instances and solves New
    32. DEMONSTRATE SUCCESS Infrastructure improvements
    34. WHEN THINGS GO WRONG Project deprioritization
    35. Sometimes small changes have big impacts Old New
    37. BIG WINS
    38. QUESTIONS? Thank you! Melissa Matross