Kayak iOS App (Bad Design)

The design of the popular flight and travel booking application Kayak frequently leaves users confused and reliant on their long term memory to make use of the app. The main appeal of Kayak is the ability to search and find a wide range of options from one screen, seen below. However, the app becomes difficult to use when attempting to utilize several of the different functions.

The actions on this screen are highly visible, tapping any one of the icons takes the user to the relevant page, where they can find actions specific to that task. On these individual pages though, actions become much less visible and affordances become far less clear. When selecting the two options, seen below, of Price Alerts and Flight Tracker this quickly becomes apparent. Both screens offer the user the ability to search for and list multiple flights, but how do users do so? On the Price Alert page there is a “+” symbol in the lower right corner of the screen. On the Flight Tracker page, the same symbol is replaced by an information symbol in that location. A “+” symbol appears in the top right, but after having used the previous screen, this option is not immediately visible to the user, whose memory is telling them to look to the lower right.

These screens provide poor visibility to the users. The design also demands that users store this knowledge in their head as opposed to in the world of the app. If the functionality to add items to a list was the same across the app, only one piece of information would have to be committed to memory, that the add functionality is found in the upper right or lower right corner. Instead, users must commit to remembering not only that it appears in both locations, but where it appears on each screen. As committing information to long term memory is difficult and and recall can frequently be confused (as Norman kindly reminds us), this can result in frustration for the users. They may tap the upper right corner on the Price Alerts screen, only to have that trigger the “edit” function, leaving them confused as to the result. This is also compounded by the fact that the feedback for the “edit” option is limited, leaving them unsure if they have taken the right action.

The issue of feedback extends further when attempting to use the the Price Alert function of the app as well. When selecting a price alert on the screen and selecting the “view flights” option on the bottom, users are not taken directly to a listing of price options, but instead a screen that lists flight details (see below). This is failure of feedback, in that the result does not match the intended action, which was to see prices, not the already input flight details. It is also a failure of mapping, as the user is now unsure if the app is saving the flight details, or merely reporting general flight data for the price alerts. This is disconcerting for a user relying on the app to save them several hundred dollars on a flight.

By promising a wide range of functionalities, the Kayak app must also provide a understandable system for navigation between and among them. With inconsistent mappings and visibility, the app makes tasks much harder by asking users to commit many facts to long term memory, setting them up for possible failure. While the app is still very useful, more conscientious  design would greatly improve and streamline ease of use.