With over 1200 possible ticket combinations available we designed a booking engine that was simple to use. A classic problem in need of a user centred design process.
The franchise is now run by East Coast and Splendid are working on the redesign of the site to fit with the new branding.
Great North Eastern Railway* (GNER) was a British train operating company, owned by Sea Containers Ltd. It operated high-speed express train services on the East Coast Main Line from 1996 until the takeover of the franchise by National Express East Coast on 9 December 2007. Most of its trains ran between London King's Cross and Leeds.
Flow Interactive were asked to tender for the design of the new booking engine and asked Splendid to become part of the pitching process, we duly won and started the research and design phase, that was way back in 2006!
To create a new booking engine and supporting website for leading rail operator.
The research undertaken by the team showed that people had difficulty using the existing booking engine with any success, the booking engines of competitor sites also suffered from the same problems. So GNER saw they could gain competitive advantage by developing an innovative new booking engine, we realized we would need to turn the existing models of interaction on their head to create a truly new product.
The research by Flow Interactive showed us some clear areas for improvement and the rise in popularity of Web 2.0 features, so called Rich User Interfaces gave us some of the tools to answer the problem.
We followed our proven user centred design and development process over 5 months (for both the booking engine and the website) and included the following activities.
- Research and heuristic reviews of competitor sites as well as interviews and stakeholders such as the commercial and technical team at GNER
- User testing of the GNER site and those of its competitors by Flow Interactive
- Rapid interaction design and prototyping of the concept and interface, each phase increasing in detail and scope
- Visual design with a focus on creating a flexible interface that could grow with the site and with the brand as has been shown by the complete re-brand following the takeover by National Express
- Development of standards compliant HTML and CSS code with full documentation for the development partner Atos Origin
- A full Flash based prototype of the booking engine to be used as an interaction aid during development
The design and development of the GNER booking engine and website has taken the best part of a year but has launched with the following functionality.
- A "Mixing desk" to create your perfect ticket based on a single user interface, no page by page navigation it all happens on one dynamic page
- A cheap fare finder that directs you to the cheapest fare on any given date or time
- Dynamic service updates so you can see how the trains are running
- Destination information and offers to help you in your travel choices
And so you don't think we spend our time blowing our own trumpet here is a story we found out there in the so-called "blogosphere" and no we don't know or employ this person.
"By chance I stumbled onto GNER's site. They have recently moved to their own custom-designed ticket sales system, and I must say they've done a very good job indeed. [.] it shows a list of prices and a list of possible route-times. [.] It also managed to find a great deal more routes than The Train Line did, in less time. And what's more, you can of course buy tickets for any UK train from any UK train company.
In future, I'll be buying all of my advance tickets online from GNER, as their website is much more intuitive than the others. Good work GNER!
And to add some figures to the redesign, when we tested a "major" competitor we achieved a 30% success rate in selecting the cheapest ticket from London to York. When we tested our new booking engine we achieved a 90% success rate, a considerable and quantifiable improvement.
* In case you do a search and wonder what's happened to GNER it's worth knowing that a week after going live with the new website and booking engine the GNER train franchise was taken over by National Express. They also took over the website that we had designed with Flow Interactive and the only thing they changed was the colour scheme and branding.
In the first 6 months since the web site's launch in November 2007:
Overall revenue was up 30%
The conversion rate was over 12% - up 50% from the year before
The GNER project shows the value of user centred design in designing and developing a truly innovative user experience, there just isn't any other way to produce these results
Ian Worley Director of User Experience, Flow Interactive
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