Last week I wrote a review about the user experience of Southwest Airline’s website specifically discussing the navigation and presentation. This week I end the discussion with a review of the content and interaction design of the website.
Overall, from what I did see, the organization of the content and copy writing seemed to be well done and speaks in the voice of the brand that I am accustomed to hearing – friendly, approachable, contemporary, easy-going.
I honed in on The Southwest Experience section and was pleased to see how it neatly and cleanly grouped the key subsections from the landing page, which enable you to Learn More. I was still disappointed however that it made the same mistake it made in the primary navigation where it does not show which menu item you are currently in on the left hand navigation menu. The currently selected section should change to black text rather than remaining blue. What’s more, it labeled this left hand navigation (local navigation) “Related Information” which leads you to think that it is related information to the Finding Low Fares section or the current section, when in fact it is the menu for accessing the other Travel Experience subtopics.
I found three problematic interaction designs on the website that are worth noting, because they point out useful lessons.
- Just because it works for some, does not mean it works for all
- Don’t get fancy for the sake of fanciness, it could hurt your cause
- Test your forms
Just because it works for some, does not mean it works for all
For some reason, Southwest decided to introduce faceted navigation on the Special Offers section. Faceted navigation is probably something you’ve seen on Kayak.com or perhaps a retail e-commerce site and it’s generally used to help narrow down search results quickly and painlessly by using sliders, checkboxes, or other toggles which then eliminate results that do not meet the selected criteria. This faceted navigation panel was poorly executed and likely does not fit the use case here. There doesn’t seem to be enough specials here to warrant using it. Generally faceted navigation is most effective when you have very large (more than say, 50) items that need to be waded through. It seems like this might have been a case of one of the following.
When used well, subset totals of results are shown. For example, before you even get to flipping the switches and narrowing down, there are subtotal numerals for each set to help guide you, and indicate how many results are available in each grouping. In this implementation, you don’t get to see the subtotals until you make your selection. Additionally, the website combined the faceted navigation with tabs, where tabs suddenly disappear if you begin making selections in the faceted navigation. I think Southwest may have been trying to make it easier to jump between the types of specials, which makes sense but it probably could have stopped there, and omitted the faceted navigation altogether.
Don’t get fancy for the sake of fanciness, it could hurt your cause
Another issue I found in the Special Offers is the call to action buttons. See the Rapid Rewards Partner graphics? How many of you thought those were buttons? Don’t be shy, raise your hands. Well…they’re not. But they sure look like buttons don’t they? The real call to action is the “More Details” link, or the blue title text of the special itself. This is problematic because you are more likely to click on those pretty graphics only to have nothing happen. I understand that Southwest wanted to brand the specials and flag partners, but my recommendation would be to change the styling to look less like a button perhaps through the use of a ribbon or simpler icon, and to reduce it in scale and placement so that it is not competing or overpowering the true call to action hyperlink.
Test Your Forms
In my quest for shoulder season deals, I looked for some last minute ideas in the Vacations section. From the landing page for Vacations, I clicked on Last Minute Deals and to my surprise I was taken off the main site to another site, SouthwestVacations.com. I was happy to see some deals and clicked on the first Book Now button right below the hero area which told me I could find some special deals as long as I stay for at least 3 days. Another surprise…I was taken to a vacation builder wizard, which started in a search form. But it auto populated my Departure City as Boston and my travel dates. I understand that Southwest filled in the Destination City and the Promo Code but why the other fields? I don’t live in Boston and I don’t want to travel on those dates. I thought it was a fluke until I tried booking some of the other last minute deals. All of them did the same thing. Very strange. And I couldn’t find any explanation text to help me understand why.
Overall, like any travel experience, there are high points and low points to Southwest.com’s user experience. Auditing the entire site would be quite a task and would take much more time. Here are some things Southwest Airlines should focus on.
- Southwest needs to concentrate on bringing better consistency to all the various departments and sub-brands not only visually, but also from an interaction design standpoint.
- There are numerous searching and results filtering patterns that have been created in each area that could probably be refined to surface a smaller handful of patterns that can be reused portal-wide.
- Too many methods make for a jarring, disjointed experience forcing the user to re-learn how the site wants him/her to think.
I’ll still be traveling Southwest Airlines, but I do hope it brings aboard some fresh perspectives on its online and mobile user experiences soon. So who’s traveling this shoulder season?