Implementing a new booking feature to a travel magazine!

Condé Nast Traveler is a luxury and lifestyle travel magazine published by Condé Nast. The magazine has won 25 National Magazine Awards and is wildly recognized as one of the leading international travel publication. 
The Challenge
Re-inventing Travel Planning
Condé Nast Traveler is currently focused on providing content to the user, and they have always had the travel expertise. Now, they want to utilize their knowledge to break into the travel planning industry by offering an online trip planning tool that would bring in more website traffic and increase subscription numbers. The new tool would need to present a strong value proposition in the highly competitive travel industry. It would also need to appeal to the existing CNT readers, and attract a younger audience simultaneously. 

The Process
Exploring the Trends
Conducting secondary research helped to explore current travel trends and the key competitions within the industry. Competitive analysis showed that tailor-made trips were always given as an option when booking travel, and they were often used to leverage the business value proposition. 
Since most of CNT offered experience-related travel ideas, I decided to think outside of the box and explore if the new feature can provide an experience-based booking functionality. As a result, comparative/competitive analysis of similar online experience providers was needed...

Competitive & Comparative Analysis of Similar Travel Vendors

Finding the Opportunity!
Talking with potential users shed light on mental models of travel planning . The interviews showed that embarking on a trip/experience was rarely a solo endeavor. It always happened with companions. As a result, travel planning was always a collaborative (and a messy) process...
Another key insight was that while users had different behaviors and preferences when it came to travel planning, most preferred flexibility and convenience. 
So, the questions was: how might we enable users to utilize Condé Nast Traveler resources to plan a tailor-made flexible itinerary, collaboratively? 
Defining the Feature

Synthesizing insights from both the perspectives of the business and the user helped to pave the way for the "sweet spot of UX”:
Designing the Interaction
The feature needed to be weaved organically into the current information architecture of Condé Nast Traveler in order to take full advantage of the sea of knowledge throughout the website, while still having access to the new feature at all times. This is also where I really dug into how can the flow work from a collaboration perspective and who can edit what... ​​​​​​​

Designing Flows for the Different Users Involved in the "Collaborative Planning"

The first part of the feature needed to aim to collect “experiences” while navigating the site, so it manifested as a classic “side-bar” navigation pattern. 
The second part of the feature needed to incorporate the “planning” once experiences has been collected in the user’s “cart”. In response to insights from research, it needed to be flexible and collaborative. Enter the "Collaborative User Travel Board":

Early Sketches of the Side Bar Experience Collector Feature

The "Trello Board" of Travel Planning
The new board feature would enable the user of adding their collected experiences and plug them into their itinerary. Then, invite their travel collaborators to add their preferred experience as well, while maintaining one user as the Board Owner, who has the final call when it comes to the travel board - as user research showed that one person ends up making the final travel arrangements once everyone gets to cast their votes. 
The complex nature of the feature needed an early-stage usability testing in order observe and gain insights in terms of how would be used by users. As a result, I did a rapid prototyping exercise and conducted usability testing sessions.​​​​​​​

Med-Fidelity Prototype for Usability Testing

A breakdown of the steps to create the collaborative boards

Going High-Fidelity 
The next step was to flesh out the UI by inheriting the visual identity from the current Condé Nast Traveler website, producing, as a result, a simple minimalist design that complemented the complex interactions...
Final Thoughts
I got a special kick out of this project as I attempted to address a common user problem by proposing an original solution. It was a great learning experience to try to work out a complex collaborative interactions of a new idea. Given more time, I would have conducted further testing sessions and continued to tweak the collaborative interactions accordingly.
Photography credit is as indicated by Conde Nast Traveler on their Amsterdam destination page:

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