Summary: A UX guy – Dustin, totally frustrated about the usability of AmericanAirlines website, decides to create a simplistic usable design and publish it on his blog. A AA UX person who stumbles on this decides to sit and email Dustin about the story behind the screwed up design of the original site! 🙂
[source: http://dustincurtis.com/dear_dustin_curtis.html ]
I saw your blog post titled "Dear AmericanAirlines," and I thought I’d drop a line. Sorry for the length of this email, but let me sum up the gist of what I’ve written below: You’re right. You’re so very right. And yet…
First, an introduction. I’m Mr X, and I work here at AA.com. I’ve been doing UX design and development for about 10 years with a variety of companies in a variety of industries, and I work with a team of other UX specialists on AA.com. I like to think I’m decent at what I do, and I know the others I work with here are all pretty good. The problem with the design of AA.com, however, lies less in our competency (or lack thereof, as you pointed out in your post) and more with the culture and processes employed here at American Airlines.
Let me explain. The group running AA.com consists of at least 200 people spread out amongst many different groups, including, for example, QA, product planning, business analysis, code development, site operations, project planning, and user experience. We have a lot of people touching the site, and a lot more with their own vested interests in how the site presents its content and functionality.
Fortunately, much of the public-facing functionality is funneled through UX, so any new features you see on the site should have been vetted through and designed by us before going public.
However, there are large exceptions. For example, our Interactive Marketing group designs and implements fare sales and specials (and doesn’t go through us to do it), and the Publishing group pushes content without much interaction with us… Oh, and don’t forget the AAdvantage team (which for some reason, runs its own little corner of the site) or the international sites (which have a lot of autonomy in how their domains are run)… Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that AA.com is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means.
Oh how I wish we were, though! Imagine the cool stuff we could do if we could operate more like 37signals and their Getting Real philosophy (http://gettingreal.37signals.com/)! We could turn on a dime. We could just say "no" to new feature requests. We could eliminate "stovepiped" positions. We could cut out a lot of the friction created when so many organizations interact with each other. We could even redesign the AA.com home page without having to slog through endless review and approval cycles with their requisite revisions and re-reviews.
But-and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across-simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like.
OK, so it’s not all bad. The good news is that we have a lot of UX improvements coming down the line, most of which we’ll incorporate over the next 12 – 18 months as new projects go live. Some of our slated efforts include improved navigation; 16 column grid-based layouts; a lighter, more airy visual design; improved user interactions; and an increased transparency to fares and sales policies across the board. We’ll work it all in organically, as the site evolves to include new features. But it won’t be done via an explicit, massive redesign. Can’t be.
So, since it won’t all get done overnight, don’t give us a bad grade if you don’t see it happening fast enough for your taste. Even a large organization can effect change; it just takes a different approach than the methods found in smaller shops. But it’ll happen because it has to, and we know that. And we’ll keep on keepin’ on, even if most of us really and truly would prefer to throw it all away and start over.
Very truly yours (and hoping I don’t get fired for being completely incompetent),