The discovery process began with interviews and workshops with venue staff and stakeholders to clarify the business’s long-term goals. Two goals, in particular, were emphasized:
Next, I undertook a top-level analysis of the business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats:
Complementing the SWOT analysis was research on the most salient information of the venue’s local competition. A key takeaway from this was learning that no competitors offered real-time information on their venue’s availability.
Lacking budget for conducting research with past or prospective clients, I relied on a variety of alternate approaches.
Interviews with venue staff—the business’s primary client liaisons—were critical to providing initial demographic data on the primary audiences.
This flowed naturally into a workshop with staff and stakeholders where we defined several provisional user personas:
For our main personas, we also developed provisional journey maps:
The final step in my audience discovery process was to review Google Analytics data from the original website.
This data supported the information provided by venue staff and gave added weight to use of provisional personas in guiding design decisions.
I completed my discovery phase with a heuristic analysis of the original website, using a 247-point checklist found here.
While I knew this project would require a fully-redesigned website, heuristic analysis allowed me to become familiar with the original site and gauge what aspects should be carried forward in the new design.
No matter how well-informed, all research on the venue’s target audiences was from secondary sources. Without the opportunity to directly engage with users, we were not able to validate any of the qualitative details assembled in the discovery phase.
Hopefully, this can be rectified in the future.
With a condensed working window, we adopted a “just enough” approach to branding. Through a series of facilitated workshops and discussions, I helped venue staff and stakeholders distill core aspects of the brand, while still leaving room for further refinement in the future.
After several iterations, we arrived on a look and feel that emphasized whitespace, a colour palette inspired by coastal gardens, and big, bold imagery that highlights both the natural beauty of the space and the people that give it life.
The brand voice is warm and welcoming, guided by the idea that “the house is old, the audience isn’t.” Working in tandem with the imagery, we evoke the unique sensory experiences found across the house grounds.
We identified several key areas of focus for the new website, along with metrics to track their performance:
|Simplify the site information architecture and navigation||Bounce rate|
|Improve the online booking request system||Total number of booking requests|
|Enhance the site-wide mobile experience||Number of unique visitors on mobile or tablet devices|
|Strengthen appeal to business clientele||Number of booking requests for business or non-wedding events|
|Improve the photo gallery system||Total number of unique visitors to photo gallery directory|
Despite the relatively small scale of the original site, a review of its information architecture revealed a surprisingly complex structure:
After presenting the original site map to stakeholders, all agreed that a simpler structure was needed.
I reviewed usage statistics in Google Analytics to determine the most popular pages of the original site and identify common user flows, giving insight on how to best organize the new information architecture:
Among the principles guided that guided my revised structure were:
Given the strong emphasis by all stakeholders on the goal of increasing venue bookings, the online booking request system is, perhaps, the website’s most important functional element.
The original system, however, forced users through a multi-step process to check venue availability:
This created two problems:
I consulted with venue staff to investigate the parameters of their backend booking system and ideate possible approaches. Eventually, we settled on the idea of a calendar interface that surfaced real-time booking information. This was further distilled to a few core requirements:
I worked with IT services to determine which data could be extracted from the venue’s backend booking system. This led to my first design for the date picker UI, using orange circles to indicate dates with partial-day bookings and red to indicate full-day bookings:
In this case, users interested in dates with half-day bookings would first need to choose a date before seeing their options in the associated time picker:
When presenting my proposed design to venue staff, it emerged that an important specification was missed from the first iteration: the inclusion of tentative bookings (or “holds”).
To accommodate this, I revised my design to indicate dates with holds using crosshatching:
I took a prototype of this design to several individuals for “guerilla” usability testing, asking them to perform several tasks and answer questions on the system’s functionality.
With this information, I revised my design to include complete details on each day’s booking availability using only solid, contrasting colours to ensure accessibility.
After conducting another round of guerilla testing, no users reported any of the previously-encountered problems, and all were able to complete the instructed tasks.
To ensure the ongoing optimization of the booking form and gain insights into its usage, I implemented a custom adaptation of Simo Ahava’s form interaction tracking system. With this, site administrators are able to see how users are traversing the form, where they abandon, and how they reach the final goal of submission:
While the original site theme was responsive, it was only designed around a desktop layout. This led to a frustrating mobile experience, with long-scrolling pages, poorly-structured content, and long page load times.
As a result, the site-wide bounce rate was considerably higher for mobile users than for other groups.
I designed all pages upward from their mobile layouts, guided by several principles:
Since launching in August 2018, the the new website has resulted in several significant improvements over the same period in the previous year:
Anecdotally, several clients have praised the new booking system, saying that it made their process easy and enjoyable to complete.
While the final product is relatively modest, this project was surprisingly complex.
Operating largely as a “UX team of one”, I found its greatest challenge to be the absence of resources for research and testing. I was able to overcome this—to the best of my ability—by working closely with venue staff to uncover their accumulated knowledge on the characteristics and behaviour of their usual clients. Collaborative workshop sessions, in particular, were particularly effective in drawing out new insights.
Looking back, this project brought a few key takeaways:
Any insights that can be validated, even if acquired through unconventional methods, can be useful for informing the design process. In this case, data from Google Analytics corroborated and gave added weight to the anecdotal insights of venue staff.
And while I was not able to test my designs with carefully screened participants matching our provisional personas, bringing them to a general audience allowed me to identify and refine their most problematic areas.
From the outset of the project, I was instinctively convinced that the multi-step online booking system was a significant impediment to the site’s usability. Nevertheless, I did not want to strongly advocate for its improvement until I had investigated whether I was correct.
Through a review of analytics data and some informal usability testing, my suspicions were confirmed. Which introduces my next lesson…
Even after identifying the negative impact of the booking system, stakeholders viewed the solution as a two-phase process: design and launch the new site with aesthetic improvements, then fix the functionality later.
Knowing that I had numerous other projects in my queue, I saw it as unlikely that “version two” would be coming any time soon – and if we didn’t improve the site’s core functionality, a simple visual refresh would have limited impact on business goals.
I continued to build my case and eventually secured support to make the booking system a priority of the new design. Though there is still room for its improvement, the new solution has helped the venue increase its online booking requests by 70% since launch.
As much as we try to avoid it, scope creep is inevitable. Learning that a key requirement for the booking calendar (accommodating tentative bookings) was overlooked resulted in a significant setback in an already-tight design schedule. I should have better-accounted for these sort of events in my project timeline.