Messaging in the
middle of the sea.
Client: Royal Caribbean
Role: Product Design Manager
Date: Dec 2018
One reason why people take cruise vacations is to disconnect from the rest of the world. However, you still want to be connected to the people you’re traveling with. With no cellular or internet access, guests have no easy way of communicating (unless of course, they brought some good ol’ walkie talkies onboard). This is why guest to guest chat was one of the most requested app features across the Royal Caribbean fleet.
Knowing our guests wanted messaging within the Royal Caribbean app, we set out to design a feature that was familiar and intuitive, yet seamlessly integrated with the onboard guest experience. How might we enable guests who are traveling together to stay in touch with each other without having to pay for internet access? How may we allow guests to plan their vacation together and keep each other informed about what’s happening on the ship?
As design manager and lead, I worked hands-on in both the design direction and getting into the pixels when necessary. I collaborated with one product designer and UX researcher to design the end-to-end experience for guest to guest chat, group chat, and the chatbot experience. I steered conversations, formulated the strategy in close partnership with product managers, and collaborated with our engineering and data partners daily.
Research & Ideation
Since our messaging feature would be integrated into the larger Royal Caribbean mobile app, we formulated our personas based on the data we gathered from guests on our ships. Understanding that our guests look for familiarity and ease of use onboard, we took a deep dive into the messaging apps already out there to outline key features. The biggest challenge was accounting for privacy, yet allowing guests to easily message each other. Armed with that knowledge, we did quite a bit of whiteboarding, ideation, and story mapping sessions to plan the specific features and flows we wanted to focus on.
Having the ability to talk to guests aboard our ships and at terminals was crucial in order to better understand what our users’ needs were. From our conversations, we discovered our guests wanted to:
- Be able to easily chat with other guests in their party (including linked reservations) for free onboard, as opposed to our competitors who charged for chat
- Have the ability to find and chat with anyone onboard
- Be able to talk to guest services if they need help with an issue
- Have the ability to share their location onboard with other guests
- Be able to share plans and itineraries with guests through chat
Bringing it to Life
Initially, we focused on getting the flows and features right. By stripping away all the unnecessary details, we were able to hone in on key flows and use cases. Collaborating with our product and engineering partners, we analyzed our users’ needs and ranked them based on priority and level of effort. The most crucial bits to nail down were guest lookup, group chat, and notification strategy. All of these relied heavily on access to guest account data and ship WiFi connectivity. Once those were defined, we moved onto crafting an on-brand yet familiar visual design.
Prototypes & Testing
Throughout the course of the project, my design partner and I built lo-fi and hi-fi prototypes using Framer, Principle, and InVision. These allowed us to test remotely and with guests onboard at higher fidelity. Not only were they useful in communicating ideas to guests and stakeholders, but also to fill in the blanks for anything we might have missed while creating static comps. During our tests, users were easily able to interact with the messaging feature as it felt familiar and straight-forward. At the same time, we used participants’ feedback to polish certain visuals and interactions that created a bit of friction such as displaying online status, adding/removing guests from chat, and unhappy flows.
Introducing Conversational AI
Capitalizing on the conversation, we introduced a chatbot to connect even deeper with our guests. Personified by the ship itself, the bot brought a friendly voice to our app's existing features. While our data scientists taught the bot our guests' most asked questions, we crafted a voice and visual style that could integrate seamlessly into our app. Isolating specific tasks, we crafted a response matrix to give guests the most useful response, next best action, and a set of "answer before you ask" prompts to continue the conversation.
The messaging feature was rolled out progressively on select ships in order to test and learn from our users’ behaviors. What we found was that guests loved the chat feature, and word spread quickly across the fleet that this was coming to all ships. And while we did meet some of our guests’ primary needs, we also started planning for future iterations like sharing plans (or sharing a PDP for a specific activity), being able to make reservations from chat, and sharing location along with guided navigation so guests could find each other onboard.