Through the booking glass

Read time: 2 mins

Conventions are usually a good thing in user experience or UI design. If something is working well, it travels, becomes best practice and both businesses and users get the most out of it.

The less useful ways of doing things fall by the wayside. An example of this digital Darwinism is how the logo settled top left for most website and became a link back to the homepage.

Tug of war

As a UX designer working on commercial projects, you notice there is always a bit of a conceptual tug of war going on. Concepts such as usability, convention, patterns and best practice pull from one side. The need for a website to stand out, be different, position itself as different to competitor sites and so on pulls from the other site. As designers ,we therefore strive to combine the best of best practice with degrees or elements of newness, innovation, uniqueness. Something that says ‘We are this car company’ rather than ‘We are a car company’.

Holiday booking site homepage convention

To this end, I’m not sure whether it is a positive or negative thing that holiday booking sites seem to have settled on such a generic homepage convention. To the average user, they are likely to confuse one with the other.

Thomas Cook homepage homepage AirBnb homepage LateRooms homepage TripAdvisor homepage

 Good or bad?

A plus is the user reaches a familiar form and system as they seek to get quotes from various websites and companies. A downside is that the more they interact with, the more we’d really want them to remember their experience on our holiday website more than the others, and that generic long form dropped on top of a large photo kicks against that.

Keep the best, ditch the rest

  • A suggestion would be to keep the form convention, which is the thing users will appreciate most. The long, easy to use ‘booking bar’ is definitely a step forward in the evoution of holiday booking sites.
  • The part that says ‘we are all the same’ is, ironically, the part that is most different from site to site, and that is the background photo. Each site uses a photo that illustrates a destination or place. This is a great motivator when you’re booking a holiday, but is just so generic. With the booking bar on top, you’re just A. N. Other Holiday Co.
  • I’d like to see holiday companies keeping the splash image but doing something better with it. AirBnb have a huge user-generated base of places and destinations. How about some ‘Today’s photo by’ in the style of Flickr’s homepage? Or the bigger, stronger brands like Thomas Cook should feature their own photos that mark brand; tail fins of branded planes in shot, or something subtle like colour. Even choosing photos with a co-ordinated palette would help reduce the generic feeling.

Keep the rope in the middle

Back to the tug of war; it is important to keep the rope in the middle.

  • Yes, the booking bar is hella useful.
  • No, it is not a good call to appear so generic in such a competitive market, especially as the service itself is so generic.
  • To establish a brand, and loyality, is a lot of hard work. Put some more hard work towards cutting your homepage from ‘the pattern’, but make it your own too.
  • Holiday booking sites need to take the convention and question it, improve it, make it their own and make incremental improvements. New stuff. New for a few days, at least, before the rest copy it again. : )

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