Ralph Nakhle
Ralph Nakhle
User Experience professional and teacher

Holidu! The world's biggest meta-search engine for vacation rentals. It was founded in 2014 and I joined in 2016 as the first full-time designer. Since then, I helped the team launch three new products, double our conversion rate on the Holidu website, quadruple our headcount and recruit and lead a team of 5 designers.

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The problem

For consumers: The inventory of vacation homes is fragmented across hundreds of partners such as Booking.com, Airbnb, HomeAway etc... Properties can be found on different platforms with different availability and pricing, making the search and booking of properties cumbersome and exhausting.

For tech: Meta-search is complex. The influx of data structures is fragmented and miss-aligned, requirements across partners are widely different and pricing and availability requests are not standardised. The barrier to entry is low and competition is fierce.

The opportunity

Design and build a reliable and trustworthy product that makes it easy for travelers to find and book a matching vacation home.

What I do

As a lead designer at Holidu, I lead the design across all platforms including web and apps. I help the team conduct the user research we need to make informed design decisions and help rebrand Holidu's identity as we go through hyper growth.

Research

Research is a key component in informing decision making. When I first joined Holidu, I wanted to establish a culture of research and user-centricity. We needed to understand our user's expectations, pain points and needs. I first set-out by conducting 21 users interviews from different backgrounds, age groups and gender and collected feedback from all main stakeholders.

There was an overwhelming sense of lack in trust and the data supported it.

Since then, all features are designed to remove fear, increase trust and help confirm the user's choice. We also extensively work with User Testing to collect feedback on new features and regularly meet with our users to validate the direction of the product as it evolves.

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100+ research studies in 2 years

Conducted by the design team

Archetypes were extracted from the user research to help our teams understand who our users are.

Creating a vision

Research showed us the way we have to take to improve. But we were still missing a vision that binds the product team together. In summer 2017, the design team worked with the founders to envision what the product should look like as we moved forward. We explored a new brand direction, investigated new interaction models and defined design principles and a design language for the new Holidu website and app.

Design and development

As the team grew bigger, we started slowing down. The team leads decided to try splitting the teams in two, creating two squads with each having a distinct part of the user journey to focus on. Every squad had a dedicated designer, frontend and backend developers and a product manager. In the new setup our velocity increased and surpassed our previous record. We rebuilt the new product from scratch and launched it. We then conducted a new round of in-person user interviews. All main pain points were resolved with the exception of one: The users wanted to stay on Holidu and not get redirected to partners pages. We are now working with the business development team to see how we can accelerate this process.

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Conclusion

Meta-search products are inherently difficult to build a cohesive experience for. The complexity in the data structures and variations and contracts across partners go against unification and standardisation. Yet people see value in them since there is no alternative out there.

Stay in touch for further updates and thanks for reading.


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Bookiply allows home owners to distribute their vacation rentals on all major platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com and Holidu from one central application!

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The problem

Vacation home owners struggle when managing their vacation home on multiple platforms at the same time. Calendars don't sync, requirements are widely different across platforms, updates are all done manually, costing time and energy for mundane, repetitive tasks.

The opportunity

Create a solution that makes managing vacation homes on multiple platforms a pleasure, while increasing the homeowners' revenues!

What I did

At Bookiply, I lead product design on iOS, Android and Web. I also lead the major rebrand effort.

1. Start with research

When I first joined Bookiply, the team had built a bare-bones proof of concept that was tested in the market for validity. It worked! The idea was to allow vacation homeowners to publish and manage their properties on multiple vacation home platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com and Homeaway from one single product.

Although the idea was well received, the team didn't know what were the areas of improvement or what the next big thing should be. I started with a competitive analysis to understand the market offerings better, prototyped a quick mobile solution and hit the road to speak to some of our existing users as well as potential ones (in sales pitches).

Early stage compositions used in the first prototype for user testing

Early stage compositions used in the first prototype for user testing

The research was insightful and determining. I concluded the phase with list of crystal clear priorities that we needed to focus on in the upcoming months, including fixes, new features, an app and a new information architecture for the product. Plus 80% of our assumptions were proven wrong, including the assumption that our average user is a 70 years old woman that did not know how to use the internet. Not quiet!

The archetypes that represented our target audience are the following ones:

2. Brand design

Bookiply needed a brand! Desperately. Because until then, the product looked like this:

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Inspite of the proof of concept looking old and outdated, users saw value in it.

The brand design process started with a workshop with all main stakeholders to define the core values of the company. The team produced mood boards, semantic maps and iterated for days on the perfect logo. At last, we had a logo that everyone was convinced about.

Final Bookiply logo design

Final Bookiply logo design

3. Product design

A strong and unified experience meshes together seamlessly. It was important for us to nail the logo before we can carry on with the design of the product.

The research had set the path so clearly, that we knew exactly what the next steps were. On the top of the list, we had "build an app" and "send me notifications". We built an MVP of the app with basic functionality and launched it within a few months. We then continued to build a full feature product and released a new version every 2 weeks. A few months later, we launched the web product and decommissioned the old one. Below you find screenshots of the real product.

Since the mobile app and desktop launched in May 2018, the user base of the product tripled at the time of writing (Aug 2018).

Growth and maintenance

In a fast growth setup it is critical to maintain a design language system that is scalable and in-line with developers needs. The design system I put together helped the team increase speed, reduce conversation and focus on meeting our deadlines.

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Conclusion

I'm very happy to say that Bookiply has set a new benchmark for products in it's category. As it continues to grow and attract more customers, it will become more relevant and hopefully help the lives of many many more homeowners.

For more details please get in touch.
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Nelson is an app concept that counts the number of words you speak every day and helps you improve your vocabulary! 

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Intro

Nelson is an app concept that I discovered when the HR manager told me that we won't be proceeding with a candidate because she spoke at least 5 times more than the average person. That peaked my curiosity and I wondered how many words I speak per day. I told a friend of mine - who is a developer - about the idea and he thought that it could be a fun project to try out. 

Concept

As my friend assessed the technical feasibility of the project, I started fiddling around with values, brand and UX.

Brand

The brand values I picked were: Curiosity, Progress and Playfulness.

I then defined the attributes and formal aesthetic codes for each value and created a mood board for each. I find this process to be very valuable in grounding the project. From that point on I started working on the logo.

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Logo ideas and iterations

The logo I settled for matched the values while being quiet unique in it's aesthetic.

The logo I settled for matched the values while being quiet unique in it's aesthetic.

Design

In order to be able to count the number of word a user speaks the microphone needs to be actively listening during a majority of the day. Although this has a considerable amount of technical drawbacks, it can be very intrusive on privacy. The on-boarding experience should therefore be highly trustworthy and reassuring about the privacy policy.

 

Conclusion

Theoretically speaking, we had a tone of ideas about the benefits and value of the concept. Practically though, it would have simply not been feasible to respect the user's privacy or their battery's life.

It's a nice to have, but not for now...

For more info, do not hesitate to get in touch.
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EquatePlus is an equity management platform that allows employees to manage their equity portfolio.

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In 2016, I had the chance to work with Equatex, a shared equity platform that allows users to manage their company's equity portfolio.

The problem

Equatex was facing competition from startups with a better user experience.

The opportunity

Help Equatex gain an edge in UX by designing a modern product that delights it's users and empowers them in having portfolio-management independence.

What I did

I worked closely with Equatex for 6 months to turn their product 180°. The relaunch was successful and I was privileged enough to present the new concept to some of their future and current customers. I lead the interaction design team, was responsible for in-field research & documentation and was the main spokesperson with Equatex.

Phase 1: Research

We started off with a deep dive into the main stakeholder's business requirements and aspirations. We then met with 10 active users from 4 countries across Europe to understand their pain points and needs. Below, are some of the most recurring themes.

After the interviews we crafted several archetypes that the team presented to the Equatex's customers. After several iterations we settled on 3 archetypes that represented well the scope of users.

While many employees value company equity, few of them understand what they really have.
— Equatex team

Lynn is the user that does not know how equity works and what it means to her. She sees it as a savings account. Learning is key to her.

Ellie is the finance-savvy and opportunistic employee. She looks for accuracy and performance in the tools she uses.

Greg is the executive that favours practicality. He is very time-conscious and looks for easy-to-use solutions that keep him moving fast.

Phase 2: Design

In the second phase of the project the team started with a story board that covered the main key flows of each archetype. We then identified 8 design principles to guide our design decisions and doodled some features/ideas that we thought the platform should cover.

After the foundation was layed down, we designed in iteratively and had frequent checkins with the Equatex team to make sure we remained on target. This process allowed us to identify new business requirements and better understand the system's complexity.

The transaction flow is amongst the most important flows in the experience. It focused on breaking down the steps into digestible chunks with one decision to make at a time.

The end of this phase was concluded by developing a click-through simulator that enabled Equatex to share the new design and direction with their existing clients.

Phase 3: Development

During the development phase the design team worked closely with the developers. We set up a thorough design library and documentation system. A section was dedicated to the Design Language System where all overarching rules and reusable elements were documented. The rest was sectioned by epic. Every epic started with the rules and logic of the specific modules. An annotated flow diagram or composition followed to explain how success criteria were answered. States showing different use cases were then presented and described, along with transition and functionality details. The last section contained all redlining and annotated links to the typography, colours and elements sub-sections of the DLS.

Conclusion

The project's duration was 27 weeks (9 weeks of concept design and research + 9 sprints of 2 weeks each). Equatex managed to retain multiple customers, acquire new ones and grow it's bottom line significantly (specific numbers can only be disclosed verbaly).

For more questions, drop me a line. I'll be more than happy to discuss further.

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Digital farming

How do you combine satellite and drone imagery, weather forecast, disease spread data and pesticide application schedules to help farmers make better decisions and increase their revenue?

The problem

Farmers struggle with decision making when it comes to the application of pesticides on their crops.

The opportunity

Leverage technology, data and field insights to provide farmers with the necessary tools to make informed decision about pesticide applications, grow healthier crops and increase their revenue.

What I did

I was responsible for interaction design, research visual design support and prototyping.


In 2015, I had the chance to work with one of the world's largest agrochemical companies to help them figure out how to help farmers make better decisions. 

Phase 1: Concept and research

The project started with a concept phase where we prototyped a concept based on stakeholder interviews. The next step was to visit farms around the world to assess the concept's success. I joined the team during the user testing phase in France to help with the research and partake in the final design refinement phase of the project.

The main challenge we were trying to solve was to understand how a system can help farmers improve their crop applications. In order for such a system to work, it has to act as a recommendation engine that takes into account a myriad of data points and events. The system needs to consider: historic data, satellite and drone imagery, soil & biomass maps, seed types, plant data and growth stages, pest and disease pressure, insecticide applications and weather data.

Most farmers we spoke to collect this data on a regular basis. The main problem is that they couldn't make sense out of it over time and couldn't relate it to each other. The obvious solution would therefore be to create a unifying system that gathers all the data in one place and allows the user to analyse it to make better decisions.

During the in-field research the team realised that the click-through prototype that was shown to users contained features that were based on wrong assumptions. The concept design had to be thoroughly revisited.

Phase 2: Design iteration

When the team was back from the research, I proposed to start with drawing the user journey. A farmer's typical season consists of 5 main phases: Pre-seeding, seeding, application, harvest and post harvest. During every one of these phases users make decisions based on a set of parameters they collect from different sources. The user journey was therefore used to analyse which type of parameters farmers need and how they can be brought together within one solution to facilitate better decision making.

After the user journey I put together the experience model. Without a system that learns, the data remains static and non-personal. Learnability is foundational in the operation of the system. Once a recommendation is proposed to the farmer, they have a chance to accept it or deny it. Since the system cannot initially have as much information about the farmer's own fields, a feedback loop is created. With time, the system's recommendations should get smarter and more specifically tailored to the user.

The team then worked closely with the client to identify the most suitable content structure. The main screen would be a map view of the farm and all it's fields. From there, the user can either access the map view of a specific field or access the time-based view of all fields. Notifications of crop protection applications take the user to the time based view of a specific field from which they can access the crop application details.

Once the content structure was established, we split the work. I was responsible for the "action" screens which show the user a time-based view of their farm as well as a specific field. At the farm view level, the fields are categorised by crop type. The user can also change the scale view. On the left is the seasonal view where the user can have an overview of all past and upcoming crop applications as well as access their scouting trips. On the right a weekly view is shown from which the user can access their applications. Fields that have upcoming applications are shown at the top of the category. A summary of their applications is displayed right below them.

The left screen shows how a user is notified about a weather alert that conflicts with their application. In tis case, if the application date is not modified the fungicide application will loose it's effect. It must not get rained on for 3 to 5 days after the application. The right screen shows a time-based field view. This is the most granular stage the user can get to in the application. Weather data, disease pressure and all predictable parameters are superposed for the user to see data in context while making a decision.

Phase 3: Design refinement

The screens below show how the wireframes were translated to visual design. I worked closely with the visual designer to ensure that the hierarchy and contrast between different components was clear. 

These compositions show the field view at the farm and field level. I supported in the final refinement of the screens to help meet our deadline.

The team had 3 weeks in total after the research for research synthesis and concept re-design.

Conclusion

In B2B products the product team can craft truly unique experiences. The way businesses are different from consumers is that they have a vested interest in the success of the supplier. It is therefore a lot easier to meet, talk and learn about the business needs & requirements and craft a wonderful experience.

Although this project was mainly conceptual (without development), it was one of the most exciting projects I've worked on. I wish the farmers the best of luck moving forward.

Do not hesitate to get in touch to learn more.
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Rate my wait

Rate my wait was a design exercise proposed by a company I applied for.

Brief:

While there are many ways to rate and review restaurants, these are not focused on evaluating individuals servers. I took on the challenge to design an experience where diners can submit positive comments and constructive suggestions for the wait staff, and servers can use this feedback to both improve and help to secure new employment. The documentation on this page gives an overview of the process I followed.


Step 1: Breaking down the problem.

1. After giving the task some thought and researching similar solutions in the market, I identified 4 different directions to solve the problem. I analysed the pros and cons of each as well as the implication each solution has on customers, servers and restaurant owners. You can find the details of the initial thought process in Appendix A: Initial thoughts at the bottom of this page.

2.  I chose the direction that would be the most impactful in solving the problem. 

3. I started sketching out the main key flows I would like to create.

3. I wireframed my main screens then researched the visual direction I would like my design to follow.

Early research with the cats.

Step 2: Selected direction

RaitMyWait is a web app that allows customers to review servers by simply taping an NFC tag available at the dining table. The review is then added to the server's profile and can be browsed by anyone who has access to the platform.

Step 3. Homepage design

I created the product's homepage to set the communication's tone of voice. This helped me add clarity to the value proposition and clearly define the scope of the product. I took a mobile-first approach.

I generally write a lot in wireframes :)

I generally write a lot in wireframes :)

Towards the end of the wireframing process I crafted my visual design artefacts.

Step 4: Sign up flow / Onboarding

In the next step I created the signup flow. I wanted the flow to be clear, straightforward and easy.

Step 5: User profile

Once the user signed up and completed their profile, they can start receiving customer reviews. Others can also view their profile and message them.

Step 6: Customer review

When a dining customer taps on the NFC tag with their phone, they are instantly redirected to the rating page.

Step 7: Guerilla user interview

I was curious to know what a server would think of my early stage concept. So I showed it to a few waiters at a restaurant I've never been to. He thought that the social dimension in the proposal made a lot of sense. It would provide visibility across the industry and a smoother way for customers to provide a review. He also liked the idea that he would have his own profile. He then asked me how he can order his NFC tags. :) 

8. Experience model

I finally refined the experience model diagram that I had initially sketched by hand.

This exercise was done over the course of a week during my free time. It was a lot of fun and could be a viable product in the market once NFC sensors are integrated into the majority of phones.

For more details please do not hesitate to get in touch
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Smarthome for everyone

Smarthome gadgets are like this thing you didn't know you needed until you visited someone who has it. And even then, the first question is: "How complicated is it to setup?"


The problem

Back in 2012, our client entered the smarthome business with no success. People didn't get how to use the product.

The opportunity

In 2014, we had the ambitious goal of creating a smarthome system for everyone. Hastle free, plug and play, no hickups.

What I did

I was responsible for the mental model of the app and the execution of the interaction design.

Phase 1: Immersion

The initial step in the project was to understand the client's current solution, their technical capabilities, the feedback of their existing users and their business requirements. Once requirements were clear, I put together the first draft of the information architecture diagram to capture the scope of features and requirements. The IA was refined and improved throughout the project. Below is the final version.

Phase 2: Concept & detail design

We identified the main key flows that the users would be interested in. I started wireframing the flows to get a comprehensive view of the mental and interaction model that would be most suitable. The interaction model I settled on tailored towards flexible entry points throughout the platform. This enabled the user to find elements and sections related to each other in an easy and intuitive way. The mental model was one where all devices are tokens within a certain smarthome category: Lighting, Climate, Security, Shutters, Entertainment etc. Every token can be read or activated individually, or combined with different tokens to form a scenario. 

In the flow below, the user creates a complex scenario from scratch. A scenario is when a user selects a set of triggers and conditions to automate an action. In the edge case below, when the switch is on or when motion is detected and the brightness is below 20% and it's between 00:00 and 08:00 the garden light turns on for 30 seconds.

Multiple common-use scenarios would be proposed by the system to kickstart the user's progress. This is an example illustrating the flexibility of the system to suit the needs of advanced users, which was one of the business requirements.

We put together a Design Language System to accelerate the production process. Once the basic flows were wireframed, I improved upon them and polished them using the elements from the DLS.

The flow below showcases how a user can manage their rooms within their smarthome.

1. The user's view when no devices have been added to any rooms.
2. The user sees the number of devices in each room.
3. The user adds a new room.
4. The user edits the name of an existing room.

Adding devices to the system is one of the user's most feared tasks. The image below demonstrates three access points the user can add a device from.

1: When the user's done installing their central unit they can start installing their devices immediately. In the instance where the user purchased a product bundle, the system recognises the list of devices the user has. Step by step instructions guide the user through a smooth flow.
7 & 11: The user can also add a device from the devices page or from the home page by selecting the plus button.  

Conclusion

The system was designed to work well with third party devices and integrate most of them. In this case, the user can control the hue, color and intensity of a Philips Hue light bulb and turn it on or off. The user can also access the scenarios that the device is integrated in or view more details about the product at the bottom of the page.

The team put together a clickable prototype that the client user-tested before starting development. The smarthome system (software and hardware) was developed in 2017 and is now available on the market for purchasing.

The project's duration was 10 weeks.

Do not hesitate to get in touch for more details.
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