The Value of a Startup Community and Burritos

As an early stage B2C company, there are no doubts that resource constraints are more present and impactful than at a larger company.  Companies of all shapes and sizes have domain expertise but can still lack the in house expertise to solve new problems.  Larger companies may throw dollars around to develop the next big product or spend money on acquisition to fill a need.  One way we fill the gap is by partaking in, giving back to, and growing with the community at Switchyards, Atlanta’s best consumer focused workspace.

 

Erica Newcomb runs Quite Nimble, a fellow resident startup focused on improving the way companies work, play, and exist.  Together, we teamed up to run a jam session to improve the travel and user experience for the next iteration of Faretrotter – 100% fueled by Chipotle burritos (as good as currency to some people).  In short, we rounded up 14 UX experts from the Switchyards community to give feedback, critiques, thoughts, musings, and a slow clap for the next iteration of Faretrotter.

 

Erica ran the informal session independent of Faretrotter.  The rationale was to gather honest and candid feedback from UX experts after realizing the problem (you know – how much it costs and how long it takes to get anywhere in the world) and seeing how our solution addresses it.  All too often, people succumb to their conscience when providing feedback and only give the feedback that will be met with smallest resistance.  By having an independently ran session, we were able to capture honest and candid critiques from first time users, who just so happen to be UX/UI experts – an extremely unique and valuable proposition that far exceeds the cost of award winning guacamole.

 

Just to touch on our process of the session, we put them through a few scenarios to get the ball rolling: What’s the cheapest way from Washington DC to Boston?  Or what’s the fastest way from La Guardia to Manhattan and how much will it cost?  These scenarios put the users directly in the problem, setting them up to think as problem solvers for the remainder of the hour.  Then, we sent them to our newest iteration to see how our solution addresses specific problems.  The following 45 minutes were spent in discussion on what sucks and what works.  This session generated quite of bit of noise but also some very interesting and valuable insight.

 

Taking the feedback, we have roughly 29 new ways to further improve our recent iteration – from small edits like padding in HTML elements – to larger items like widgets and workflow.  The biggest suggestions are how to use UX to optimize the conversions.  We have had an assumption over the evolution of our build phase that we shouldn’t deviate too far from what users expect and what users are familiar with – confirmed by many folks, who likened the product to Google Maps, but still wanted the real time fare information that is expected of traditional OTAs – a la Faretrotter Live Search.  Here are a few before and after shots:

 

The Map

before_mapBefore.  The aesthetics of Mapbox can be overwhelming – they do make beautiful maps with more flexibility than Google Maps.  We absolutely love using their maps.  Our issue was that we dove too deep into making a beautiful map rather than a functional one.

 

after_map

After. We nixed the custom style and started with Mapbox’s streets template.  From here, we increased the contrast to make things pop yet still keep the aesthetically pleasing feel.  Next, we added polylines for every non-flight-option to better visualize every mode of transportation.  Third, we toned down how we depict locations and types – such as cities, states, and countries.  While it was “pretty” before, now it’s more functional and pays tribute our strengths.

 

Results and Navigation UX

menu_before Before. There were a few UX issues on the results page, but to draw attention to one from the session – the bar of icons.  As they are, the dark icons depict that a given mode is not valid for a route, while white means there is an applicable mode for this route.  Leaving these icons un-collapsed gives way to a cluttered feel.  In our effort to keep our UX simple – white space is just as important as used space.  While it is useful to know that a mode does not exist, not displaying this information can have just the same, if not more, impact.

 

after_menu

After. Overall, the effort went into organization and functionality.  The mode icons are organized; the unused mode icons are only exposed when mousing over the three dots.  The calendar icon allows users to specify a date, compare the fares for each mode side-by-side, and book that route.  The clock icon is a sorting mechanism, with some “play” according to recommended order.

 

Shout out to Erica Newcomb at Quite Nimble and everybody else who gave their time: Tallia and Kate at Mavenly + Co, John and John at Black Airplane, Chad at ZELO,  Mary at Prisk Designs, Chris and Justin from Tenrocket, Emily and Sheehan at Airlift, and Anu at Chil Creative.