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Lonely Planet

NEW FEATURE AND RE-DESIGN
Supporting digital nomads' travel research needs

Overview

Scope

User + Audience

Digital nomads, travelers and tourists

Dynamic
Teammembers

Collaborative

Jenny Pham, Kait Tripp-Addison, Lorenza Gerber

My Role
Duration
Tools

Project Manager, Research Lead, UI Designer

2-week sprint

Figma, Notion, Typeform, Optimalsort, Google Sheets

Client

Lonely Planet produces travel guides for tourists. They have a website with articles, tips, stories, travel news, and top 10 lists, presented in a journalistic format.

MISSION AND VALUES

"Our goal is to help more people from more backgrounds experience the joy of exploration... We believe travel opens the door to the greatest, most unforgettable experiences life can offer. And we have learned that the best travel is about putting yourself out there, about leaving behind the everyday, about immersing yourself, rather than just seeing the sights...

We believe travel is ultimately about joy and delight. And the planning process should be enjoyable, too, filled with serendipity and connection wherever the path leads us.” 

Challenge

As remote work has become more prevalent, the number of remote workers who travel while working has also increased, a group called digital nomads. Lonely Planet seeks to understand this growing group and their travel needs, and would like to design solutions to cater to them.
 

Our challenge is to draw upon the mission and values of Lonely Planet (to inspire people to travel) while also addressing the needs of digital nomads.

Solution

A new feature roll out and redesign and reorganization, improving functionality of preexisting content and optimizing for digital nomads. Our redesign and new features include:

  • Planet Nomad home page for filterable top 20 lists geared towards digital nomads’ live/work needs

  • Profile feature user can save cities and areas of interest in research for later comparison

  • Bookmark feature user can save city and activity information for later review

  • Attractions/Sights renaming → things to do

  • “Things to do” re-organization + re-design

Evaluation
of Current Site

Content Types
Digital Nomad Handbook
Digital Nomad Travel News Page

Digital Nomad Travel News page, from pre-existing Lonely Planet site. 

The aggregated news articles are mostly about budget conscious travel or stories of those who get paid to travel.

Lonely Planet offers the following pre-existing digital nomad content:

Digital Nomad Handbook a print book available for purchase on their website, It is advertised if you click on any digital nomad tagged articles, which are difficult to find.

Digital Nomad Travel News page, which can only be accessed if you happen upon a tagged article or news story on their news + stories page. 

(Truly, it isn't searchable and I tried retracing my steps, and I had to rely on my browser history for its presence this case study)

Screen Shot 2022-11-01 at 8.56.55 PM.png

1 Discovery + Analysis

1.1 Preliminary Exploration

In our preliminary research we wanted to cast a wider net and find out some basics about the scope of people who identify as digital nomads, by conducting an online survey. We wanted to ask basic questions, and allow our survey answers to inform and direct our in-depth interview questions to better understand the values and pain points of the digital nomad lifestyle.

SURVEY STATS
  • Conducted on Typeform

  • 35 participants

  • Surveys posted on digital nomad forums on Reddit, and DM’ed to active participants on subreddits​

  • Surveys posted on travel and remote work Slack Channels​

Survey Results

Majority (mode) ranked meeting other people at  8 out of 10 importance

89% of participants work entirely over the internet - less than we expected.

77% did not use coworking spaces, more than we expected

57% stayed in Airbnb, more than we expected

The amount of time spent in one place varied widely among participants:

34% stayed 1-3 weeks

29% stayed 6+ mo 

23% stayed 1-2 mo

14% stayed 3-6 mo

1.1 PRELIMINARY EXPLORATION

Survey Insights

Most did not use coworking space, which surprised us, and we planned to dig into their travel work needs during our interviews.
 
They mostly used Airbnb to find places to stay - we wanted to gain understanding about how they work while they travel, and any pain points associated with accommodations, particularly while working.

We used survey results to hone our interview guide and further direct our inquiry.

1.2 In-depth Discovery

USER INTERVIEW PROCESS

We conducted 5 interviews with the goal of better understanding digital nomads values and pain points when it comes to traveling while working

We asked questions like:

  • What has been a particularly valuable travel experience? Why?

  • How do you find things to do? Why?

We synthesized our interview findings using an affinity map to suss out values and pain points, and to identify trends and commonalities.

Interview Insights

Immersion is what makes a digital nomads travel experiences feel most valuable; they particularly enjoy discovering new things while out and about, but will use a search engine to find things to do while they travel. They find its difficult to make meaningful social connections while traveling. Digital nomads have very specific needs to consider when planning their travels that impact the destination decisions they make, both to allow for work and life while traveling.  They overwhelmingly use their web browser on desktop to research future destinations, because its easier to open tabs and compare.

 

After conducting and synthesizing user research, we wanted to do a structured examination and comparison of Lonely Planet with other businesses, some direct competitors with Lonely Planet, and others who offer services catered specifically to digital nomads.

1.3 Competitive Comparison + Analysis

1.3a Feature Analysis

We conducted a feature analysis in order to make an informed decision on what companies to use for a more in-depth analysis and comparison. 

The goal of our project was to draw upon the mission of LP to address the needs of Digital Nomads. So we knew we wanted to compare businesses whose mission is in line with Lonely Planet, but also we wanted to conduct research on products that cater specifically to the needs of digital nomads. 

We chose to review Fodors, and Travel and Leisure, more direct competitors with Lonely Planet. We looked at Nomadlist, Kayak (Work from Wherever), Nomad the App, Digitalnomads.world, Gogoplaces and Nomadific, products that cater to digital nomads specific needs. Drawing upon our survey and interview findings, we also wanted to review AirBnb, a product 83% of our participants reported using. 

INSIGHTS

We used our feature analysis findings to select a product business from each of these categories to conduct a competitive analysis with:

Direct competitor - Fodors

Nomad-specific - Kayak (Work from Wherever)

Popular among our survey participants - AirBnb

1.3b COMPETITIVE COMPARISON + ANALYSIS

We used our feature analysis findings to dictate our selections for our competitive comparison, we chose a direct competitor (Fodors), a digital nomad specific product (Kayak - Work from Wherever), and a product mentioned in our survey findings (AirBnB). We also took this opportunity to deep-dive into the UI strategies, user flows, and content types at Lonely Planet, presented at the left in this section.

Lonely Planet

The top 10, best-of listicle format is a well worn content strategy for Lonely Planet. Best of 2022 list from a call to action on their home page.

Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.26.48 AM.png
Content Types : Journalistic, listicles
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.30.06 AM.png

Stories from their home page, including a "Best times to visit Toronto" call out. 

Direct Competitor

Fodors

Their business is guide books as well, and they are a trusted travel brand like LP. They have an online presence with a journalistic focus, offering travel stories and news, and individual city and country pages, much like LP. One major difference is their online content types. 

Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.29.14 AM.png
Content Types : User generated
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.29.26 AM.png

Their platform has user-generated content - a forum. 

Lonely Planet

Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.48.43 AM.png

Lonely Planet’s website allows you to browse by continent, country and city, providing information on things to do and where to stay, eat and drink. There are also country and city pages with news, stories, and sightseeing, hotels, and restaurant suggestions.

Digital nomad specific product

Kayak (Work from Wherever)

Their profit and mission is centered around selling flights, not guidebooks, but we chose this product to compare with Lonely planet because, much like our challenge in this project, Kayak provides a travel related service and they identified digital nomads as an important user base, and rolled out a product to address their unique needs. 

Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.52.12 AM.png

In particular we were interested in their city pages. These clearly mapped onto LP’s city pages, but offered digital nomad specific information in a way that is easy to compare, with splashy images.

Lonely Planet

From city pages above, users can navigate to destination based attraction suggestions:

Content Types : Journalistic, listicles
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.49.15 AM.png
Activity filtering
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 11.43.36 AM.png
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 11.43.41 AM.png

Lonely Planet's attractions filters. Its possible to filter by location (neighborhood) and by 6 pared down categories for attractions: Sights, Restaurants, Entertainment, Nightlife, Shopping, Hotels. 

We noted from this exercise that Sights seems like a very broad category, and we direct re-design efforts later in our process to address this.

Popular product with our participants

AirBnb Experiences

AirBnb was a product that we found in our survey and interviews many digital nomads use to find housing. They more recently rolled out AirBnB experiences, which has a similar UI but instead of housing, they are crowd-sourcing things to do when traveling, local experiences.

 

Airbnb experiences is a sort of marketplace to connect local guides with travelers. They have community reviews, and allow you to see the price and filter for this. The community aspect is highlighted, many of the card photos for experiences are crowd-sourced from travelers, and have a sort of non-professional, non-commercial, social media quality.

Content Types : User generated
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 10.50.35 AM.png
Activity filtering
Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 11.41.50 AM.png

Their filter bar in particular is something we paid attention to, they had a lot of categories in their horizontal scroll, including niche ones like "Magic" and "Wellness". AirBnb flagship product also has a lot of filter buttons in a horizontal scroll for their stays - including a button for "Caves".

1.3b Competitive Analysis Takeaways
Our most valuable insights from this exercise came from AirBnb. The values of someone who might seek out local-led experiences on their product (travelers vs tourists) felt relevant for our product. We noted that AirBnb’s UI felt geared towards curiosity, browsing, and the joy of exploration. This felt very in line with Lonely Planets’ mission, so we paid close attention to their UI.

We weren't sure how to leverage this insight at this point in the process, but that came a little later, in particular when I designed a card sort, trying to figure out the best way to categorize activities, and the UI that would best support our goals.

2 Constraining Solution Space

2.1 Empathize

Next, we defined a persona to better empathize with our nomadic user base:

Digital Nomad
"its about shaping work around your life, not shaping your life around your work”
Narrative

Digital Nomad uses desktop browser for research, especially planning long-term travel. They love exploring, and discovering new things to do. Last week, they found a flyer at the grocery store for a house show, and they had the best time.

Goals

To feel confident in making an informed decision about their next move

To discover and explore their current destination, and have meaningful, exciting travel experiences

Frustrations

They feel it's hard to form meaningful connections when traveling from place to place

Researching places to relocate to that meets all of their unique work/life needs is time consuming

It's hard to find accommodations that meet all of their needs

2.2 Constrain the Scope of the Problem

At this stage of the process, we had collected information and data on digital nomads, compared and examined other business’ products, empathized with the digital nomad user. Now, time to narrow in on our problem space.

We wrote a problem statement, addressing the business’s and digital nomads needs, and where they intersect:

Lonely Planet offers all types of travelers curated guides to explore different countries and the activities within them. They aim to assist digital nomads in curating their travel experiences. 

 

Digital nomads need a way to find valuable insights about the places they want to travel to, that help them navigate accommodation, activities, budgeting, and work while being a part of a community. However, there are no websites that specialize in guides for digital nomads that could help them travel and explore within their constraints and build a sense of community.

2.3 Define the Solution Space

After we narrowed the scope of our problem space, we wanted to define our solution space, and the limitations to ideate within. 

We wrote several "how might we" formatted questions, aiming to narrow the scope of our solution space.

How might we...
  1. How might we support digital nomads planning their travel in ways that will equip them to successfully work while they travel the world?

  2. How might we inspire digital nomads to immerse themselves in the culture of each location as they travel while working? 

  3. How might we equip digital nomads with resources that allow them to connect with others and foster a sense of community?

2.3 Takeaways

We noticed HMW #1 and #2 felt similar, or at least like their solutions would be tied, but the type of research that each required, the things/scope of the research and the time scale felt very different. HMW 2 was focused on enjoying their time in the place they already are living, and HMW 1 was geared towards exploring possible future destinations, and all of the work considerations and information they would need in order to scope out possible next destinations.  

 

But, overall, Each of our how might we statements felt like they suggested different way to interact with the platform, or a different feature, so in our next step, we used each of the three guiding questions to dictate a different user flow and sketched out different solutions.  

3
Ideate
and Design

Solution Flows

We wanted to create user tasks and flows that captured both types of research digital nomads need to be able to do:

1 Future-oriented When they're exploring and vetting a new place to live and work from 

2 Immediate enjoyment When they’re looking for fun activities to enjoy their time where they already are. 

Each task and subsequent flow presented different problems and suggested different solutions, because they describe distinct needs for distinct types of information. In being sensitive to this, our decision-making and subsequent methods we used in the iterating process, was different for the two user flows.

 

Our process narrative will be easier to follow if I split this section into two parts, to reflect the two types of travel research (1 future-oriented research and 2 immediate enjoyment) we want digital nomads to conduct on Lonely Planet. I’ll trace our design processes independently from design stage or iteration round, straight through from user flows to hi-fi prototype, and all the steps in between, independent of design stage or iteration round. 

Future-oriented Travel Research

3 IDEATE AND DESIGN

Solution Flow 1

PROCESS  OUTLINE

User flows

Sketching

Collaboratively selecting sketch solution to use

Mid-fi prototype

Usability Testing + Synthesis

Hi-fi prototype

User task 1: Digital Nomad wants to research new destinations to live and work from.
Wireframes
FILTERING BEST OF NOMADIC TRAVEL
Similar to pre-existing Lonely Planet user flows, the user can also filter by continent
We included Work Requirements, Quality of Life, and Community as filters, (called out in the matching yellow box) so users can prioritize one aspect, and return a different top 20 list of places.
User task 1: Digital Nomad wants to research new destinations to live and work from.
CITY PAGE RE-DESIGN
Our new "Add to profile" feature, to help our users more easily research and compare potential cities to move to, so they could save this information to return to later.
A place on the city page for long-term stay information outlined at the top of 2.1a
User task 1: Digital Nomad wants to research new destinations to live and work from.
Home page for digital nomads, accessible by primary nav bar
We use familiar Lonely Planet content formats (News and Stories) to present digital nomad specific news and stories in our new Planet Nomad home page.
Usability Testing
What we found
What we did
1. Home page accessibility check + nav bar reorganization
2. City page renamed confusing button "bookmark"

How might We #1:  How might we support digital nomads planning their travel in ways that will equip them to successfully work while they travel the world? 

User task 1 : Digital Nomad wants to research new destinations to live and work from.

I'm jumping ahead to our collaboratively selected sketches and mid-fi wireframes, and am tracing the decision-making we, as a group, used to select our sketches to move ahead with.

 

In our Competitive Analysis we discovered LP has a lot of best of, and top 5 or 10 lists, so we wanted to leverage that familiar and trusted format to reach our new audience. We also liked that a top 20 list encourages browsing, you are immediately presented with a menu of destinations, and you are invited to scan the photos and the names of places that seem appealing, and then click in.

We returned to our interview findings of factors that are important to digital nomads when finding a place to stay, and broke them down into 3 categories:

ONE, work requirements

(eg. visa information, average internet speed, number of coffeeshops)

TWO, quality of life

(eg. cost of living information, average cost of groceries, rent)​

 

Our users expressed that they travel on a budget, because our users travel is different in that its their life, and like most everyone else, you have to have a budget.

THREE, must do and see

(eg. cultural sites, things to do and explore, attractions, cathedrals)

Our users expressed that exploration and discovery while traveling enrich their time in a place and make their stays and this nomadic lifestyle feel valuable. ​

Planet Nomad Top Destinations Worldwide.png

After they filter, the user can click a city page for their particular stats.

Planet Nomad City Detail.png

We wanted to create a space, just for nomads on the primary nav bar, which we called Planet Nomad. This is our mid-fi wireframe for our "home page for nomads"

Planet Nomad Home Page.png

We found some issues with User Task 1: only 3/5 completed user task 1,

We uncovered 2 major issues:

  1. Home page

    • ​​​Users couldn't easily find the digital nomads home page, instead they were clicking around the destinations drop down.

  2. City page "add to profile button"

    • 2/5 didnt know to click there to save the page or item. When asked they said the language was confusing/nonstandard.

We changed related aspects of our design in response to our findings:

  1. Home page

    • We arranged the primary nav alphabetically, which moved the digital nomads dropdown farther left

    • We ran an accessibility check, and found the contrast of the white text overlay of the home bar on the full color image was inaccessible, so we added a transparent black filter onto the photographs to up the contrast

  2. City page "add to profile button"

    • We changed the button name to "bookmark”

LP Homepage Wireframe hi-fi.png
Planet Nomad City Detail - hi fi.png
USER FLOW 2 DARKER BCKGRND.gif

3 Ideate and Design

Solution Flows

3.2
Immediate enjoyment research

User Flow 2

User task 2: Digital Nomad wants to find a nearby activity for this weekend in their new city
Card Sort
DATA
SYNTHESIS
 
User task 2: Digital Nomad wants to find a nearby activity for this weekend in their new city
Browsing + Discovery Centered Approach
BACK TO AIRBNB!
 
Attractions Re-design
More categories, including narrow categories, sourced from card sort data, in a horizontal scroll bar. 
"Thing to do" card re-design: larger images, reviews, price included.

For our second user flow, we were working from our How might we #2:

How might We #2: How might we inspire digital nomads to immerse themselves in the culture of each location as they travel while working?

User task 2: Digital Nomad wants to find a nearby activity for this weekend in their new city

We wanted to create a user goal that captures the user’s need to explore, discover, and enjoy their time, in the city they are currently living in, in a more immediate time frame. We wanted our task to reflect the “what am I doing this weekend” time frame.

This goal was achievable on their preexisting site, users could search for activities, restaurants, hotels in different cities and countries. But, based on our user interview findings, we had questions about the appeal of the preexisting flow, particularly as they relate to our new nomadic users and the values they espouse. 

 

We found two specific problems with the pre-existing site:

 

  1. Language like "sights" and "attractions" didn't seem like they would be appealing to the values of digital nomads. These words feel very tourist-y, and not in keeping with people who prefer immersive travel.

  2. Usefulness of broad categories: "sights" as a filter for attractions (vs. hotels, nightlife and restaurants) felt too broad to even really be useful.

We decided to use a card sort to gain insights on how users would group/categorize different types of activities that may be offered via Lonely Planet in each city. 

We tested 20 participants who identify as “travelers” vs “tourists” on 25 cards that were sourced from LP’s list of Dublin attractions. This group of people (travelers) we felt would prefer immersive travel experiences and have values more in line with digital nomads. Thus, we felt, travelers would group sites in a way that would reflect digital nomads intuitive groupings, too

Our data agreed with LP’s pre-existing category “Shopping” but instead of “Nightlife” and “Restaurants” our participants overwhelmingly grouped these two together into a “Food and Drink” category.

 

However, it seemed that participants could not agree on grouping granularity or naming for the largest amount of attractions. On average, participants created 5 categories, but there was a wide range of number of groupings: 21 created 3 groupings, and 5 created 10 groupings.

 

We saw overlaps, the same cards were grouped together across different participants, but participants named groups very inconsistently. Some called the same cards “municipal/government” while others called them “historical buildings” or even “cultural sites”. 

Our data pointed to the same bloated category of “attractions” and/or “sights”. But not one participant used “attractions” or “sights” to name any category.

 

We wanted to see if we could operationalize this card sort data, and the many categories our participants created, while returning to an earlier question about designing a flow that mirrored that same sense of joy in discovery. Then, I thought to return to AirBnb, and coming up with a more browsing, exploratory, discovery-centered UI.

Was there a UI solution that formally, and in its user experience, reflects the mission of Lonely Planet, to inspire the joy of exploration and travel?

At this point, I returned to thinking about the comparative analysis we did of Airbnb, back when we noticed their flow seemed to serve the “culturally curious traveler”. At a certain point their filters don’t seem meant to narrow down the menu of categories or to reflect how users tend to group types of dwellings for a manageable sitemap. Their category strategy seems to be more maximalist, the user can scroll horizontally almost infinitely.

Screen Shot 2022-11-03 at 3.41.10 PM.png

 Airbnb creates a user flow that piques the interest of the curious - you are rewarded by more niche categories as you scroll farther off the visible curated few buttons. Their UI  functions to encourage delighted browsing, a sort of discovery-centered UI solution. This, combined with the card sort data, directed our design decisions for “attractions” and “sights”.

We opted for more categories, ones we sourced from card sort data. We made a horizontal scroll bar of filter buttons, where we chose more, narrower categories, including things like “Parks” and “Monuments” as buttons.

After revisiting Airbnb, we also made some changes to our "thing to do” cards:

  • Larger images:  we heard in usability testing that there was a lot of text in our UI, so we made the pictures bigger, and removed the blurb, like AirBnb as well. 

  • Reviews, # of stars: pulling in a community aspect, crowd-sourced reviews are a nice way for users to get “word of mouth” type information on unfamiliar places

  • Price: Again, most digital nomads are budget conscious, and we wanted to provide a way to filter for price, or at least rule out things to do based on a cursory glance at the price on the cards.

Things to do in Dublin v2 hi-fi.png
USER FLOW 2 DARKER BCKGRND.gif

4 Moving Forward...

In the end, we did produce a product I feel proud of, and I feel like as a group we engaged rigorously at several points with the design process. That being said, I have some recommendations moving forward with this project:

I would also conduct usability testing on User Flow #2, to see if its intuitive, and if its working in the way we intended. Intuitive and fun or difficult and annoying?

I would conduct several more card sorts from different cities, to see if we could find some more emergent categories for the horizontal scroll. 

 

The product is finished but we feel uncertain about the forum as a way of creating community engagement, or helping people form meaningful connections. If Lonely Planet decided they wanted to go down the forum/community engagement route, I would conduct further interviews focusing on this aspect, to figure out the best method for providing this.

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