Ai Editorial: Assessing the role of a UX Design specialist in a "digital-first" business

First Published on 11th April, 2018

Ai Editorial: Airlines need to look beyond transactions, and look at optimizing user experience (UX) design in order to be a part of a passenger's complete journey. Why? Because the booking of air is only one of potentially 30+ phases of travel, writes Ai's Ritesh Gupta


Airlines need to be connecting user experience with conversion rate optimization, but this isn’t happening today because most airlines don’t understand the relationship between the two.

"We are constantly seeing airlines spend 6 months to 1-year designing a new digital experience with an amazing digital agency, then they spend another year building this new digital experience, but by the time they have the new experience live it is 1-2 years old. This process can’t continue for airlines to be successful," says Mike Slone, Chief Experience Officer, Travelaer.

According to Slone, airlines need to develop a “fail fast” attitude. One that allows them to quickly produce new innovative digital experiences, launch them, observe successes and failures, revise the user experience, observe and measure, and then optimize and redesign again - this should be a constant process, not one that is started every few years after you realize that your user experience is old and outdated.  

"Airlines are not agile enough and most are not willing to fail fast, thus they will always be behind until they change their internal processes to stay ahead of their customers," mentioned Slone.

Talking of agility, if airlines are gearing up for digital transformation then adding UX to the initial phase of this journey is critical as far as crafting digital experiences is concerned. If digital transformation is about serving the passenger in an earnest manner, then how to ensure airlines keep pace with emerging tech such as wearables, VR etc.? At its core, UX is about creating ease of use. So being agile, being equipped to create compelling, relevant experiences across all touchpoints, devices etc. is must. And that's where the role of a UX design specialist comes in.

 UX Design in a digital organization

Airlines need to transform their business - right from taking a call to becoming a "digital-first" business to defining roles within the organization to embrace agility. Focus needs to be on encouraging a culture of curiosity, learning and problem solving, while providing clear direction and support, this is exactly what Air New Zealand believes in as a carrier today. The team embarked on their digital journey a couple of years ago, and continues to look at designing digital experiences. And for these they recruit UX specialists. UX design calls for a cohesive effort, one where a cross-functional team collaborates frequently on design needs for product discovery and delivery. One challenge that airlines like most enterprises from other sectors face is a lack sufficient UX resources. Carriers such as Air New Zealand are showing the way, as they are counting on UX Designers to shape the future "faster".

Organizations expect UX specialists to work in sync with others, for instance, with the product management team (often referred as the voice of an organization's customers). Working in an airline would entail crafting passenger-centric user journeys. A key part of their role, as stipulated by a job listing of one of the carriers, is to iteratively design products (via sketches, prototypes etc.), work on visual design outputs as well as content design. Working out implementation guidance and control the quality of the product user interface.

Experts point out that digital organizations are also looking at a layered user interface or UI framework that enables individuals with little or no design skills to rapidly bring together rich user experiences. User interface is termed as a collection of functional and visual patterns by which we perceive to be the UX of an application.

How UX specialist support agility?

As Slone pointed out, airlines are mostly followers, often only introducing functionality if the large tech companies have provided it and other airlines have already adopted it. This cycle of large tech providers not prioritizing investments in their booking engines and airline dependency on these providers has caused stagnation and lack of innovation in airline digital experiences.

On the other hand, digital organizations follow a “fail fast” attitude, and by allowing UX specialists to be a part of a development team and bringing them early on in planning ensures they deliver what a user will need to see and when. Since the passenger would drive attributes within the domain model, featuring UX early on would pave way for precise delivery, cutting down on rework for developers. It is critical to set up an innovative development team, and airlines need to avoid as much rework for all team members as possible. This way  airlines can experiment and test new offerings faster across their digital touchpoints.

 Follow Ai on Twitter: @Ai_Connects_Us