Cheapoair.com: Travel Website Critique

Usability Critique of Cheapoair Website
Cheapoair.com is a travel related website used to find and book flights, hotels, and rental car when making travel arrangements. The website is similar to popular websites such as expedia.com and travelocity.com. The cheapoair.com website has a well-constructed user interface that generally adheres to Shneiderman's “Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design,” and the guidelines of discussed in Donald A. Norman’s “The Psychology of Everyday Things.”

The Cheapoair website has an excellent 3-section layout on a white background that allows the dark blue fonts to stand out. When reading from left to right, the first section (largest section) that stands out is the search box, which is the location of control for the user. This box is outlined in dark blue, and entitled “Search Cheap Airline Tickets and Save!” in big white letters. The design of the homepage makes it clear that if there is anything that a user wants to accomplish with the website, he or she should start at the search box. Key features of the search box include the “From:”, “To:”, “Depart:”, and “Return:” labels that are followed by long horizontal box that are pre-populated with brief instructions of what to enter within them. The pre-populated boxes, increases the visibility of the interface. Other beneficial aspects of the search box are the “Flights”, “Hotels”, and “Cars” tabs that when clicked change the face of the search box to cater to corresponding searches. These tabs provide a shortcut for more experienced users, because a user can employ these tabs instead of clicking on the “Flights”, “Hotels”, or “Cars” links at the top of the homepage that actually change the entire page in respect to the corresponding link. In regards to low-level aspects, the user interface of cheapoair.com has good visibility and affordance. The font sizes, colors, and flight search box, make it clear to a user how to use the website, and the purpose of the website.

In regards to behavior and functionality, the Cheapoair website gives a user full control, gives feedback, includes easy reversal actions, and handles errors appropriately. To begin with, the flight search box allows users to types an airport code from which they want to depart, and if a correct code is recognized, a drop-down list will appear that has airport code followed by the airport location. If a user is unsure of the airport code, they have the option of choosing from an extensive list of airports arranged alphabetically by city names. Unfortunately, if a user clicks on the letter “Y” to find airport codes, and the user meant to click “C”, he would have to scroll to the top of the list, because the clickable alphabet that moves the screen from one group of airport codes to another is only visible at the very top of the entire list of airports. Thus, time is wasted when a user makes this mistake. When a user is actually ready to search for flights, and clicks the “Search” button, a page appears with a loading bar, giving the impression that the website is searching. This page serves as a form of feedback to the user; it appears immediately after a search is initiated. Also, when a user books a flight, they have the option to go back and look at the search results, so the user never feels as though their selection is permanent. Lastly, on the confirmation screen, a user is asked to type various information, and then submit the transaction. If a user puts incorrect information, a yellow box is displayed on the screen, and in the box is information regarding the location of a possible error. Instead of completely erasing what the previous inputs of the user, various boxes remain populated and the user can edit errors rather than restart completely.

Overall, I feel that cheapoair.com has a great user interface. It follows the Norman guidelines of providing visibility and affordance to the user. Furthermore, the user interface uses consistent fonts, includes tabs for shortcuts, gives the user full control with the search box, provides feedback through searching and processing bars, includes go-back-buttons for reversing actions, and allows for editing after error detection; which are the majority of Shneiderman's “Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design”.

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