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Case Study: Disciplined Simplification Experience Professionals Elevates The Brand In Virgin America's Site Redesignby Allegra Burnette, December 12, 2014 Focus and Collaboration yield speedy Results
An initial single-minded goal, supported by internal and external team col aboration, provided the foundation for efficiently reworking Virgin America's online presence.
expertise, Iteration, and Progressive Releases ensure Quality
An emphasis on customer experience and quick findings brings a fresh perspective to a familiar process for today's travelers.
Design elevates The Customer experience
Brand characteristics such as fun, clever, and slightly goofy turn the mundane into the enjoyable and start the customer's journey on the right footing.
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For Customer experienCe proFessionals DeCemBer 12, 2014 Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates
The Brand In Virgin america's site Redesign
why ReaD ThIs RePoRT
Virgin America undertook a major website redesign with the goal of streamlining the process of booking plane tickets through mobile devices and transforming it into an appealing experience. To do this, Virgin America updated its technical infrastructure, committed senior staff resources, partnered with digital agency Work & Co, brought the brand into better alignment across channels, and created a customer- centered experience that introduces fun to the staid world of online ticket purchases. By going beyond surface-level changes and reaching its goal through disciplined simplification, Virgin America provides a model for other customer experience professionals to follow.
table of Contents notes & resources 2 Challenge: Make Mobile Booking Compelling
Forrester interviewed Virgin america and To Customers
Work & Co for this report.
3 solution: Bring Disciplined simplicity To a
related research Documents one Big idea Focuses the redesign project november 10, 2014 simplified processes lead to Fluid experiences micro moments Create the magic september 3, 2014 Great Work Demands Great Clients 9 Result: The end Is Just The Beginning
a progressive release allows For real-World ongoing iteration supports Continuous improvement the effects of Closer Collaboration live on 11 Question The status Quo
11 supplemental Material
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change. Forrester®, Technographics®, Forrester Wave, RoleView, TechRadar, and Total Economic Impact are trademarks of Forrester Research, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective companies. To purchase reprints of this document, please email clientsupport@forrester.com. For additional information, go to www.forrester.com.


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign Challenge: MaKe MoBIle BooKIng CoMPellIng To CusToMeRs
While Virgin America has an established brand and a loyal following, it wanted to enhance ticket bookings through mobile devices. But it faced one major problem — outdated systems and user interfaces. As noted in Wired, "High-consideration purchases like airline bookings are still fairly rare on smartphones, in part because the websites are built on Web 1.0 technology stacks and comprised of UI elements that are a nightmare to navigate on small screens" (see Figure 1).1 Figure 1 Virgin America's Online Booking Process Before The Redesign
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign soluTIon: BRIng DIsCIPlIneD sIMPlICITy To a ReDesIgneD weBsITe
To improve its mobile experience and conversion rates, Virgin America determined that it needed to give its online booking site a complete overhaul. To help achieve this, Virgin America brought in digital agency Work & Co to design and build a responsive website from the ground up (see Figure 2). While it's early days yet for measuring the impact on mobile conversion rates, the new online experience already succeeds in bringing Virgin America's online presence into alignment with its brand qualities of smart, quirky, fun, and a bit cheeky. Both the process and the outcome offer techniques that other customer experience professionals looking to build innovative products and services can follow.
Figure 2 Virgin America's Redesigned Responsive Website On The Laptop, Tablet, And Phone
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
one Big Idea Focuses The Redesign Project
Before bringing Work & Co on board, the Virgin America team settled on one principle it wanted
to emphasize — boost conversions through mobile devices by creating an easy-to-use, fast, fun, and responsive website. In order to launch the new site within eight months, Virgin America and its col aborators at Work & Co: ■ Made the redesign a clear priority. The C-level team at Virgin America prioritized the redesign
project and dedicated its own time to ensuring the outcome matched its initial goals.
■ Laid the infrastructure foundation first. Before Virgin America even engaged a digital agency,
it made necessary infrastructure changes to prepare the technical foundation on which the new site would be built. While requiring hard work that is invisible to the customer, these changes mean a site that is more reliable, flexible, and fast.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014 For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign ■ Went beyond "mobile first." Work & Co felt that a mobile-first approach actual y aimed too
low; what it needed to do was keep all platforms in mind at the same time as it designed the user experience. "There is a lot of opportunity to think differently and respect how you use each platform," partner Gene Liebel said. Partner Joe Stewart elaborated: "For whatever reason, people think it's OK to have focused user experiences on mobile, but when you get to the desktop, it's about throwing in the kitchen sink. One of the great things about responsive is that it forces you to make those mobile decisions on a desktop."2 ■ Looked past existing solutions. Rather than looking to other airline booking processes for
examples, the team examined other eCommerce approaches for inspiration. The experience it wanted to present was akin to shopping for a ticket rather than the traditional ways of booking air travel online. The Work & Co team said that it appreciated the opportunity to rethink a process that had been the same way for so long.
simplified Processes lead To Fluid experiences
The redesigned site transforms the multiple pages and drop-downs of the previous site into a cohesive, multistep, single-page process for travel booking. Customers are walked through each step sequential y, focusing on the necessary task at hand, with the ability to easily step back or look forward as the need arises. To create a fluid and coherent experience, the team: ■ Integrated promotions into the flow. Rather than presenting users with an onslaught of text
and images advertising offers on the home page, the team integrated promotions into part of the user interface. The team didn't kill the advertising; instead, it made the messages more goal- directed and therefore more useful to customers coming to the site.
■ Focused attention on the task at hand. What was formerly a multiscreen process became a
single page segmented by task. Users can always scroll up to revisit an earlier decision. As Work & Co said, "One thing at a time gives you the opportunity to play with the experience and get the brand across more effectively" (see Figure 3).
■ Rethought menus. During the early prototyping stage, the team questioned why the standard
was to hide things in pull-down menus. Virgin America doesn't fly to too many places, so why not expose all the options, it asked. What is often conveyed via a map on other sites is now done with icons and a simple list on the new Virginamerica.com.
■ Elevated the design of forms. The team set itself the goal of making the best form in the world.
That meant designing and building in intelligent error handling, inline commentary, and clear feedback to explain what information is missing.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign Figure 3 Virgin America's Seat Selection Step
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
Micro Moments Create The Magic
At the very beginning of the project, Work & Co showed the Virgin America team three ideas in prototype. One of them, the Virgin America team said, made its collective jaw drop — there were fewer clicks, it was personalized, and it transformed ticket purchasing into an enjoyable experience. Virgin America's goal as a company is to make flying fun again; now it saw how it could carry that sensibility through to online ticket booking, a process that is not normal y associated with fun. Smal interactions and connections — micro moments — established the fun vibe and were created via: ■ Illustrations. There are no photographic images on the site. It balances the simplicity of the text
and graphics with friendly, irreverent, and often animated il ustrations that bring the brand to the forefront. The icons and avatars add levity, humor, and personality to an otherwise mundane task (see Figure 4).
■ Design. Everything on screen has been thought through, questioned, and refined. Details
include making the check-in screen dark while everything else is light; featuring clicking over typing; and enabling easy revisions from the cart view. The team even reworked the printed boarding pass so that the user can fold it up for carrying in a pocket while still showing the necessary information at the gate (see Figure 5 and see Figure 6).
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign ■ Speed. Both the infrastructure work and the design and front-end build focused on optimizing
the speed of the experience. For example, it now takes two clicks and 8 seconds to check in for your flight.
■ Tone. Microcopy is a core part of the experience. It has a consistent tone that aims to delight
travelers. Inline validation is conversational, and the text throughout is clever, friendly, edgy, cheeky, and smart, all characteristics of the Virgin America brand.
Figure 4 Illustrations Representing Some Of The Cities To Which Virgin America Flies
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign Figure 5 Virgin America's Check-In Screen
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign Figure 6 Virgin America's Folded Boarding Pass
Source: Virgin America Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.
great work Demands great Clients
While the website alone is worth writing about for setting new standards in airline booking and bringing fun to the online booking process, what made this all possible and what real y makes this story worth sharing is the partnership between the Virgin America and Work & Co teams. The partnership worked because: ■ Work & Co brought the goods. Work & Co is made up of a team of senior partners who left
the agency Huge in 2013 to set up their own shop. They brought in-depth experience working with clients like CNN, HBO Go, and JetBlue Airways and set out to do something different 2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014 For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign with their new company by having senior focused teams — each project team includes at least one company partner who is actively engaged doing the work. The team that clients meet at an initial pitch meeting is the team they will actual y work with throughout the project. In addition, the Work & Co team doesn't divide the work; everyone designs the same page at once with the belief that more brains are better at solving the problem. The result is a concentrated focus on two or three big features at a time before they move on to the next set of features.
■ Virgin America recognized its value. Virgin America researched and talked with a number of
agencies, but Work & Co stood out not only for its track record but also for how it handled itself under pressure during a technical y challenged early interview on Google Hangouts. In addition to remaining calm throughout, each person on the team went around and said "I did this" about a piece of work so that the client team got a sense of what each person would bring to the table. As a result, Virgin America determined that Work & Co would be a good cultural fit with the company and for the project.
■ Virgin America committed to the process. Part of the appeal but also the challenge of working
with Work & Co was the close col aboration that its iterative process required. On the Work & Co side, some of the team moved from New York to San Francisco for the duration of the project in order to be embedded with the Virgin America team. The Virgin America team, on the other hand, committed key senior leadership to the project. There were no layers of middle management, and the main executive team of three remained extremely involved and aligned throughout the project. By taking this approach, the team managed to avoid a lot of committee approvals and cultivated a barrier-free relationship between development and operations.
■ They focused together on speed and quality. In the early phases of the project, the Work & Co
team determined that the client's KPIs were driven by a few real y important use cases, not by 20 of them. So it focused its attention on those and on doing fewer things beautiful y wel . And by getting the teams closer together, it was able to get feedback earlier. Work & Co did not spend time creating slick presentation decks but instead built working prototypes of ideas — the CEO saw concepts for the site in the second week of the project. As a result, there were no big reveals, no "gotcha" surprises, and no selling, except for the initial pitch itself.
ResulT: The enD Is JusT The BegInnIng
The Virgin America team talked about the launch as just a line drawn in the sand, recognizing that sending the site out into the world was just the start of an ongoing process of testing, building, analyzing, improving, simplifying, or removing features. A three-part beta release preceded the public launch of the redesigned site.
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014 For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign a Progressive Release allows For Real-world Testing
The team made a link to the new site accessible initial y to employees and friends at Google, who emailed early feedback that was gathered into a Google doc. The next phase was rolled out to gold and silver Elevate members and customer experience advisors. The third phase of the beta release was rolled out to entrepreneurs around the country, the media, and additional Elevate members. This progressive release allowed for: ■ Feedback. The team knew what it was doing was different, so the beta release was a way to gauge
the reaction to it. Would people be positive — or would they hate it because they didn't like something unfamiliar? The beta release ended up racing through the design community via Twitter, allowing for real-world load testing. The initial wave of reaction and positive feedback ended up surprising the team by revealing how much people hate the conventional way of doing things.
■ Prioritization. A progressive release allowed the team to find the user experience edge cases,
prioritize feature requests, and put them in the proper scale. It questioned and scrutinized each feature in the list because, as the Work & Co team pointed out, "there is no value in a long ■ Changes. One of the key changes to come out of the beta testing was the addition of a +/- seven-
day calendar feature. Original y planned for after the launch, the team reprioritized this feature based on user feedback, delaying the public launch until it added it in. As Virgin America CMO Luanne Culvert said, "[it's important to use] deadlines as drivers to stay focused, but make sure the thing you are launching is the thing you want to launch." ongoing Iteration supports Continuous Improvement
No matter how talented the team, col aborative the client, and iterative the process, there will always be
adjustments that you need to make or features that you need to add or refine. But an iterative process takes this fact into account. As the Work & Co team pointed out, strategy runs in parallel with things it is trying; research is always testing hypotheses; and testing with users is always the starting point. "Prototyping is mandatory, especial y when doing something you've never done before." The team is still releasing code every two weeks for continuous improvements and refinements. Now that the new site is up and running, the team can also better evaluate whatever limitations a cross- platform responsive site might have. A supplemental mobile app is in the works to round out the customer experience. But, as Virgin America indicated, early results show that the redesign has met the goal of increasing conversions through tablets and phones.
The effects of Closer Collaboration live on
As the Virgin America team pointed out, everyone has different things that are top of mind, but they are all equal y important. The CMO focused on design and the competitive landscape; the CIO focused on the technology and implementation; and the senior vice president of planning and sales 2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014 For Customer experienCe proFessionals Case study: Disciplined simplification elevates the Brand in Virgin america's site redesign focused on revenue and ticketing. By col aborating closely, they were able to quickly bring those different points of view into alignment and focus on the task at hand. By demonstrating empathy for each other's priorities and by learning to build consensus through design, they were able to step out of their traditional roles and advocate for each other's area. The result is a closer way of working that continues well past the launch of the site.
QuesTIon The sTaTus Quo
Virgin America didn't just redesign its website; it reimagined how customers book their travel online and focused on making that an enjoyable experience rather than a necessary evil when planning a trip. Along the way, it transformed its own working processes. Committed customer experience professionals can emulate Virgin America's success by: ■ Rallying around a primary goal. A short, focused vision statement that's understood and
known by all keeps the project grounded and guards against scope creep from competing interests or undefined objectives.
■ Empathizing with colleagues, partners, and customers. Creating great customer
experiences is not just about putting yourself in the shoes of your customers; it's also about understanding the perspectives of the different business owners and partners and valuing what each brings to bear on the project.
■ Emphasizing prototypes over presentations. Shifting the process so that you spend time
on outcomes rather than presentations saves both time and money, enabling you to dedicate those resources to refining better customer experiences.
Companies Interviewed For This Report
1 Source: Joseph Flaherty, "The Super-Slick UX of Virgin America's New Booking Site," Wired, June 16, 2014 2 Source: Responsive Web Design (http://responsivewebdesign.com/podcast/virgin-america.html).
2014, Forrester Research, Inc. Reproduction Prohibited December 12, 2014


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