Oliver – iPhone app to build a travel itinerary


Client- Expedia Inc.

Project Type- Masters Capstone Project

Year- 2013

Role- Interaction Architect

Teammates- Debra Gladwin, Michael Helmbrecht, Kelsey Humphries, Ying Wang

Skills Used- Contextual Inquiry, Journal Studies, Guerilla Interviews, Competitive Analysis, Literature Review, Affinity Diagramming, Visioning, Facilitating Visioning Workshops, User Journey, Mindmap, Achievability Matrix, Prototyping (Low, Mid and High Fidelity, Working), User Testing, Defining Design Language, Branding, Concept and User Feedback Video, Design Specification, Product Research and Design Reports

Links- Research Report (Findings, Physiological Research, and more), Design Report (Product Overview, Design Spec, and more), Website





PROBLEM- Expedia came to us with 3 problems:

  • How can we bring the joyful, addictive discovery experience of websites such as Pinterest, Groupon, Etsy to travel?
  • How can we quantify delight?
  • How can we encourage people to start planning travel earlier?


SOLUTION- Our solution was an iPhone app called Oliver. Oliver is travel planning iPhone app that helps travelers make an itinerary through personalized discovery and collaboration. Oliver, the friendly octopus, helps the traveler discover new activities by learning their likes and dislikes. The traveler can favorite activities, make an itinerary and collaborate with friends to finalize it.

We created a working, high fidelity prototype on which we carried out our last set of user tests using  Facial EMG. We also created 2 reports – on user research and on design. Given the vastness of this project, I encourage you to refer to the report links above to see the details.



To know more about the application flow and to see all the app screens, please refer to Design Spec.


Setting up a trip


Personalized Discovery



Planning and Coordination


Concept video made by my team mate and I –




RESEARCH- We started with a kick-off meeting with our client to understand their needs and the goal. We then formed a three pronged research plan to try to solve for the 3 problems.


1) What makes activities joyful and addictive: We conducted 14 contextual inquiries to investigate the many ways people discover. We observed people using websites such as Pinterest, Groupon, Etsy, Pandora, etc.

We also conducted 5 “Joy” interviews where we observed people doing activities that they love such as dancing, singing, painting to understand what makes them passionate about an activity, what gets them in the “flow” and what makes these activities habitual.

We then made sequence models and consolidated the data using affinity diagrams.




2) How can we quantify delight: We explored various current physiological methods used to quantify emotions such as Facial Electromyography (EMG), Electroencephalography (EEG), Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Galvanic Skin Response, and Computer Vision.

After analyzing them on the basis of affordability, ease of setup and quality of data, we selected Facial EMG, developed a test plan and carried out the test at Expedia’s user testing labs.


3) How do people plan travel: We asked 22 participants who were actively planning a trip to fill out 2 month journals and 10 participants to fill out 2 week journals to investigate how people plan travel, what problems they face and help us get a sense of the overall planning process.

The journals had sections encouraging participants to write about their day in general, their feelings, their thinking and the travel related planning that they did that day.

Here is what a filled out journal looks like. Some people were so frustrated with travel planning that they even wrote extra sheets and found it therapeutic.


We analyzed these journals to understand the participant’s behavior over time. We created a timeline for each participant which we then used to come up with “Travel Planning Profiles”.



We also traveled to Orlando and Las Vegas where we conducted 51 guerilla interviews to understand how people planned once they were traveling.  We then consolidated the data using affinity diagrams. To know more about our research, please refer to the Research Report.


INSIGHTS- Our insights fell into the 3 broad categories of Planning, Exploring and Sharing.

1) Planning: Confident researching and organizing make travel planning more delightful and less stressful.

2) Exploring: Exploration is more enjoyable when the content is relevant, but there is still a desire for something novel.

3) Sharing: Experiences are better when they are shared with others, but coordination between people can be difficult.


We realized that there are 5 stages of travel planning: Speculating, Refining, Investigating, Booking and Nesting.



We also came up with 8 travel planning profiles based on these stages and the timelines we made- Price Checkers, Parallel Planners, Speculators, Sequential Planners, Dawdlers, Derailed Planners, Speculative Refiners, and Nesters.

Below you can see one of the travel planning profiles – The Speculators. Speculators are actively planning a confirmed trip but also speculating many potential trips simultaneously.

To know more about the insights, the evidence, the 5 stages of travel planning and the travel planning profiles, please refer to Findings



DESIGN- We did visioning exercises and story boarded the popular themes/ideas. We then had “speed dating” sessions with our journal participants to get their initial reaction.



We presented these ideas to our client and brainstormed with them to decide on a direction and the problem to solve. However we struggled as there were too many problems to solve. We made a diagram of the user’s journey, did mind map exercise and used voting and achievability matrix to arrive at a smaller set of problems to solve. We also conducted competitive analysis of some of the popular travel planning websites.


We began with a website application idea where we tried to solve for all of the problems from the problem set. While testing the paper prototypes, we realized that it overwhelmed users because of too many features.


We sought the guidance of our clients who then asked us to focus on the nesting stage, i.e help users plan an itinerary after the the trip has been booked. Since a lot of travelers make their itinerary on the go, we decided to make a mobile application. We designed and iterated on them based on user feedback. In the beginning, our designs were too utilitarian and were missing the joyful discovery factor that we wanted to incorporate.



We finally came up with “Oliver”, a friendly octopus avatar to delight our users.



After 4 rounds of iterations and usability tests, we landed on our solution-






Overall, we went through 3 application ideas and 8 iterations of prototypes moving from low fidelity to a working, high fidelity iPhone app prototype. We did a final round of user testing with our working high fidelity prototype. We also carried out the Facial EMG test plan on the final prototype in Expedia’s user testing labs, which was a very interesting experience.




I made the screen flow diagram, the user feedback video and coded the project website as part of the deliverables to Expedia. To know more about our design process and user test results, please refer to the Design Report.




Feedback Video: