Case study: the Heathrow Airport Redesign

Oh, yeah! After months of work on this project (me, Jonathan, Igor and all the DLKW team) finally the Heathrow website is online! Most of the IA work we carried out on the Shop & Eating section is already visible, while all the other work will be visible in a few months only, with Release 2.

While I think the most striking feature of this site is its elegant and balanced visual design , I think the way we approached to the IA and User Experience is worth some discussion too.

By the way, the BAA Heathrow case study was presented by me and Jonathan Culling of DLKW at the last Euro IA in Barcellona in September. We had a very good time and I hope we will manage to land another paper at the next Euro IA!!!

Surfacing of key information and functionality

Since the majority of users currently come to the Heathrow site to perform a handful of very specific tasks, we looked for ways of surfacing those elements on the Heathrow home

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and terminal home pages (See Terminal 1, for exampe).

The content and functionality surfaced on these pages reflects the most commonly performed tasks – activities such as booking car parking, viewing flight information and the ability to display urgent security messages.

Site hierarchy

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On the Heathrow Airport site, roughly half of the content is terminal specific – information such as where to check in depends on the terminal that the user is flying from. All other content is generic and useful to any passenger, irrespective of terminal. This implies that the user experience must incorporate a degree of segmentation.

The current site handles this segmentation rather inelegantly, with all terminals included in the section navigation, expanding to reveal the terminal specific content. Our approach was to create 6 parallel sites, one generic and 5 terminal specific. Users can either go straight to the desired terminal home page and begin their journey from there, or drill down through the navigation until they arrive at a page which says: “to view the information you require, you must first choose a terminal”.

Terminal selector

The approach shown here has an additional benefit for search engine users. Because there are no direct links to the terminal specific pages, those pages will not be indexed by search engine spiders – so users will never be taken from a search results page (such as Google) to a terminal specific page until they have specified their terminal on the Heathrow site.

Selecting their terminal from a drop-down (if they know it) or from the which terminal module (if they don’t) takes users to the equivalent page in the terminal site. They remain there until actively resetting their terminal, which means that from that point onwards we can serve them with content that is more directly relevant to their forthcoming trip.

Shopping and eating

BAA’s drive to get passengers to spend more time (and money) at the airport implied an expansion of the shopping and eating section of the website. Other attractions such as wellbeing centres and terminal events were included in the section that was renamed as shop, eat, relax and enjoy

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Rather than interrupt the user journey while users were in information-seeking mode, DLKW chose to promote shopping and eating most heavily on pages that represent the end of a user journey, otherwise known as the ‘point of seduction’. In this way, users were in the most responsive frame of mind, since they had just completed a task and were pondering their next move.

Category-driven meta navigation is used to cross-sell shops and restaurants, and it is hoped that in release 2 the interactive maps can be used to cross-sell by physical proximity, allowing the user to browse the space virtually in a similar way to how they would browse in real life.

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Other features should come in Release 2 of the website, such as an improved search user experience and a personalised section of the site (“My Journey”).

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