I mentioned in a previous post that I’m taking a course on Visual Design from the fine folks at Skillcrush. One of our first assignments was to take a look at Virgin America’s website and give our opinion of the site’s UX. The site won a Webby Award in 2015 for both its website and mobile app UI designs.

Yes, Virgin America’s website has pretty colors and cool-looking typography, but those aren’t the main factors in making the UX great. If you read the article explaining why they won the Webby Award, you’ll see that one of the main goals for the site was a quicker load time for pages, which for many travel sites can be slower than molasses. Running uphill. In January.

Another factor in Virgin America’s site UX (or any site, for that matter) is the way information is prioritized. As soon as you land on Virgin America’s homepage, there are large input areas guiding you toward booking a flight, which is probably why most people visit airline websites in the first place. If you have geolocation turned on, it even makes an educated guess at your departure point. In the less likely event you are looking for other information, it’s still relatively easy to find.

Screenshot of Virgin America homepage
Screenshot of Virgin America homepage

Let’s say I want to book a flight to Las Vegas. Once I select my destination, I’m immediately taken to a calendar to choose my departure and return dates.

Virgin America departure dates screenshot
Selecting departure dates for flights.

Note that the calendar is customized to be consistent with the design of the rest of the site, and not some generic calendar widget where the dates are all cramped. I know you know what I’m talking about.

OK, I’ve chosen my departure and return dates. As you might have guessed by now, I’m shown a list of flights on those days to choose from.

Virgin America flight choices screenshot
Possible flight choices.

It’s easy to choose the class of service I want, as well as whether I want a refundable fare or wish to use frequent flyer miles.

But let’s say I change my mind. Maybe I want to travel on different dates or to a different destination altogether. If I scroll up a bit, I can change my travel dates, or restart the process entirely with a single click.

Virgin America undo selection screenshot
The ability to undo a choice easily!

Many interfaces assume that all movement is forward, but if we consider our own experience, we know that’s not the case. How many times have we clicked a button or a link accidentally, only to find the resulting action difficult, sometimes even impossible to undo? The best user experiences allow for mistakes and offer a simple means for users to correct those mistakes, or simply change their minds.

OK, I think I’ve made my point about why this site works so well. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the bar for airline website UX is set pretty low. For instance, let’s take a look at the homepage for American Airlines.

Screenshot of American Airlines homepage
Screenshot of American Airlines homepage.

To be fair, this isn’t terrible. The text is easy to read, and there’s a clear design aesthetic in play. However, information isn’t as clearly prioritized as it is on Virgin America. American Airlines prioritizes signing you up for a credit card or loyalty program over booking a flight.

But American’s transgressions are minor compared the Delta homepage.

Screenshot of Delta Airlines homepage
Screenshot of Delta Airlines homepage

First off, that background photo is distracting. Also, they’ve got this weird tab interface that results in a lot of wasted space, not to mention clashing with the background photo. By the time I’ve gotten through the cramped typography, I don’t even have time to be annoyed about an ad targeted for a location nowhere near me. Step it up, Delta.

If you’d just seen Delta’s website in isolation, you might not find it as annoying. But now that you’ve seen alternatives, some of the flaws are pretty clear, right? It just goes to show that you can’t rely on the way things have always been done.

In Delta’s defense, things could be worse. They could be Expedia.

What are some of your favorite or least favorite website user experiences? Share them in the comments!

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