Imagine what Ryanair could do online if it REALLY cared about user experience and design

NB: This is a guest article by Niall Harbison, a co-founder at social media agency Simply Zesty. Philip Joyce, a graphic designer at the agency, created the artwork.

Ryanair is one of the biggest airlines in the world, but one area that has always let it down and annoyed its customers is the online offering.

It generates vast quantities of cash for it, but anyone who has ever used it will tell you that it is a badly designed and painful site to navigate.

Add in the fact that forgetting to print your boarding pass in advance costs you a small fortune and the ludicrous situation where they ask you to pay Euro 2.99 to download its iPhone app just to book flights.

You can’t knock them from a revenue perspective, but for the good of all our sanity across Europe, we thought we’d have a little fun with their site and make some suggestions as to how it could be improved.

The current website

So looking through the site right now, you can see that it is a horrendous blue and yellow mess. Nothing on the site is aimed at improving the user experience, but rather at extracting as much money from you as possible.

It often takes over ten minutes to book a flight and you leave the site feeling traumatized and with your wallet feeling much lighter than when you entered the site.

When you first conduct a search, for example, you are taken to a captcha page and a pop-up appears with Ryanair’s hotel white label (via HotelsCombined) offering.

That’s just one of the first pages and it is like an assault on your senses.

Once you do get through the horrible process of actually selecting where you want to fly, the real hard work begins. Getting through the following page is one of life’s great chores and you are constantly worried that just one wrong click could cost you a fortune.

This page is all about making as much money for the airline as possible and anybody who can navigate it without spending a penny is an absolute genius.

The designer – Philip Joyce

We started thinking about this as a blog post when chatting in the office one day and Phil said he would love to re-design Ryanair if given a chance. Here is his take on it.

“Passive Aggressive Rebrands have just recently become a new fun mini-project for designers, and have even become passé already. Microsoft, American Airlines and Wikipedia have already received the fake rebrand treatment, with some great results.

“So I decided to try one myself. I wanted a brand/service I used a lot that had an identity that left a lot to be desired. The first company that sprang to mind was Ryanair.

“They have a famous (and intentional) unattractive and cluttered website that comes along with a frustrating user experience. My goal was to strip out the clutter and focus on what people want from the site: Flights, Hotels, and from time to time, Car rental. I selected a five tone colour pattern, while still using a distinctive blue and yellow.

“The biggest draw is the flight booking tool on the homepage, so I tried to make it a lot cleaner and easier to use. With the recent release of its already maligned mobile app, I also wanted to integrate more app focused tools, hence using a new, simpler mobile app and Apple’s new Passbook system to check in online – the idea being to simplify its entire eco-system.

“I tried to change the logo, but still not make it seem like an unrecognizable brand. I kept its logo icon but modified the colour and surrounding shape. I wanted to unify the circular theme, signifying the cyclical nature of air-travel. I used circular icons to highlight times, prices, etc.”

How the new website could look

So Phil started with a blank canvas and started to imagine what the website could look like in a perfect world. A thing of beauty with a wonderful customer experience as the core part of the project rather than just trying to trick people out of extra money.

We are sure that Ryanair has tested the insurance sign up or “opt out” box to within an inch of its life to increase revenue, but wouldn’t it be really cool to actually get the choice rather than being tricked into buying something? To be given a nice simple explanation as to what you are actually signing up for?

Incorporating this new look on the website would be a great start, but it would have to be a multi-platform approach with smart phone apps provided for free to help you track, change and manage your booking if needed.

With apps in millions of customers hands, the chance for up selling in a useful and targeted way would be immense.

Even the boarding passes are a wonderful opportunity to improve the branding. They may not be around forever as we all move to using smartphones, but they still represent a great opportunity to improve the flying experience.

Rather than relying on screens and outdated technology, why not provide real-time print outs with all the info you need about your flight on the boarding pass. Ryanair could also provide additional info within the app.

Now we know that we are probably taking this too far, but wouldn’t it be just wonderful if Ryanair did away with all its boarding passes and the fact that you have to print them out, or pay for them and instead integrated with Apple’s new passbook app.

No more mad panics at the last minute, but a one-click solution that sent the boarding pass to your phone and allowed you to swipe to board the plane. Simple.

If we are dreaming here about the website and mobile rebrand, then it is only right that we rethink the branding for the planes themselves. Ryanair planes at the moment fill people with dread, but looking like this, they could be a thing of beauty.

So on the off chance that Michael O’Leary is reading this and wants to use Phil’s lovely designs, here are some of the details and the color palate that could work for the new website and rebranding.

Could this ever happen?

Absolutely not. We would love it if it did, but Ryanair has a focus on revenue. It generates massive amounts of cash from its website and as long as the flights stay cheap, people will keep using it.

You only have to look at the Euro 2.99 app which people were going crazy about, but which has been in the top ten paid apps in the Apple app store since the day it launched.

We’d love to see better design and a better customer experience, but that just isn’t the way Ryanair works.

We’d love to hear what you think about the designs though, whether you would ultimately spend more on the site if it looked like this, or if it’s a dream that will never happen?

NB: This is a guest article by Niall Harbison, a co-founder at Simply Zesty. Philip Joyce, a graphic designer at the agency, created the artwork. Simply Zesty is a social media agency based in Dublin, Belfast and London. Its blog provides news, tips and guides relating to social media and marketing for businesses.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Denis moore

    I spent 2 hours on atrocious Ryanair site trying to get a cheap flight to London. I gave up in despair and found an alternative cheaper flight with Aer Lingus. Their site is friendly, usable and well laid out. Doubt however that Ryanair would give a toss, as they seem to be making a fortune with this site. Ryanair lost out on this one, and I will only remotely consider them in the future if there is absolutely no other alternative. Way to go Ryanair.

  2. San

    Well, the Ryanair CEO kicked up a small controversy with his statements about firing all co-pilots to save cash. Do you think the Ryanair management would want to spend a penny on a designer? Not till the time people penalize the airline for their atrociously designed & frustrating website.

    But I agree with Ryan that the terrible design of the site (Comic Sans included) does forewarn you about their quality.

    And yes, Ryanair…For a start, you have lost 2 customers – myself & my partner because of your crap website. Booked once. Flew once. Promised myself I’ll never fly Ryanair again.

  3. Szymon

    I think I know Ryanair’s approach to business, in my opinion this is what could happen:
    Making a booking on old website could be charged an extra €0.99
    Making a booking on new design could be free of charge.
    Agency designers would get paid only if the new site brings more revenue to Ryanair in given period.
    Ryanair get impressive media coverage about changing their website, not paying for this and being the first supplier who charges for lower UX.

  4. Jamie

    Yes, the redesign is attractive with much improved usability and a UX gloss. However, I believe it’s ineffective. The colours seem a little flat and it fails to represent the business.

    Fundamentally, Ryanair are price centric – observable through the unmissable price point on on the Home page, the third party adverts and the smatterings of dark pattern usability throughout the site. The site is designed to generate sales and profit, albeit quite crudely.

  5. Ryan

    Their site looks cheap because they are cheap. It’s a manifestation of the brand.

  6. Peter

    I recently spent some time looking for a flight (on a budget as always). The user interface is horrible of course and it’s really hard to scan through all the options, not to mention that they have a CAPTCHA that is out of this world.

    Others like WizzAir and EasyJet also work and have beautiful solutions. I really liked the EasyJet App. The RyanAir app offers nothing and it costs like €2.99 to purchase, what a joke.

    Not to go into details, but you got to keep it Yellow. That’s what sticks and that’s what you see when you board the airplane (Besides this detail I love it).

    What’s the most surprising though is that RyanAir gets aways with their travel insurance booking process. You have to select from the Country Drop-Down “I don’t want an insurance”, and it’s not even on top but in between the countries … unbelievable! I am really not sure if RyanAir really needs angry travelers. Making the website more user friendly would help I think.


  7. Shaddam IV

    > People use Ryanair site because they have no choice.

    Which is not true, there are a number of other airlines on the planed, even online. In the end, “what works” is what makes them money. As long as customers believe they get it cheaper on Ryanair *and* are willing to put up with mediocre usabilty and ugly design, “it works” for Ryanair. So why modify an excellently performing (from Ryanair’s point of view) website?

    • Sakarias Sjögren

      Yes there are many other airlines on the planet. But that’s not to say they fly the same route. Many routes that Ryanair fly they have exclusivity on, if not total exclusivity then at least budget carrier exclusivity. This makes their site a mandatory experience for many people.

      I agree (with Anne & Jeremy) however that their site is entirely intentional. They’re getting in the way of your experience in exactly the same way they do in the physical world. This is intentional friction as much as the tight seat-pitch, expensive refreshments and arduous boarding experience is rough-edged.

      The message is plain: we don’t pay for expensive designers and [ux] consultants so we can bring you the cheapest possible fares.

  8. Murray Harrold

    Came on here ready to throw a few bricks, but this is really very good. Churchill said : “If you have to shoot someone, it costs nothing to be polite”. I am more inclined to spend that bit extra if I felt that it was my decision, rather then being compelled to. Vistaprint suffer from the same as RyanAir – simply trying to checkout without winding up with a load of stuff one did not want is quite a challenge. It becomes a mission to try and beat the system. All rather childish really.

    The trick is, to get you to buy the extras whilst making you feel it was your decision – more subtle less hammer – major supermarkets manage to do this rather well. “best customer experience” amd “generating the most cash” are not mutually exclusive.

    Good stuff! A very sane and well constructed article.

  9. Ciaran -

    Great article,

    I love these designs and agree that if Ryanair implemented them they would have a far better user experience and actually sell some travel insurance as well!!!

    But havent they created a brand of not caring too much about the user but guaranteeing low costs.

  10. Sam Heffernan

    I agree with Andrew and Simon. Business isn’t always about providing the best possible experience and if it aint broke, don’t fix it. New design could immensely help sales, or screw them completely. I know of other websites that have gone down this path and totally screwed their sales and conversion. Loyal customers are put off by the new design and go elsewhere. Contrasty though it could benefit them.
    It is a tricky one indeed. Personally the designs look great but it could go either way.

  11. anne

    I think their frustrating site design is completely intentional. A web site should be an extension of the brand, and thus gives passengers a good idea of what to expect when they actually use the service.
    If they set the expectation that passengers are merely cattle ready for milking, and that they don’t care about customer service, then when passengers don’t receive the “BA” experience then they’re less likely to complain.
    “Well what did you expect? It’s Ryanair” probably saves them a packet in not needing to employ customer service staff.

    • Jeremy Head

      You nailed it Anne… No one at Ryanair is stupid. I think it’s done intentionally. Personally I like how contrarian it is. It’s O’Leary giving the finger to all the social media gurus and marketing geniuses. The key driver is price for a lot of people. Personally I think that’s a bit sad. There’s a different diiscussion here about why Ryanair is so successful – despite its crap website and lousy service. it suggests the marketing geniuses for all their intelligence and their big budgets aren’t convincing the rank and file traveller that it’s worth paying more for better service.

  12. Simon Emery

    As a designer, I often had the argument with our Online Director over what makes ‘great’ design. Ultimately (and somewhat vaguely) the answer is ‘what ever works’. Are the new designs visually better than the current site? Absolutely. But as you say in the article about the current design – It generates vast quantities of cash. For me, completely subjectively of course, the new designs move it away from how Ryanair like to position their brand – you’re changing their identity. I’ve no doubt that Ryanair invests in making every part of its site effective to extract as much cash as it can and if something wasn’t working, they would fix it. But hey, if it ain’t broke…

    In a world of UI/UX, does a site have to be pretty to be effective? Prickly question that always divides. I’ve always loved Doesn’t look great, but it works.

    • Ewa Grabowska

      but isn’t the ux all about the customer feelings? People use Ryanair site because they have no choice. Thousands of them hate it, using it is irritating and confusing. There are no sufficient info. I agree with the author, that it SHOULD BE CHANGED. Whether or not the site generates money – it’s not a ux problem.

      • Andrew Allsop

        Sadly business traditionally isn’t about providing the best possible experience for customers, it’s about generating the most cash. Whilst there’s no argument against good UX, in Ryanair’s case prioritising UX over revenue generation just isn’t realistic.

      • Simon Emery

        Ryanair is always a tricky one as they also split opinion, but is UX really about what is best for the customer? Or is it about making it as easy as possible for the customer to do what the website owner wants them to do…

        And as an ecommerce site, surely whether it generates revenue is fundamental to success?


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