The new Zurich Airport website combines physical touchpoints with digital presence to create an integrated, personalised experience. What approaches and methods did we use to create a convincing user experience? Let me show you how a user-centric approach and an experimental mix of methods enabled us to do justice to both worlds.
Why Do We Visit an Airport Website?
When did you last visit an airport website? Probably to pick someone up from the airport in time or to check the opening times of the observation deck? These are the most common use cases for the Zurich Airport website. But perhaps you can hardly remember your last website visit. There is a good reason for that: Airport websites are still competing for the top spot in air passengers’ user journeys. They don’t always succeed. The airlines and brokerage portals have staked their claims. Knowing their users very well, they provide the most relevant information through their channels.
So why should users visit an airport website? This question was one of the major challenges in the relaunch project for Zurich Airport. That is why, during the analysis phase, we focused on identifying the information gaps.
Offering Added Value by Closing Information Gaps
We close these gaps with a suitably appealing offering. This means offering the passengers, visitors and airport staff added value without being intrusive. The credibility of the information provided plays a major role. We implemented this with a task-focused interface design. There are no unnecessary distractions, which is particularly helpful for infrequent users. The staff, however, use the new platform every day. They want to use discounted services with a personal login. A digital discounting medium allowed us to completely digitalise a previously analogue process. This digital badge can be displayed and used on the new airport website like an app.
From Hypothesis to Users
Understanding the users is the key to all design decisions. Not an easy task, given the large variety of stakeholders involved with Zurich Airport. With that in mind, we turned the usual approach on its head. Usually, concept developers use classic personas, which are modelled as described by Kim Goodwin, for instance. At first, however, these personas are often not complete or formulated from a marketing perspective. They are not based on user research.
That is why, at Zurich Airport, we did not start with personas, but with so-called proto-personas. This means that at the beginning, we worked with hypotheses that we validated with users over the course of the project. For this, we used quantitative and qualitative methods such as structured interviews, formalised usability tests and quantitative tree tests.
This enabled us to add new findings to the theoretical proto-personas as we gained more information, and grow these into validated personas. Proto-personas are also easy to create together with the client. It is important to include client staff members who deal with the users in their day-to-day work.
Creating Personalised Experiences – Digital and Physical
During the analysis phase, we evaluated findings from desk research, persona descriptions and task and context analysis. We then placed a clear focus on creating a personalised experience for users. This personalised experience begins with the first user interaction on the airport website.
We achieved that by placing the flight search in a prominent position on the homepage. The flight search takes users directly to an informative flight details page. The rule engine for the Sitecore environment enables us to provide specific customer segments with targeted content. That is how we can integrate the wide variety of commercial airport offerings into end-to-end journeys specific to the use case. This personalised information is presented in well-structured accordions.
We also offer personalised content on site at the airport, at the users’ physical touchpoints. When arriving by car, the lifts are labelled with QR codes taking users to a personalised page with location-based commercial offerings. At the same time, they can save the car park and bay they are in. This helps them retrieve their car – especially after a longer trip.
Being on Site and Understanding the Context of the Users
Being as close as possible to the users: This was our credo – particularly during the validation phase. That is why, together with the airport and our concept partner Zeix AG, we set up a co-working space directly above check-in 2. There, we were only minutes away from the hustle and bustle and could encounter and integrate travellers, visitors and staff in their respective contexts.
We fine-tuned our design sprints for maximum efficiency with an experimental mix of methods and split them into shorter iterations. The RITE method (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) in particular helped us shorten a five-day process to one day. This approach allowed us to split the design sprint based on separate components and repeat it as often as necessary over the course of the project. This context-based validation with users on site generated tangible and relevant findings. These were much more informative than if we had done the testing in a traditional lab setting, sometimes with repeat participants.
Digital Discounting Medium for 30,000 People
Our context-based approach to understanding user needs is particularly evident in the digital badge for 30,000 airport staff. We developed a dedicated digital badge for this group which they can use on their smartphone. This gives them a discount on consumption at Zurich Airport. There is an overview of the various discounts offered and staff members can use these discounts by displaying their badge.
One focal area of the concept was high availability, which had to be ensured. The digital badge, however, also had to have various security features. We put a lot of work into preventing fraudulent use. The resulting badge has a surface that constantly moves, so that checkout staff can validate it even at a quick glance.
Conclusion – Agile Design Projects Are a Lot of Fun!
Agile projects are fun! Even if, like this relaunch project, they run for an entire year. Our various interdisciplinary teams were constantly tackling new challenges. Sprint by sprint, they developed a range of new components. This kept motivation at a constant high, even when the aviation industry was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prepared for Future Developments With a Centralised Design System
We were able to hand over a modular and technologically sophisticated platform to Zurich Airport. It sets new standards in the airport industry at all levels. In addition, a centralised, technology-agnostic design system provides a vast pattern library for the development of future components – both for internal departments and third-party providers.
The Method – Human-Centered Design
For digital projects, we recommend to always use a user-centric model – especially in projects with user experience requirements. We use the ISO standard Human-Centred Design (HCD) framework. This is widely used in the industry and offers a great deal of flexibility in terms of method selection. Last but not least, it is easy to integrate, regardless of project size: It works just as well for large project cycles as it does for the development of individual features.
Read more about how much you can change with HCD:
Embracing Change With Human-centered Design
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Are you keen to talk about your next project? We will be happy exchange ideas with you: Melanie Klühe, Stefanie Berger, Stephan Handschin and Philippe Surber (clockwise).
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Are you keen too discuss your digital tasks with us? We would be happy to exchange ideas with you: Jörg Nölke and Gerrit Taaks (from left to right).