We wanted to build something akin to having a friend abroad- like a friend, our product would recommend places to go, things to do, stuff to eat. We wanted to strive away from an endless catalog of places and reviews and instead designed the product to be small and intimate lists of things. What differentiates a friend from a travel site is that your friend knows you- and so, we sought to do the same, with a combination of machine learning and human-curation.
I created a Typeform survey to gauge interest (and low key introduce the project to friends and family) in features we were considering prioritizing: niche vs. popular content, the chance to connect with other travelers, budgeting, and general planning habits. We collected over 100 responses; I filtered down the results to pick out a few people to follow up for an in-depth interview.
We learned that travelers, even those who described themselves as rigorous planners, truly did not enjoy planning. What excited and inspired people to travel was the combination of envisioning the chance to escape the every day and peer motivation. These insights helped us steer away from our original intent as a travel planning app to a travel inspiration app. How could we make an app that was truly spontaneous?
Bringing focus with affinity clustering
We had a plethora of potential content to tap into, thousands upon thousands of images, social opportunities for engaging with friends or strangers, and many more ideas, but we needed direction and structure. I interviewed a few survey takers from the Typeform survey to create a set of personas to create goals for, and we worked to generate ideas around those goals.
Our end focuses revolved around:
1. "Best of the best" content- showing what was popular and highly recommended, vs. off the beaten path type content
2. Social integration with friends- enable an interactive social sphere of influence, using friends as way to curate content
3. Curation and personalization - thinking back to how we wanted the app to be "like a friend", the app should know about what you like and what you could be convinced to do. We worked to create an interaction model that would encourage people to help us learn about them.
Designing a "whimly" experience
An early concept of this app focused on quick and easy interactions. On the home screen, users would see the last minute flights (meaning, flights only a few weeks in advance) that we felt were a really good deal. Like $600 flights to Japan good. Price was important to show upfront, because we found that was one of the main triggers for an impulse trip.
Flights also acted as filters- clicking into one brought users to curated images of things to do and eat. Users can swipe left to right to look through pictures, with little text, to get the "vibe" of a city- anything they liked, they could save into a "trip." The key was we wanted users to be able to quickly swipe through and get an idea of how interesting a place could be, so they could justify going.
Friends and #FOMO
In terms of discovery, many people go to social media. They look at where their friends go, the photos they take, the places they tag. A friend's recommendation is extremely valuable. We explored the idea of friends effecting the way tags might be shown to a user. Tags endorsed by friends would be visually bigger. Places liked by friends also had a different visual treatment. "Liked by friends" was also a filter in itself.
Tag clouds and discreet filtering
We wanted users to be able to mindlessly browse, without having to read too much, but we also needed a way for them to tell us and the algorithms what they liked, by interacting with the app. I looked at concepts for discreet filtering for things like food, art, culture, etc. We wanted to encourage users to interact with these images by liking them- so we experimented with ephemerality. If a user could not see the same thing twice, ever again, would they be more liberal in saving and storing? And as the user liked or disliked things, we could begin to curate their feeds more and more.
As we began to lock down our product requirements, Whimly's brand began to form. We took the idea of "the whim" as a synonym for "taking a chance" and wanted the experience of our app to be like browsing different worlds and dreams. We wanted it to be a magical, enchanting experience.
A big part of the app will require a large amount of content creation; we knew one big part of travel planning is making choices, and we needed to create an immersive choosing experience. I developed a short guide for our team to follow to support the tone & voice of Whimly.