Southwest Mobile Usability Analysis and Axure Prototype
This project is broken into two parts: Usability Analysis and Axure Prototype Redesign.

Usability Analysis 

Recently I was in the process of looking for a cheap flight to Miami using my favorite flight search app, Hipmunk. Hipmunk is a great way to easily search all the major airlines (except for Southwest). Southwest prefers visitors come directly to them to book their flight. No problem. I navigated to Southwest's mobile site only to find a mobile site full of usability problems. Here are the top usability areas that had issues: Flight Date Selection, Forms (short form fields, no guest log in available, no back button), and Clickable area confusion.

Flight Date Selection

Southwest uses a drop-down menu to select flight departure and return dates (1st and 2nd screenshot). The problem is no one remembers what days of the weekend correspond to the month's numerical dates.  You have to look at a physical calendar or exit out of the browser and open the native calendar to determine what day next Saturday is. Not only is this annoying, it can lead to serious errors when selecting the correct date of travel. 

In order to reduce confusion Southwest should utilize a graphical calendar interface (see Hipmunk example to the right). Users will be able to verify the date selection and not be surprised when they get to the airport gate and notice they bought a flight that leaves the next Friday! Who remembers what day of the week the 23rd falls on? 

Form Usability Problems

  • Advancing my way through the flight selection process I noticed Southwest does not provide a back button to correct selection errors. They provide a ‘Start Over’ button, but no users wants to go back to the beginning because they selected the wrong flight (1st screenshot). You may say, “Well, the user could just click the browser’s back button.” They could, but must users are afraid to use the browser’s back button. They don’t want to potentially lose data and have to re-enter 10 fields of information! 

  • As I entered my email address into the field I noticed how my email address was not fully displayed in the field (2nd screenshot). It was too short! This wasn’t a problem this time for me, but users in general will not be able to spot and correct typing errors. This applies to any field not just email. 

  • After I selected the flights I was taken to the “Who is Traveling” page (3rd screenshot). My initial though was, “Wait, I have a Southwest Rapid Rewards (RR) account. Shouldn’t I be able to log in and pre-populate most of my travel details?” That’s a negative ghost rider! In order to log into your Rapid Rewards account you must navigate back to the Home page and then click Rapid Rewards and log in. After review of the flight selection, give the user the option to continue as a guest, log into their RR account, or create a RR account. This will make the world a happier place!

Clickable Area Confusion

The problem throughout the Southwest Mobile site is the inability to determine what is clickable and what is not. For example, on the screenshot to the right, where do I click to select the flight (blue link?, Business Select?, Anytime?). It’s not clear. The user may eventually click the right link, but they will be confused and their overall experience will suffer.

The combination of the above usability issues will usually leave users with a bad taste in their mouth. They may not completely leave Southwest as a customer, but their overall impression of the company and brand will decrease. Not good, especially when other major airlines have good mobile sites.

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Axure Prototype Design

Axure Prototype

The Concept

After identifying the usability problems with Southwest’s mobile site I researched Southwest’s competitors (United, Delta, American, etc.) to get a sense of what they do right and wrong. From there I made a list of mobile site use cases. 

I strove to drastically limit the available options on the home screen because, as we know, users become paralyzed with too many choices. From there I sketched the screens and UI elements to address the usability issues identified in Part 1 – flight date selection, form problems, and clickable area confusion.

Prototype - Navigation

Focusing on the main use cases (book a flight, check in, flight schedule, and airlines rewards) expanded the available home screen real estate. I knew through my own airport experiences that flight time and gate number are the most critical information when flying. And even with a good ole fashion paper ticket your gate may change with you on the other side of the airport. These factors coupled with the rush of travel led me to add a flight status tracker to the home screen. 

With the extra home real estate I was also able to add a featured “blurb” at the top of the screen. This could be used to advertise Southwest’s mobile app or for special flight deals. Even after a user navigates away from the screen the menu options are still always available via a drop down menu (far right).

Prototype - Flight Date Selection

For the flight selection page I strove to replace Southwest’s date selection with a graphical calender pop up. The user will now be able to see what day of the week the 24th lands on and not have to reference an external calendar for help. In addition, I wanted to reduce the length of the flight search form. By combining the departure and return dates fields into one I was able to achieve this. When clicked the dates field pops up and the users selects the departing date and then their returning date (click reduction!).

Prototype - Clickable Elements

The screens to the right show how the new design focuses on single containers for clickable elements thus reducing confusion as to what is clickable and what is not. Not to mention the new design is easy on the eyes (notice the beautiful user-friendly back buttons as well!).

Prototype - Log In

Another key, but simple design element, was the log in screen. Displaying the ‘Continue as Guest’, ‘Sign In To Rewards Rewards’, and ‘Create New Account’ on one page gives the users an easy view of what options are available for checkout. If the user has a Rapid Rewards account they simply click the respective button and the log in is revealed in a drop down.

Axure Prototype