Master’s Capstone Project: Expedia Travel App

Drifter: a last-minute travel planning solution
Role(s): Project Manager, Prototyper, Video Editor

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Expedia has cornered many angles of the travel market, but while they have added many features in recent years to accommodate the highly organized vacation planner, one user segment missing from their domain was the last-minute wanderlust traveler. Who are these people who fill your instagram feed with travel dreams and seem to hop aboard a plane on a whim? Expedia asked our team of four UX students to investigate this user segment as the sponsor for our HCDE capstone project. See the full process book here.

The problem:

When booking a trip within a week of departure, the last-minute traveler doesn’t feel that there is a booking experience that offers the personalized, trustworthy, and flexible process they desire.


We analyzed 19 different popular travel booking websites like Hotwire, Priceline, and Google Flights. We surveyed 69 frequent flyers and then followed up with a more in-depth survey that reached 113 respondents. Additionally, we interviewed 8 of those respondents to drill into the facts behind their survey answers. These led us to the following research conclusions:

  1. Travelers can be overwhelmed by the wide selection of travel choices available.
  2. Travelers believe that travel websites are manipulative in how they present booking information to users.
  3. Travelers want a travel booking experience that does not feel like a huge commitment of time and money.

We translated these research conclusions into three overarching design goals: Trust, Curation, and Flexibility.

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Prototyping Process:

Taking those three design goals and running with them, we embarked on our prototyping process. This involved several whiteboarding sessions to deliver an Information Architecture flowchart and subsequent paper prototype screens to get quick test results from potential users. Some early things this helped us identify was our wording of certain tasks, like Favorites, Search vs. Browse, and the Sell-back feature that was meant to instill trust in our users.

A flowchart for a prototype app meant to book flights and experiences.
Basic Information Architecture Diagram I created using Axure

Quick! Test it on a screen!

After cleaning up our content strategy, we shifted our focus to the flow. As we wanted to design a travel shopping experience centered around quick gestures and swiping, building out an interactive experience was paramount. My teammate Val built a series of linked wireframes using Sketch to test users’ ability to interact with the product.

Preparing for a smooth landing

The final phase of the project incorporated all of our user feedback from the wireframes into high fidelity screens. What we changed: 

Swiping: One of our key hypotheses in the deisgn process was to incorporate the swiping interactions of dating apps like Tinder to help the decision-making process. After all, finding a good vacation should feel like finding a good partner. Our user tests disagreed, possibly due to the fact that our prototypes couldn’t mimic those gestures. Instead, our users indicated that they preferred to scroll through choices and see multiple options at a time for comparison sake.

Barriers to entry: We deliberated for a while on whether or not we should include a sign-up button on the welcome screen. This is a platform that collects data, personalizes interests, and includes financial transactions. Creating an account early seemed like a good idea. Our early tests hinted that users were unconvinced in the value of such an app and probably wouldn’t sign up until they reap some of its benefits. We resolved to use active verbs on the welcome page and skip right to the good stuff. The user can sign up once they want to start customizing their experience.

Helper text: This one is pretty straightforward. Our goal was to create a new experience for finding travel plans. We wanted to be different from the existing apps out there. So it’s not a stretch to believe that users could benefit from some onboarding and tutorial experience. Even though it conflicts with our effort to remove barriers to entry, we included features like Bucket List and Sell-back whose uses aren’t immediately intuitive. By requiring a brief, friendly onboarding experience, we welcome our users to test out the keys that set us apart from other apps. 

The polished design:

Our final, high-fidelity prototypes, created in Sketch by teammate Val.

Pitching the Concept:

We created a video to convey the purpose, problem, and solution of Drifter. This was a task I undertook with the help of my friends as actors. I storyboarded the filming process and edited the pieces together using Adobe Premiere.

Elation and Celebration:

I couldn’t spend my last quarter of grad school staring at travel deals without taking advantage of my new expertise. After tracking several websites over the course of the project, I found a great deal on a flight to Thailand and spent two weeks wanderlusting around the country, never booking plans more than two days in advance.

Smiling from the Tiger Temple in Krabi, Thailand