Numi: A design system to support safe, spontaneous post-pandemic travel
Documenting + reflecting on six months of our senior Capstone project with Expedia
Over the last six months, our team has been working to answer the question: How might we reimagine the “post”-pandemic international travel experience for people ages 20–30? COVID-19 has impacted all walks of life, including the travel industry. As four up-and-coming designers and travel enthusiasts, we approached the project optimistic that we could create a safe, comfortable, and flexible travel experience. In partnership with Expedia, we’ve explored speculative travel and created a systemic redesign of an international travel experience. So far, we have completed four milestones: Exploration, Preparation, Imagination, and Creation — then Celebration! Throughout these milestones, we’ve leveraged multiple different methods, persevered through challenges, celebrated our successes, and pulled together a collection of deliverables that answer our design question. Read on to see how we did just that!
The Dream Team ❤️
One afternoon in a Target, the Sara G + Sara B (the Saras) were admiring the branding of different items and thought about how they wanted to finish their senior year. It was at that moment that the Saras decided to recruit Cam + Kathy (another dynamic duo) to form what would later be known as the dream team. Thus our team was born, because we shared not only a friendship but also a mutual respect for each other’s skills and a drive to make something super dope.
Meet Cameron (she/they)
Strengths: Has Grammarly Premium, Big visual design vibes, Modest Pinterest following
Weaknesses: Ex-Apple Music user (before being bullied into getting Spotify), Always putting rulers on everything in Figma
Meet Sara G (she/her)
Strengths: Eats an apple a day, Figma Coach, Ran a Sarathon
Weaknesses: Wants to put blobs on everything, Peanut M&Ms, Has to shower before every meeting
Meet Kathy (she/they)
Strengths: Bird mom of 5, Networking as a sport, Cool dragon tattoo
Weaknesses: Lactose Intolerant, Doesn’t have an indoor voice, Current Apple Music user
Meet Sara B (she/her)
Strengths: Sends 77 Google Calendar invites a day, Has vegetable stuffed animals, Recently bought crystals
Weaknesses: Exclusively eats sweets, Can’t keep plants alive, Never ever has Wifi
Launching into our project, we began exploring the travel space. We focused on gaining a better understanding of our travelers’ habits through surveys and interviews during this exploration phase.
We used the following research questions as a guiding light to make sure we were answering the right questions to solve the right problem:
- What information will post-pandemic travelers need to know to travel comfortably?
- What do people need to feel safe traveling?
- What are users’ attitudes about current and future travel?
- What do people value in a travel experience?
- What are users’ motivations for current and future travel?
While creating our survey, we worked together to find our stride as a team. Once deployed, the survey asked fifteen questions, from multiple-choice to ranking to short answer. We leveraged our personal networks, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slack, Listservs, and Reddit, to recruit participants. We reached 171 people, with 119 completed, viable surveys. Using our survey data, we affinity mapped to understand the larger themes.
To learn more about our travelers, we took on interviews — the next method in our human-centered design process. The findings from our survey inspired our interview questions, and to spice up our research, we included a participatory design activity at the end. In this activity, we asked our interview participants to draw their hopes for the future of travel.
We independently scheduled and conducted 13 participant interviews via Zoom. After qualitatively coding all 13 interviews, we affinity diagrammed to uncover insights. Using these insights, we began to mold our research themes.
- Travelers want to continue cleanliness and safety practices after COVID-19
- Travelers desire financial comfort and budget for their trips
- Travelers value their health & safety when on trips
- Travelers plan to get vaccinated, and other countries vaccination rates impact their travel plans
One of the largest challenges of our research efforts was recruiting participants. We struggled to balance the constraints of our sponsor with the need for access to relevant user groups. Ultimately, we succeeded in distributing the survey but had to lean on our own personal networks. We were worried about biased samples and respecting the time of our connections, but we persevered and ended up pleasantly surprised! We were particularly pleased with the geographical diversity of our participants, considering our team is all from the same university.
We also found success in the participatory design activity of the interview. This method allowed for a deeper understanding of our participants as they showcased their creativity and played a more active role in the interview process. We were also lucky to be awarded a grant from the HCDE department during this phase to provide incentives for our participants!
If we were to repeat this process, we would spread our interviews over multiple weeks to give ourselves more time to process our findings. Also, our team would try to start our research process even earlier, and trust that we can get it all done! Overall, after this stage of our project, we were utterly exhausted but impressed with our progress. We managed to conduct an entire user research project and compiled insightful and impactful themes to move our project forward.
Team Vibe Check: Woah, so many people, so many travel thoughts, LOTS of data!
We figured we had finished exploring and gathering data, but our project said, “Sike!” We learned that research is forever, and data is the alpha driving our speculative project. In our second milestone, we conducted market research, created personas, user journey maps, and finalized our design requirements.
At this point in the project, we had taken a deep dive into the travelers’ needs and pain points. Progressing forward, our team was motivated to study the market and product side of traveling to understand what gaps needed filling. In conducting our market research, we explored existing technology, travel cost trends, modes of transportation, and architecture innovations. Through the lens of our research questions, we were able to identify the ways in which we could craft a novel product that would support a post-pandemic travel experience.
Armed with empathy and market research, we moved to crafting our personas and mapping our travelers’ journey. Introducing Dillon! (*Crowd goes wild*) Dillon was introduced as our novice traveler persona and journey muse that we continued to reference until the end of the project. We also created Riley, an experienced travel persona, but they didn’t stick with us. We chose to highlight Dillon’s travel experience because by supporting a new traveler, we could in turn support a more experienced traveler. With Dillon in tow, we outlined preliminary personas and wrote out the events to highlight within our user journey maps. To polish our work, each team member tackled a different part of the design of the personas and user journey maps while also keeping the style and color choices similar.
From here, we finally collected enough information to create design requirements for our future product. With these design requirements, we crafted guiding principles for our design moving forward.
- Update travelers in real-time about their schedule (e.g., delays, cancellations, lines, etc.)
- Allow travelers to customize updates about COVID-19 statistics, policies, and guidelines along their entire trip and provide suggestions on how to best proceed.
- Help travelers make informed, culturally appropriate decisions when planning activities.
- Empower travelers to navigate high-traffic spaces with confidence about cleanliness.
- Support travelers’ flexibility when booking and adjusting accommodations within their budget.
- Facilitate the sharing of location-specific guidance on safety and modes of transportation.
- Provide sustainable, long-term support for travelers of all experience levels.
We broke up our design requirements into action, object, and context to craft a holistic understanding of what our final deliverable needed to accomplish.
Preparation was our most scrappy phase because of the speculative nature of our project and our inexperience with market research. Leveraging advice from a trusted instructor in our department, we completed our market research with confidence — thanks, Alan!
We picked up the pace as the inexorable sense of the upcoming deadline haunted us from all directions. As the milestone in-between research and design, we had to fill in any remaining gaps before moving forward.
We accomplished this phase within 10 days from start to end. While spending the first few days celebrating the first milestone, we did not see our deadline sprinting full speed ahead ready to WWE us to the ground. Again, we persevered and put that deadline in a chokehold until it tapped out. Here lie the remains of our preparation phase because we killed it! Woohoo!
With more time, we would have asked for more guidance on what market research entails. We would have also interviewed professionals to get an industry perspective on emerging technologies to help redefine a smooth travel experience for our travelers.
Team Vibe Check: Excited to be done with research, lots of travel knowledge, so so so many ideas, #godspeed
Taking our project to the next level, we catapulted into the next phase of our project: ideation, concept mood boarding, storyboarding, user flows, information architecture, low fidelity prototyping, and usability testing.
We started with ideation, which enabled us to decide what form our project would take. You might be asking yourself — they’re halfway through this project and they still don’t know what they’re going to design? That’s right — by taking a human-centered design approach, we were able to dig deep into the problems our travelers currently face and how they may translate into pain points five years from now. Informed by our extensive research, we thought of ideas far and wide, ranging from traveling games to airport furniture. After quick deliberation, we unanimously decided to create a system to support an entire travel experience. Therefore, creating a digital and physical space became important to our design process. By creating these spaces we hoped to facilitate supportive travel for travelers of all experience levels.
To visually explore what these digital and physical spaces would look like, each team member mood boarded either the physical space or the digital space. The physical space was inspired by our research finding that people are uncomfortable with close proximity to others and care about cleanliness(in other words, they no longer tolerate COVID-infested fingers that once used to be in bowling balls covered with finger-licking hot wing remains). In addition, we were motivated by our traveler’s desire for more control and customizability in their travel experience. Out of the mood boards emerged three critical parts of our physical space: the pods, the tables, and the ambiance.
For our accompanying application, we decided to focus on three critical components: an interactive onboarding quiz, a card-based options approach, and an IoT component for the lounge.
To understand how we would connect our digital and physical spheres of engagement, our team created storyboards to show how our travelers might book a trip within a budget, reserve a lounge spot, make a spontaneous schedule change while abroad, and filter activities on the go.
From the storyboards shown below, our team visualized how our travelers might interact with the application in a variety of environments. Additionally, we found areas where we needed to add more features to accomplish all outlined design requirements. We took these scenario visualizations forward to craft the user flows for each of these tasks.
Our user flows follow the same scenarios from the storyboards but showcase how the application pages would move as a user completes a task.
We outlined our user flows to prompt the creation of a holistic outline of our application architecture. We created our information architecture to highlight the key navigation points of our application.
Equipped with our information architecture, we crafted our low-fidelity prototype, showcasing our user interface (UI) ideas without a design system. Our team wireframed each user flow and added other elements and features we thought would supplement the usability testing later on in the process.
Moving full speed ahead with our low fidelity prototype, we conducted usability testing to get user validation about our design and test its usability. Typically users are asked to complete tasks while thinking aloud about their experience with the design. However, while limited to an online environment, we conducted usability testing using two online platforms: usertesting.com and maze.co. We used these platforms to create and execute a plan without guiding each test participant. We conducted usability testing of our four main flows: onboarding, booking a trip, adding an activity to a trip schedule, and making a lounge reservation.
We created a usability test plan and mapped out how to analyze our data. Our user testing and maze reports gave us insight into areas we could improve within our application. Check out the full Maze report here for some cool heatmap data! Our findings included: improving the budget setting interaction, rethinking trip planner interactions, and redesigning buttons. With these insights in mind, we had the tools we needed to make informed iterations on our app!
It seems hard to believe we accomplished these deliverables all in two weeks, but we did! We felt challenged yet fulfilled when finally designing the product we had been researching and talking about all this time. We saw ourselves putting in so much work and motivated each other each day we met. We relearned the tools we gained throughout our college courses and worked together to build a cohesive, usable prototype. The successes coming out of this milestone are the adaptiveness we embodied when faced with challenges and the strong foundation we built for ourselves moving into the final phase of our project. Coming out of these two weeks felt immensely rewarding and energized us to finish our project strong! But don’t get us wrong, we were burning out.
Though we got a shocking amount of work done during this phase, we all felt pretty drained after it. While excited to figure out our design system, the amount of work we put into this milestone was kind of exhausting. We learned the importance of taking breaks and fitting rest days into our schedule moving forward.
If we had to redo this milestone, we should have fully understood what this phase would entail. Initially, we had not thought about information architecture, storyboards, or user flows as part of this phase. With each of those deliverables taking up several days, it would have been crucial for us to have planned appropriately prior to undertaking this milestone.
Team Vibe Check: Super tired, a little burnt out, suffering from a bit of senioritis, but nevertheless pumped to start designing!
Our creation phase was another whirlwind of deliverables as our final deadline approached. During this phase, we revamped our wireframes with findings from our usability testing, established visual guidelines, applied our branding to our wireframes, added interactions to our prototype, and planned out and filmed our video prototype.
The heat maps provided by Maze during our user testing proved helpful in making our interactions more intuitive. We analyzed where users pressed on the screen vs. where we expected them to press and worked to make our intended path more visible by applying visual hierarchy principles. Our qualitative data from UserTesting and Maze allowed us to improve on the conceptual end, rethinking our flows and adding additional screens to our Information Architecture.
After revamping our wireframes, we were excited to move onto the fun stuff: branding! We set up a collaborative Pinterest board to collect and organize our ideas. Coincidentally, Figma started beta testing their FigmaJam concept during this time, and we were able to use these boards to explore and critique our branding ideas. Using this tool made the often intimidating process of critique more approachable. After a lot of sticky-noting and sticker-sticking, we finalized our color scheme, logo, typefaces, and text hierarchy — not to mention our app name, Numi (short for Numinous)!
Next came our high-fidelity interactive prototype. Although applying our branding was time-consuming, it was fascinating to see our vision of an approachable one-stop travel booking system come to fruition right before our eyes. Adding interactions also required a lot of hard work. Things were coming down to the wire, but we stepped up to the challenge. We used Figma’s prototyping tool and FigmaMirror to test out our prototypes along the way and create a seamless booking + planning system for our travelers.
Lastly, we planned out and filmed our video prototype for our Capstone presentation. To lay our plan out, we used Google Sheets and chunked our scenes and script into time slots to meet our 2-minute requirement. We got help from a videographer friend when it came to filming our video, and his expertise came in handy for crafting our storyline. We completed our filming in one long session and felt so pumped to see everything come together.
If we had more time, we would have liked to do more user testing sessions as we developed our interactive prototypes. Testing them ourselves using FigmaMirror was helpful yet inevitably biased. Additional user testing sessions would have allowed us to continuously collect and build on user feedback, checking in to see if our design changes indeed improved the usability of our prototypes. Alas, we were working on a timeline and did the best we could with the constraints we had.
Overall, this phase of our project felt super rewarding after all our hours of hard work. It was also fun to finally full-out flex our design skills. At times, it was difficult to juggle all the different moving parts at once. We took on a big job by creating an entire design instead of a simple app. However, we successfully collaborated almost in a symbiotic manner, taking on as much as we could at once and jumping in when a task best suited our personal skill sets. Cheers to us!
Team Vibe Check: Worn out, but still chugging along. We’re so close to the finish line!
Oh — did we mention that we went above and beyond just our mobile app prototyping? This is a system, remember? To stretch our thinking and skills, we wanted to design the technological elements we wanted to see in the physical space. This inspired us to design the table we talked about earlier.
The table allows travelers to sync their app experience with their Numi Room pod so that we can promote a cohesive travel journey. They can edit their pod mood, see the available amenities, plan an activity, and also keep tabs on their upcoming flight!
It doesn’t stop there. We also collaborated with an architecture student to establish a feasible layout for the Numi Room, shown below.
This sketch represents how the Numi Room would be set up. As informed by our research, we foresee nature elements being vital to the Numi Room experience. The pods are labeled by their capacity with our pods ranging from single pods to six-person pods, each having a Numi Table. The Numi Room will also have a cafe and food for travelers to fuel up before their flights. We also prioritized hygiene coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic with sanitization stations scattered throughout the room. We want the Numi Room to be a vessel for traveler autonomy. With our research and current layout we are confident that these renewed travel emotions can be achieved.
Finally! We all agree that the work we have accomplished in six months is some major GIRL BOSS energy. Really, there is no better way to finish college than to push through burnout with a group of your homies. Through blood, sweat, and unstable Zoom calls, we really did that. Knowing that we created something we were all excited and passionate about made it easy for us to work for hours on end with each other every single day. By our calculations, we have spent about 400 hours on calls with one another — I don’t know about you but I think that’s a really dedicated team right there.
We are really inspired by the work we were able to finish and are proud of ourselves for thinking of and going through with a solution that included much more than just a mobile app. Thinking about how to solve a problem through a human-centered approach comes naturally to us but a non-digital solution was something we were excited to explore. If we had even more time to think speculatively about travel, we would spend more time on the Numi Room to make sure it was everything we intended it to be. We would work with our Expedia partners more and try to get stakeholder buy-in for Numi.
We would like to thank Expedia for sponsoring this project, our capstone teaching team, our amazing/badass/talented HCDE seniors, and also each other for being the best capstone group we could have ever asked for.
Team Vibe Check: Out-of-this-world proud 🥲