Unraveling the design process of Finnair’s mobile application

Finnair’s mobile application has received a lot of attention lately, and one of the most humbling moments was being awarded a Red Dot for our work. In this post, I’ll highlight some of the special characteristics of the app and explain the design process behind them.

Traveling is a very dynamic task, and users have different needs at different stages of their journey. That is why designing an app for Finnair was an interesting challenge. Our mission was to create an app that would match the most important user needs and would still be easy to understand and instantly familiar to the users.

In order to complete this mission, we formed a multifunctional team. The team included a close-knit pair of designers with backgrounds in different areas of digital design, a couple of tech experts, a product coordinator and, of course, people from Finnair.

Understanding travelers

Our work started with interviewing and observing users. Our objective was to fully understand the contexts and the real-life situations travelers end up in during their journeys. We also familiarized ourselves with Finnair’s existing services and the digital service concept they’d made with Fjord.

We quickly discovered that frequent flyers were our most important audience. They are the most motivated to optimize their travels by removing all unnecessary wait and hassle. They are also the ones who’d benefit most from convenient features, such as adding new reservations automatically to the app and purchasing extra services with loyalty points.

Targeting frequent flyers didn’t reduce the app’s usefulness for other travelers. The not-so-frequent travelers still benefit from using the app since it enables smooth check-ins and makes sure travelers get the right information at the right time.

Making every stage of the journey visible

Based on our findings from the interviews, we started drafting the first UI designs with pen and paper. This allowed us to gather feedback on the application’s functionality very quickly.

After coming up with the initial structure, we broadened our focus to the visual design, interaction logic and the tonality of the app. Our goal was to find the right balance between simplicity and effectiveness as well as include all characteristics that would make the app feel just right.

One of the most difficult design challenges we faced was displaying the entire journey in a natural way. Early on, we had noticed that most existing airline apps were organized by individual flights and tasks, forcing the user to navigate a lot to access the services needed on different stages of traveling.

We decided to approach this from a different point of view. By structuring the app to display all flights and airports in a connected view, we were able show everything within the same context. We made several design revisions before deciding on a swipeable, card-based layout that users can also expand to get a full screen view.

Clearing up communication

In addition to providing easy access to the entire journey and its services, we wanted to communicate very clearly what the traveler needs to do next and when.

This is especially important at the airport. Before, travelers had to repeatedly calculate how much spare time they have before they need to be at the departure gate of their flight. To remove this major inconvenience, we designed the next step of the journey to be a permanently visible part of the user interface. The main headline shows a countdown to the next relevant event.

This part of the user interface is also used to present key functionalities, such as check-in and the boarding pass, at appropriate times. The context based design completely removes the need to navigate to these functions.

For users who are still days away from their journey or already at their destination, we chose to build positive anticipation with destination specific icons which we designed for all major destinations.

Reflecting on the results

After the app went into production, we were satisfied to notice that over 90% of users who flew with the app once returned to it for their next journeys. Also, over 25% of new Finnair’s loyalty program members now sign up through the app.

The application has also gained recognition in different design competitions such as the European Design Awards and the Red Dot Awards. This has obviously been a very uplifting experience for the team.

However, the most satisfying measure of success for a designer is seeing people use their creation. It’s always nice to design something that fulfils the purpose of making people’s lives easier.

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