Elevating the form and function of a regional vacation rental website.
Horizon Rentals was a very successful Oregon Coast Vacation Rentals website. A small, family-owned business who rose to the top by providing excellent experiences for both owners and renters.
As UX Designer at Periscope Creative, a small interactive agency, I was charged with unearthing and directing all the moving parts involved in making an effective interactive experience. This included research, analysis, creative direction, interaction design and testing.
Horizon had a website that was functional but did not match the level of excellence that they embodied. They strove to provide experiences that were a cut above the average VRBO site and wanted the experience their customers had viewing and booking to feel exceptional as well.
competitive, content and feature audits
I began the process by clarifying the goals of the project and evaluating the site’s current state for content, functionality and design. I wanted to make sure and retain what was working while getting rid of what was dated or unused. I also provided the client with an evaluation of the competitive landscape. Their site was already a notch above all the local sites so our aim was to be on par with national sites.
I conducted a contextual inquiry with a broad swath of users, from adventurous young folks to newlyweds to seniors planning family reunions. From this, I developed five personas to help guide our design decisions. There were obvious differences between technical abilities in the digital natives and seniors, however the most interesting revelation (and the one that guided us the most) was that people were thinking about the memories they would make more than the amenities. The amenities and location helped to shape that vision but our focus was evoking feelings of fun, relaxation and ease.
Since the site would be heavily photography focused, we opted to develop high fidelity wireframes for the client. We were incredibly careful to maintain all of the SEO juice that Horizon had gathered over the years and, in fact, added some features on the home page to improve the performance of “pet friendly vacation rentals” and drive traffic to their sister site in Central Oregon.
Our research indicated that search was the primary method of navigation, even for return users. To keep the site as experiential as possible, we took the home page down to bare bones, focusing on one action. We included a few well-used features from the existing site and the SEO elements mentioned above but eliminated any global navigation, opting instead for a hefty footer.
Taking the time to understand the users and develop personas to guide us along the way helped our designers to stay in the user’s mindset and elevated the final product. The site became so much more than logistics and transactions. It became a place that helped people find the perfect home away from home to gather friends and loved ones together and create an experience they’d never forget.
WHAT I LEARNED
I learned that the little guys can easily compete with the heavy hitters if they take the time to understand their users, commit to the process and devote the time and trust their design team needs.
WHAT THEY SAID
After working alongside Emily for years at Periscope Creative, I cannot recommend her enough for her excellence in strategic direction, thoughtful design, adept client management and clear communication.