Vail Resorts

  

Summary

Vail Resorts is known internationally for its luxury destinations in scenic locations. Guests visit Vail resorts from all over the world, and about a third have a household income of over $200k. It owns 4 resorts in Colorado (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone), 3 in Tahoe (Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar), one each in Utah (Park City), Minnesota (Afton Alps), Wisconsin (Wilmot Mountain), Michigan (Mount Brighton), and New South Wales, Australia (Perisher). 

Vail needed help updating and unifying the visual language across their top eight resort sites as well a creating a standard set of templates and components for their content to help ensure fluid integration with their content management system and across different resort marketing and writing teams. Additionally, most of the current experience wasn't designed for mobile, and since 38% of  their traffic from high value markets comes through their mobile experience (with an increasing trend over the last several years), it was important to bring the mobile approach up to date.

The Ask

  • Conceive a design system for eight Vail resorts with easy to maintain and repurpose-able components that can tell each resort's unique story

  • Build an experience that expresses itself as well on mobile as it does on desktop

  • Remove hiccups and barriers to purchase paths, don't make the user re-enter information, make recommendations and shortcuts wherever possible

  • Bring the experience into accessibility compliance

My role

  • Led UX track for team of 3-5 (depending on phase of the project)

  • Created user journeys, personas, and and functionality model

  • Contributed to wireframes and annotations for mobile and desktop

  • Accessibility training of the creative team

  • Participated in testing of key interactions using inVision prototypes

  • Helped manage highly collaborative process with client including informal calls and online chats with client product owners several times each week, in addition to 3 on-site workshops, and 3 rounds of reviews for each of the 3 batches of work

  • Facilitated relationship with visual design to ensure buy-in, development of next iteration in UX thinking, and consistent implementation of UI elements

 Desktop and mobile mockups

 Field visit

We visited Vail Resort in Colorado ourselves to experience what happens after the purchase of lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons — being on the mountain. We spent two days interviewing resort staff and instructors on the biggest pain points and successes of their current systems. We all got to take ski lessons! I still like snowboarding better 😉

 Vail project team with our new Vail Resort buddies, suited up after ski lessons, posing together on one of the peaks

User Journeys

We started by thoroughly reviewing the marketing and customer research, site data analyses, and segmentation data that Vail shared with us. We also did a competitive assessment, and from this collection of information created a set of user profiles and journeys to help us establish a long-term experience vision. We mapped out the high-level flow of features required for that vision and reviewed with Vail to scale it down to something that would fit within our phase 1 scope.

Unifying navigation patterns

One of our tasks was to unify navigation patterns across the 8 sites—while individual resorts wanted to maintain the uniqueness of some of their content, it was important to at least create some consistent top-level categories and sort content within those categories in a predictable way across resort sites. We looked for patterns across sites and for opportunities to consolidate or remove content.

Wireframes and Annotations

We redesigned patterns for every part of the 8 resorts’ online experiences, including lift ticket and season pass purchase, lodging, ski lesson, and equipment rental reservations, cart and checkout that encouraged building a complete trip, mountain wayfinding and conditions, and dozens of other content pages.

We split this work into 3 batches which were each reviewed in 3 rounds of iteration and a weeklong workshop with our Vail partners. 2-4 UX designers were dedicated to this project depending on the phase of work. I was primarily responsible for the home pages components, lift ticket flow, mountain conditions, and checkout flow, in additional to partnering with a design manager to lead the UX team’s work.

This was additionally our first experience using Frontify for annotations. It proved to have several advantages -- easy updates, no need to break up long images into several pages due to print-size restraints typically imposed by an InDesign and Illustrator print format, we liked small interactions like rollover pop-up descriptions and jump-links in the table of contents, it was a document that could be edited by several people at the same time, no outdated copies floating around among developers or clients, and other benefits.

For more complicated flows like lesson and lift selection, we ran usability testing on wireframe prototypes to make sure we were resolving friction, per our goals. We incorporated feedback and tested again before handing off to visual design.

Visual Design

Our visual design team created a gorgeous system of consistent visual elements that could be used across the 8 resort sites, but change up color, typography, and photography to maintain their distinct personalities.

After hand-off of wireframes to our visual design team, we met regularly with visual designers to discuss additional UI thinking we could push further in the iteration, and to help maintain the thinking and consistency of UI elements as they got translated through several designers into designs we were all proud of.

 

Creative Team Accessibility Training Materials

I used this briefing deck to familiarize our team with thinking about accessibility guidelines from an empathic design point of view.

I feel that if designers can understand how people with different disabilities use adaptive tools to access what we design, then we can better understand the impact our decisions have on the experience of people with disabilities. By understanding this experience, we can come up with better solutions for compliance than if we simply followed guidelines without context. 

As a companion to this deck, I created an audit matrix to help us track our compliance with guidelines. Each creative role is responsible for auditing their work for compliance to different guidelines, which are indicated in tabs in the matrix.

Afterword

What I would have done differently if I were to do this again

  • One of things I missed out on most in agency life was leveraging data to measure success after delivery. Once we completed designs, we were off onto other projects. I would have loved to find out how the new sign-up and reservation flows for lift tickets, lessons, equipment, and lodging, as well as checkout performed. I would have looked for obvious drop-offs and I would have been excited to iterate based on what we learned.

  • This project was by-the-book waterfall, which isn’t really something to be proud of. I think we could have taken a more iterative approach, with UX and visual design working more closely from the start. Additionally, for this project our client was doing the development, and, while we did the best we could in including them in every review from the start, it would have been nice to keep in touch after our design hand-off to their development team.

  • While it was great that we visited the mountain and interviewed staff, it would have been helpful to also interview visitors on their experience. While our user journey and persona work was based on market and customer research provided to us from Vail, it would have been nice for our team to experience this in person.

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