As a Delta airlines frequent flyer, I was surprised—dare I say shocked?—to see that the Delta website had been redesigned.  And I hadn’t been told.

I’m sure I am not alone in feeling completely thrown off by the new design which was, quite frankly, so unfamiliar, so different. so new.  Where was my go-to favorite: “Planning a Trip”?  I had to take a guess from the options on the nav bar.  Obviously not under the first four prominent all cap tabs.  So, it must be under “Travel Info” or perhaps “More”?

delta airlines study

delta websiteTurns out it is under Travel Info. In the third column in the dropdown menu options.

But when I click on this link, I do not find the familiar trip planning page I was expecting.  Instead, I see information on various topics and more links to follow for topics including Planning a Trip – Booking Information – Booking a Flight Online. I click on Booking a Flight Online and it goes to a “page not found” error message.  Did they test the site for broken links before launch?

usability research

OK, I’ll check out my travel options according to the new way Delta wants me to do it, not according to my mental model of how I have been doing it.  That means using the home page to “book” when all I want to do is “plan.” So, I try Orlando, FL., and get a list of options for my departure date.

ux research

Now, I want to try a different city.  But how do I clear Orlando?  The “old” website let me “start over” within the results page, but on the new website I need to discover that I must click on the destination city (MCO) to pull up the search box to change my destination city or cancel my destination to start a new search.

However, before I leave my Orlando search, I want to print out the Orlando options for later consideration.  Can I print the page?  No, as it turns out.  Since there is no option to print within the Delta website, I select print from the File menu in Firefox, but the result is a nearly blank screen with some “garbage” at the top.  Turns out I can take a screenshot, but I’m not sure that everyone would be comfortable with this as the only option. I appreciate that Delta saves my Orlando search under the Recent Search tab, but I don’t want to have to “pogo stick” back and forth between my recent searches to compare options.

They did usability testing, right?

Surely Delta did usability testing on the new design.  And not just once, but early and often.  If so, what were the personas they identified for their user groups?  Were there personas for loyal frequent flyers, like me?  For occasional Delta flyers? For new visitors?  If they tested the new website design with current customers, how did their experience compare with new site visitors?  And what tasks did they have users perform?

On the surface, the new site looks intuitive.  The homepage opens on “book,” which most likely works for many site visitors.  However, even the obvious may be complicated for current users who are experiencing the redesigned website for the first time.  A friend, who happens to be an IT professional, told me she was so confused by the new website that she inadvertently booked two trips for the same day to the same city.  And she didn’t know she had done this until she received a call from Delta Customer Service asking her if she had made a mistake.

Beyond the most straightforward task of booking a trip, did Delta also have scenarios for some of the things I would want to do like plan a flight, print a page of flight options for a particular city on a particular day, compare travel dates? If they only tested the obvious “book a trip” scenario, plus some other tasks around booking, such as cancelling a trip, finding out about luggage requirements, etc., the new design might have “passed” with flying colors (no pun intended!).

How did they prepare us for the change?

They didn’t.

The first rule of website redesign is to prepare your users for the change.  How could Delta fail to do that?

There were so many missed opportunities to get us ready for the big rollout of the new design.

 Pre launch website checklist

They could and should have:

  • Sent out email notices to all their current customers. These notices could have prepped us for the new and improved changes.
  • Provided a guided tour video as they got close to launch so that we could see some of the big changes.
  • Placed announcements on the Delta website to prepare all visitors for changes coming.
  • Placed announcements on social media to prepare for the changes coming. I found a single announcement on Delta’s Twitter feed on July 9 that said, “Check out our newly redesigned website..It’s to fly for.” That was it.
  • Placed information in Delta’s Sky Magazine to prepare Delta travelers for the changes coming.
  • Provided a way on the new website for users to ask questions about the redesigned site and get answers once the site launched.

No one likes changes, especially when they are used to doing things a certain way.  But change can be good if the change is managed.

Delta did not manage the website redesign change.  Such a missed opportunity to make the website redesign useful, usable, and, most of all, satisfying (the golden rule of usability).

Carol Barnum

Carol brings her academic background and years of teaching and research to her work with clients to deliver the best research approaches that have proven to produce practical solutions. Carol’s many publications (6 books and more than 50 articles) have made a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge in the UX field. The 2nd edition of her award-winning handbook Usability Testing Essentials is now available.