Abhishek Anand

@abyshake

5 things seriously wrong with Google Trip-planner. A case of bad product design.

I’m a huge fan of how Google does things, so when they mess it up, I feel seriously disappointed. And boy, did they mess it up big this time!

So Google. You think I wouldn’t wanna come back once I go to this trip?

Let me get something out of the way first. Huge, huge fan of Google. And I can’t believe I am going to diss them real bad.

Google has always had a great way of doing things. I use it to look up current/future time in different timezones, temperature, weather conditions, match scores, stock market data, order stuff, and what not. Let’s just say 10% of my daily needs are fulfilled by the search result card of Google without having any need to even scroll down.

Today, for some research, I was looking up for top holiday destinations in India. And that is when I stumbled across the ‘Plan a Trip’ feature at Google. (I think it may have been there for a while now, I just hadn’t checked it out earlier.)

I think I used to come across cards like this one in similar searches earlier as well. Whether the part enclosed in red used to be there or not, I can’t say. Probably I just use to move past that without giving it a second look.

The more I checked out the feature, the more I got disappointed by how it had been incorporated. And the more I kept getting disappointed, the more I started nitpicking. So I will begin with one of the wrongs that came up as a result of the said nitpicking.

Prob. #5. USELESS RIGHT SIDE CARD

Okay few things here.

  • If I am a user making this search from India, then there is probably no point in showing me the details about India — capital, president etc. I would know that stuff. And Google, you obviously know I am in India right now. You so meticulously choose to display your knowledge of that info at the bottom of the page.
  • On the off chance that I am a tourist visiting India, and making this search while I am in India, my previous point is no longer valid. But, even in that scenario — (1) The percentage of such cases would be ridiculously small, and (2) Context! What could be a good reason to display info on President, Prime Minister, GDP, Population or Area to a tourist? Do you think he/she would be interested in that info?
  • Even if this was an out-of-India search, by someone planning to visit India in future, my point on context would still stand. Would it not be better to use this real estate to display stuff that would be relevant to a traveler/tourist? Popular destinations, historical landmarks, amazing cuisine, local shopping markets — anything would have been better than how this space was utilized.
  • The area highlighted in Teal is just as bad. The first three items I can understand, the last two I can’t.

Prob. #4. NOT FACTORING IN USER BEHAVIOR

When you show someone something as meaningful as price, the normal expectation is to be in a position where you would be able to make a transaction (if you so choose), at the next page. Just look at these two different cards — (Left) One of the cards from the vacation search result, (Right) Cards for Yamaha Guitar.

If I click on any one of the guitars, I would be taken to the website where I would be able to make a purchase. That’s how I would expect the behavior to be. In the case of the travel card, it doesn’t happen that way. There is absolutely no information available there. This is how the next page looks like.

No booking button. No options whatsoever. And let’s take a moment to highlight one major and one minor issue here, other than the lack of a CTA(since I am nitpicking):

  1. No option to change the trip duration, hotel type etc. Now this is a minor issue because of a number of reasons. (A) It is possible that the set duration (7 days) is based on behavior of other users, (B) It is possible to change it, the action is just not available on this particular page.
  2. I am going on a vacation, not running away from the law to a non-extradition country. I would need to come back. Why are you not showing me return flight fare? You are showing me some flight fare, so you have obviously factored in a travel date, you are showing me the travel duration — ergo, you can also assume a return date and show me the fares for that. This is not a minor issue.

Also. If I am to dissect this page a bit more, here is a edited screengrab.

Prob. #3. WAY TOO MANY DAMN CLICKS

What’s going on. Are we trying to plan a trip or are we playing a game of minesweeper — crossing our finger at every click that maybe this time we will get lucky.

If Google’s goal is to not have people travel, great — they would have managed to do that to me had I actually been planning to travel.

Clicking on the “7-day trip” thing takes me to another page that once again does not — in entirety — do what it should have.

  • It does give me the opportunity to make/edit my selections on type of hotel and duration of stay, even my travel dates (both onward and return)
  • It does miss yet another opportunity to have included the return flight details. (Or so I thought.)

Actually this is the moment for me to eat my hat, since this page showed me two little words below the airfare — round trip.

So why am I simply correcting my mistake, instead of correcting the whole article to this point to remove the instances of me cribbing about lack of return fare selection?
Two reasons:
1. I do realize it is my mistake and hence it needs to be corrected, so I am accepting it.
2. Is it possible that I made that mistake because the information was not presented the right way? I am not sure. You can be the judge of that.
Just look at the three occurrences of flight fares we encountered:
A. The search card - The room price mentioned was per night. However, at this stage I hadn't made any assumptions about the flight fare either way.
B. The first page - It reads 2 hour 25 min flight from Rs. 6,488. The flight duration is a useful piece of info - sure. But would it have not made more sense if it read Round trip fares starting Rs. 6,488? #JustSaying
Also. I am assuming 2hr25min is the duration of one way flight. It is not that hard to make a leap that the cost is for a one-way flight.
C. The trip-planner page - Once again, it reads Airfare for 1 traveler Rs. 6,488. I may have considered changing that to "Round-trip fare for 1 traveler" instead. But, rather than doing that, the words 'round trip' are hidden in small, lighter text.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I was wrong. So acknowledging that mistake. Sorry if I misled you.

Clicking on the flight icon takes me to a flight selection page

And luckily, this time they are showing me the option to look for a return flight. <<<This whole segment lost 80% of its relevance because of the big reveal I noticed as soon as I started writing this.>>>

So, I select an outbound flight, and Google prepares the itinerary for me. A welcome surprise in this whole chaos, this is the most helpful segment of the whole trip-planning module. Just look at the screenshot below before we compare notes.

Notes:

  1. It informs me of a flight that is “often delayed”, and by how much
  2. It mentions quite clearly that I would need 2 separate tickets, and hence 2 separate bookings. Also highlighted by the phrase “Separate tickets” at the very beginning. The color choice for that highlighting could have been slightly better though. The red used in ‘often delayed’ may have been a good choice.
  3. Gives me an option to track price for this itinerary. I am assuming exercising this option would keep me updated via emails/web-notifications/mobile notifications via Google Now on fare changes. (I did not dive into this feature, but this is the only way that makes sense.)
  4. I can share the itinerary with a friend or send to myself. A nice nifty way to organise your trip better.

The separate ticket highlight was present at the time of selecting the return ticket as well.

Prob. #2. THE WHOLE SYSTEM IS ALL OVER THE PLACE

Did you notice me talking about clicking on what segment takes us where? Try following that flow. Wait. You can’t. Because there is NO FLOW. Everything just happens — independently of each other. That’s just messed up.

And do keep in mind that despite all this rant, I completely skipped over the hotel booking segment.

I had at least ten different tabs opened up just to collect all these screenshots of different pages involved — because I did not want to go back and forth every single time I needed to move from flights to hotels. Imagine going back and forth when you are trying to make the actual booking. If that’s not infuriating to you, then You dear sir, have achieved the zen state.

There were a lot of more problems. Take hotel booking for example, since that is one part that has been missing so far.

When I would select one of the hotels that were being displayed on the search results, instead of being taken over to the page where I could book a room, I was taken over to the partner website with an incomplete search term resulting in a number of more results getting displayed. I had already made a decision. Why would you want me to start over again?

Prob. #1. THE SYSTEM IS DESIGNED FOR YOU TO GIVE UP?

The best systems are the ones that make your life easy.

They are painless, simple, intuitive, to the point, and take away the guess work (definitely the second guessing part).

This was lacking on those. You want to build a trip-planning system? How about doing it the simple way?

Start with some basic questions. What is a user looking for when he is searching for a holiday destination? In which order is he looking for the information? What does he want to do? In what order would he expect to do those things?

SEARCH RESULTS PAGE

Left segment remains as it is. Right segment is replaced by a list of top rated destinations

  • These results can be displayed based on reviews from aggregators like Tripadvisors, based on number of search queries. Take any parameter.
  • These should also include an indicative cost — (lets say for 2 people for a weekend Friday evening checkin, Sunday evening checkout).
  • The results at the top should not include places which are unfavorable to visit during the time of the year when the search is being made.

AFTER A DESTINATION HAS BEEN SELECTED

Now that the user has decided where he wants to ‘consider’ going, let’s help him out with the actual trip planning. I would recommend a smooth, linear flow. Something that resembles this:

STEP 1 — DETAILED INFO PAGE

Reviews of the place, images, videos are the most important here. So that the user can make up his/her mind about visiting. These components need to get more prominence.

Cost, how to get there etc should be present below these graphics. However, presenting a concise view of some of these elements in a ribbon at the top might not be a bad idea.

Call to Action : Start planning my itinerary

(Along with the CTA, there can be a section where the user can specify number of people visiting, whether he would prefer Google looking for flights/bus/trains/cabs, dates for onward and return journey, and if there are any preferences in travel time + place to stay at.)

Most of the times, people travel as per their availability. So keeping travel dates open ended makes no sense. However, if you do want to see actual user behavior, you can have a checkbox for “I am flexible with my travel dates

STEP 2 — BUILDING THE ITINERARY — FLIGHT BOOKING

Show just one flight option — the cheapest one. Along with the price, time of travel and all details.

Have an option at the bottom for the user to browse through other possible option if he/she chooses to do so. How much or less prominence you want to give this could be something we can figure out by some quick few weeks of A/B testing.

CTA : Save flight options and continue to book room

The button can just read Save flight options and proceed. ‘To book room’ would be a text below the button in that case.

STEP 3 — HOTEL BOOKING

This one is relatively trickier. You don’t want to show a shoddy hotel just because it was the cheapest one. A good way to ascertain the ONE hotel to show here could be based on a quality score.

Quality score would be determined by a function that takes weighted scores of number of reviews the hotel has, average review score, price per night etc.

Another way could be to have some sort of a sliding carousel here. You can display 4–5 top picks for the hotels and display relevant information for each of them.

  1. Just as in step 2, have an option to browse more at the bottom.
  2. Have different room options present for each hotel at this page itself. Let a user be in a position to select the room he/she wants (and in the absence of the ability to do that, at least be aware of the different options available.)

CTA : Review final itinerary

The Google trip planner does have the option to select rating for the hotel, as well as the hotel type/class, but I am not sure that’s the best way to do it. If your default view has bad hotels in it, then that’s on you. It is not the user’s fault that the user did not exercise the option to change the view. You should always proceed with the process that takes as few steps at the end of the user as possible. Letting a user choose a lowly rated hotel to favor low cost is one thing, that is a conscious compromise the user is making. But displaying bad hotels to everyone in the default view is a mistake.

STEP 4 — LAST STEP

For obvious reasons, it could be a while before Google is able to get its partners make the necessary changes/modifications to their systems to enable all these bookings on one click (though that would be so so cool). But even at this stage, I would assume that sending a user to different websites with all necessary parameters pre-selected should not be an impossible task.

So this is what we do here:

  1. Show the finalised itinerary to the user
  2. Have multiple booking buttons — one for each kind of booking. If both flights can be booked at the same time, have one button, if not — have one for each.
  3. Give the user an option to save, share and email this itinerary to himself.
  4. Bookings and payments can be made either right now, or at a later time just by clicking the buttons in the email (or on this page — accessible from his account menu).
  5. Inform the user that : (A) Fares and room rates may change at any time, (B) Google is just helping them ease the process of planning the trip, and has no control or interference whatsoever in the actual booking process.

CTA : Save | Save and Email

Share your itinerary with a friend should be a popup/message that comes up after the click here. The best way to do it would be “Who are you traveling with? Would you like to share your itinerary with them?”

That’s it. We are done.

Final step. Sit back and relax. You are happy and so is the traveler.

There are countless more ways to do this. I just went ahead with the simplest one. Some parts of it may be a tech challenge, and if so — I apologise. I am just looking at it from a user-friendliness perspective.
Also. I wanted to build some wireframes to demonstrate the alternative better. What I just talked about. But would have taken hours and I did not want that coming in the way of making sure that the story gets published and not end up in the drafts. Draft is where stories go to die!

I would love this system. Wouldn’t you?

If you liked the story, consider giving it a heart? 💛

That’s it for today. See you tomorrow.

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