Kayak is unveiling its biggest ever website redesign, one that it says is iPad-influenced and an attempt to create a uniform user experience across the travel metasearch company’s myriad platforms.
Explaining the origins of the redesign, Paul English, Kayak co-founder and chief technology officer, says Kayak has a semi-independent iPhone team, working under the supervision of Bill O’Donnell, chief architect and general manager of Kayak Mobile.
The team was operating on a “parallel track” with the rest of the company and charged with “ignoring Kayak a bit,” English says.
And, spurring the changes, Kayak’s iPhone app and especially its iPad app turned into a better user experience than Kayak.com, English says.
So with 10 million downloads of Kayak’s various apps in their back pockets, the Kayak mobile team set out to develop an iPad-influenced redesign of Kayak.com which is simple and clean, with lots of white space and attractive images, English says.
One of the most dramatic changes can be seen when viewing the redesigned hotel photos pages on Kayak.com. Here’s a photo of the page for the Four Seasons Hotel Denver:
You’ll notice, when compared with the previous hotel photos pages, the image is dominant and iPad-like. It has a black backdrop instead of white space, and the hotel address and map are now gone. Here’s an image of a previous hotel page design:
And, here’s a “before” and “after” look at Kayak.com’s hotel home pages. You’ll notice a much less-cluttered look, with the flights, hotels, cars and deals tabs trimmed (there is no longer a vacations tab shown in this view) and they are migrated to the top of the page instead of in the left-hand column. Here is the previous view:
And, here’s the redesigned Kayak hotel home page:
Look how far website design — and Kayak.com’s in particular –has evolved since the following image from February 2005 when Kayak came out of beta:
In introducing today’s redesign, Kayak went for a minimalist approach, hiding the little-used amenities search filter on hotel pages, as well as inconvenient flights and duplicate codeshares, says Giorgos Zacharia, Kayak’s chief scientist.
And, the decisions about which features to keep, hide or delete were not random, but were the result of user tests in a Kayak UI experience lab in the company’s tech offices in Concord, Massachusetts.
Kayak brought in consumers — some Kayak users and some not — drawn from different demographic profiles and with a camera hooked up to their monitors, Kayak studied, among other things, how their eyes moved on the page. Engineers and designers were keenly interested in which features users looked at, in what order, and which ones they ignored.
In another room, English explains, Kayak engineers using a “giant” $30,000 computer monitor, could calibrate users’ actions, from mouse to eye movements, and then fine-tune the redesign based on little-used or never-glanced-at features on a page.
The aim of the redesign, English says, was to introduce a universal color palette, simplify logos and typefaces, and incorporate more white space, all for a cleaner, more user-friendly experience.
Kayak event went so far as to introduce new specs and guidelines for display ads on Kayak.com so the color palettes of display ads mesh with the website’s color scheme and won’t shock the user.
For example, here’s a Hotwire display ad which meets the specs of the Kayak redesign:
And, here’s a Hotwire ad before the redesign:
Kayak, which makes much of its money on advertising, also previously ran a link under each display ad, giving users the option to hide it.
Not many users actually did so, English says, adding, “It was not a big drag on revenue.”
But, in the interest of simplicity, the redesigned Kayak.com now has only one link per page giving users the option of hiding all of the display ads instead of displaying such a link under each ad.
It will be in the eye of the beholder as to how successful Kayak has been in rendering the website more iPad-like.
One reason for doing so was the success of Kayak’s iPad app, which English describes as “the most beautiful app we’ve done in eight years.”
English says session lengths and click-through rates usually dip for awhile when a redesign is implemented, but that hasn’t been the case in usability tests prior to the public launch of the redesign.
At the same time, Kayak hopes that the iPad-influenced redesign will be boosted by what he sees as the penchant for iOS users to be more active online travel transactors than Android users.
And, is there more to the iOS-influenced redesign than, well, meets the eye?
There has some been speculation that an Apple-Kayak alliance would make a lot of sense.
English won’t comment on such speculation.
He notes that rank-and-file Apple employees have reached out to Kayak, providing positive feedback about Kayak’s iOS apps, and that Kayak “has a very close relationship” with Apple.
Meanwhile, the Kayak.com redesign was rolling out today in the US only, and officials declined to reveal any timetable for implementing the redesign on other Kayak global websites.