Five Human-Centered Design Benefits in Business Travel Technology

April 15, 2021

After working more than 30 years in the technology business at some of the world’s most innovative companies like Apple and Intel, I’ve learned a thing or two about designing technology to meet the needs of humans. From being on the team at Apple that launched the first Macintosh, which revolutionized personal computing and created many new product categories (and is now the most valuable company in the world,) to running several startups that had successful exits, I’ve been able to recognize common themes from these experiences.

Each of my experiences were across different market segments and product categories, and spanned geographies from the United States through Latin America, China and India. Each involved a series of attempts at optimizing human-centered design, and none were perfect from the start. Even the Apple Macintosh packaging, which I was responsible for, went through many iterations to get it just right.

These iterations, AKA, mistakes, led to improvements in judgement over time, yielding a better result.  Thus, mistakes, to me, are a source of learning and inspiration. It’s said in Silicon Valley that if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying hard enough. Hopefully, my mistakes and learnings over the past will help inform you about why we built Etta the way we did, and may offer a perspective on how and why we made certain decisions.

There are five key elements to — and benefits of — human-centered design. For each of the following, I’ll provide an example of its applicability to business travel.

1. Technology that’s instantly easy to use

We’ve been trained in our consumer technology lives to rarely read a user manual (even if we could find one,) hardly ever call a person for help (because we have to navigate maddening voice recognition or push-button call trees, only to then wait on hold forever,) and easily switch to a new app when we’re unhappy (because so many mobile apps are readily available and free that it’s easy to change them.)

This means we now expect instant gratification and ease of use. If we aren’t successful using an app in less than a minute, we question its design and feel our frustration building. The same is true for apps in our business world; they need to mimic those we use in our consumer lives. They must provide instant gratification. Making things work quickly is much harder than making them work slowly. A good comparison is in writing: It’s simpler to write a long story than a short one. It’s more difficult to be effective at conveying meaning when time and space are limited.

This is why so much time and care when into the design of Etta. We wanted to build a platform that offers instant gratification and ease of use for the traveler as a core tenant. We hope you agree that we’ve achieved this, and that it rivals the best in class of consumer apps that we regard as our gold standard.

2. Travel tech that’s continually gratifying

One of the key principles of designing for humans is simply recognizing that humans are both rational and emotional creatures. We respond to logic and utility as well as to “ah-ha” moments that create an emotional and, hopefully, positive response.

The best human-centered designs have these hidden gems that pop up unexpectedly and remind us that someone has been thoughtful about what happens throughout our interactive experience over time. While instant gratification is key to get us to start using a new technology, the platform must provide continual reinforcement of positive feelings and utility to keep us involved.

One of the nuances of business travel is that no two road warriors are alike. The combinations of reward programs, airport and hotel options and airline seating number to nearly infinite, and personal preferences abound. This means that an app must be able to adjust itself to myriad personal preferences and, in the parlance of software, ‘use cases.’ A traveler may plan, book and travel to a destination they’ve never visited in a way that’s very different from going to a place they travel frequently. The software must be able to predict and adjust to those differences if it is to be continually gratifying.

As you’ll see with Etta and as you use the product over time, every new chapter of functionality, every new release and task you complete to manage your business travel will reveal more delights that are thoughtful, helpful, and unexpected.

3. Efficient utility that improves productivity

Technology for humans needs to serve humans. In the context of business travel, that means providing utility as efficiently as possible. In this case, business travelers want their planning, booking, during-journey and post-trip experience to be simple to execute and without friction. They want access to a plethora of flight, hotel, ground transportation options. Their companies want to make sure that travel policies for safety and economy are followed, and that these policies improve their standing with employees and road warriors.

Given the complexity of business travel and the issues that often arise due to changing plans, bad weather that disrupts flights, or last-minute business meeting changes, the ability to adjust, anticipate and correct is a key part of the usefulness and utility provided by the app.

Ideally, these steps can be taken automatically and proactively by the technology, using machine learning and traveler personalization to automatically make changes behind the scenes. Why would a traveler, for example, be forced to stand in a long queue to fix a connecting flight problem when the tech can automatically detect and rebook them on a new flight?

Traveler productivity is at the core of the human-centered design that Etta was built to provide. Special care was taken to ensure that every step of using the app was streamlined to save time and eliminate unnecessary steps in the process.

At the end of the day, the road warrior should be focused entirely on the purpose of their trip, not the traveling itself. Given that travel can often be anxiety producing, distracting and sometimes downright annoying, anything we can do to remove those issues from the traveler’s mindset helps them to do their job, whether supporting customers, closing deals, raising money or inspiring employees.

4. Platforms that scale with user skill level

One of the most important but often overlooked attributes of superb human-centered design is the ability for technology to adapt to the user’s improved skill level as they continue to use the platform. As they take on more complex tasks, they don’t need to learn a new way to interact with the app as they become more experienced users.

Not every traveler is the same. Not every destination is the same. Not every airline policy or hotel or neighborhood is the same. All of these factors need to be considered in how the app is used in different circumstances, and as the traveler’s skill level with the platform grows.

The best human-centered designs think about all these challenges before the product is created. By thinking backward — that is, starting with the user’s experience as they try to get their needs met and then working through possible scenarios they may encounter — software architects and designers can avoid running into dead ends that require significant work-arounds or changes in the user interaction model.

Etta’s designers kept this in mind over the lengthy journey of conceptualization and implementation.

5. Travel technology that just works

When was the last time you thought about how you send a text? Listen to music on your smart phone? Watch a movie on Netflix? Return a package to Amazon? Or had to call any one of those companies or read a user manual to figure it out? Never, never, never and never.

The best human-centered design simply works. The tech virtually disappears. You don’t even have to think about it.  

When I joined Deem 5 years ago, I said then that the best online booking or travel management technology should simply disappear. With the launch of Etta, those dreams are now becoming reality. This new reality will usher in a transformation of business travel where the ease of travel and productivity of the road warrior will be elevated and optimized, which is more important than ever in our post-pandemic world.

Learn more about human-centered design from our Miles Ahead event webinar with Fast Co.


John F. Rizzo
Advisor & Former CEO

John has more than 35 years of experience helping guide some of the world’s most successful technology companies through startup phases, major product launches, branding and marketing campaigns, rapid growth, acquisitions and IPOs. He has raised well over $200M in venture capital financing and was a key early-stage contributor to companies that are today delivering well over $325B in combined sales with combined market capitalizations well in excess of $2T. He has two IPOs and six exits under his belt, most recently when Deem was acquired by Enterprise Holdings ($22B in revenue in FY20.)

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