Alaska Airlines
Service design
Product Designer
A service design project re-imagining Alaska Airline’s carry-on experience. Key features include an overhead bin reservation system and pre-boarding service for carry-on bags.
Carista Eliani, Larry Tian, Veneza Yuzon, Zoe Zuo
Figma, ProtoPie
5 weeks
A service design project for a graduate level course
This concept was the result of a project for a graduate level course, Designing Information Experiences. For the project, teams of 4-5 students  were tasked with creating, prototyping, evaluating, and iterating on an experience over the course of 5 weeks.
Over the course of five weeks, my team and I used various workshops and design processes to design an end-to-end experience.
Over the course of five weeks, my team and I used various workshops and design processes to design an end-to-end experience.
Design Challenge
Improving the pre-boarding experience
For the project, my group and I were interested in designing a service to improve the airport experience. We landed on the following design challenge.
"how might we" statement
How might we improve the airport experience in order to provide certainty and prevent potential inconveniences for passengers during the pre-boarding process?
Last minute and unexpected changes at the airport are frustrating
Spending time at the airport is an unavoidable part of air travel. On top of disorganized boarding processes and long wait times, unexpected changes are significant frustrations for passengers. My group and I wanted to understand which touchpoint(s) of the pre-boarding experience could be improved to alleviate frustrating last minute changes.
My Role
I led the design of the mobile app interface amongst other responsibilities
My main role was overseeing and leading the design of the mobile app. This included tasks such as wireframing, designing the information architecture, working with an existing design system, and prototyping high-fidelity screens and the micro-interactions. I also played a big role in aligning the team on major design decisions and applying a business-approach to the design process.
I led the design of the mobile app and brought both business and service-design oriented perspectives into the process.
I. Check-in
Reserve an overhead bin
I. Check-in
Reserve an overhead bin
II. Arrive At Gate
Use a self-service kiosk to drop off carry-on
II. Arrive at gate
Use a self-service kiosk to drop off carry-on
III. pre-boarding
Staff loads carry-on into reserved bin
III. pre-boarding
Staff loads carry-on into reserved bin
Iv. push notifications
Stay updated on status of carry-on
Iv. push notifications
Stay updated on status of carry-on
Field Observation
Observing pre-boarding behaviors at SeaTac Airport
We took advantage of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s (SeaTac) visitor pass program and spent half a day observing passengers’ behaviors after security checkpoint. We spent our time at the international gates since travelers typically get to their gates earlier than domestic flights. Areas we focused on included moments of frustration and joy, activities travelers do in the waiting area, and how people respond to their surrounding environment.
The team in full ethnographic research mode at SeaTac.
Snapshots of passengers queuing up to board and waiting at the gate.
Affinitizing our data down to actionable findings
Our team had a lot of notes from our field investigation and interviews at SeaTac. To distill down the data, we grouped our notes into themes like “pre-boarding behaviors & feelings” or “activities while waiting”. We drafted findings for each of the themes and through the process of dot-voting, we picked the top three findings to ideate upon.
We first grouped observation and interview notes into broad themes and sub-themes. Within each group, we drafted findings (in the black stickies).
We landed on these three findings:
  1. People’s actions and behaviors are motivated by the desire for certainty and immediate access to information
  2. Audio clutter leads to a more displeasurable experience
  3. People don’t know what to expect without clear communication pre-boarding
Initial Brainstorm
First round of ideation, 44 ideas
Using the three findings from our field observation, we drafted 44 ideas via concept sketches that would improve the airport pre-boarding experience. Many of the ideas overlapped so we grouped similar ideas to help simplify down-selection. Grouping similar ideas substantially downsized our pool of ideas.
An overview of our 44 concept sketches.
Using process of elimination to arrive at the top 10 ideas
To further narrow down to the top 10 ideas, we took a gut feeling approach to dispose of a few ideas. These concepts tended to lack originality, feasibility, or did not tie back well with our research findings.
Story-telling to narrow down to 5 ideas
In order to better understand our top ten ideas, each team member wrote a user scenario for two of the concepts. We then shared these scenarios with each other through story-telling and bodystorming. After every story, we made sure to provide feedback on each concept including what we liked, disliked, and were confused about. Through discussion and dot-voting, we narrowed down to our top five ideas.
We wrote out scenarios for each concept and story-told them to each other. Every other teammate wrote feedback as they listened.
Design principles guide us towards the top idea
To narrow down, I proposed that we use design principles to guide our down-selection. We wanted whatever we designed to uphold the following attributes:
design principles
  1. Increase confidence through certainty
  2. Seamless and efficient
  3. Uphold user agency
  4. Easy and obvious
For each of the top five ideas, we marked down which design principles we thought the idea encapsulated. While we were able to eliminate the ideas that met fewer design principles, we were left with a tie between two ideas. We dot-voted once again to pick the top idea. While the idea we chose had a majority vote, there was disagreement. I guided my team to think about choosing an idea with a narrower scope. After hours of discussion, debate, and ultimately compromise, we landed on the top idea: a reservation system for overhead bins.
Customer Journey Map
Understanding the big picture
To better understand the end-to-end offering of our idea, we created a customer journey map. The journey maps out the user’s thoughts and emotions throughout the key touchpoints of the service. We  identified the front-end and back-end people and things that the user interacts with at each touchpoint.
Identifying the thoughts, emotions, and frontstage/backstage interactions at each touchpoint of the user journey.
Breaking down the details of the user journey
While it was important for us to understand the big picture of the user journey, it was also necessary for us to align on the specific steps of the user journey as well as consider the edge cases. We made user flow charts with decision tree elements to understand both the front-end and back-end steps of the service.
User flow of the front-end and back-end touchpoints of the overhead bin auto-assignment process.
Automatic overhead bin assignment at check-in
At check-in, passengers will indicate whether or not they intend to bring a carry-on bag. After seat selection, passengers are auto-assigned an overhead bin for their carry-on bag. The auto-assignment will be shown on a screen with the overhead bin highlighted on a seat selection chart.
Show carry-on size restrictions in the check-in screens.

Some passengers had concerns about other passengers bringing on board bags that exceed the carry-on limit and takes up more space than allotted.
Check-in screens showing overhead bin auto-assignment after the passenger selects their seat.
Drop off
Drop off carry-on bag at the gate for pre-loading
Past security checkpoint, passengers have the option of dropping off their carry-on bag at the gate to be pre-loaded into their designated overhead bin. They will sign up for drop-off using a kiosk at the designated gate. This service allows passengers to enjoy the pre-boarding experience without the burden of their carry-on (but do not have to check in their bags), as well as streamline the boarding process.
Lay out all information at the kiosk including the purpose of the service, instructions, and any disclaimers.

Since this is a new service, it might take longer for people to process the instruction. We felt that this touchpoint was the right place to provide the relevant information.
Self-service kiosk screens for the Drop & Fly service.
Track status
Track carry-on bag status while waiting
Passengers can sign up for notifications after dropping off their carry-on to keep track of their bag status. Notifications will be sent via the Alaska Airlines app at every key touchpoint to communicate to passengers that their carry-on is on track towards being loaded into the designated bin.
Ensure notifications about the passenger’s carry-on bag status are timely and relevant.

Passengers felt like the notifications with image proof were timely and reassuring.
Push notifications and a notification dashboard on the app to allow passengers to track the status of their carry-on bag after drop-off.
Edge Cases
Considering options for passengers who cannot get a reserved bin
Our team considered scenarios where a passenger may not be able to secure a nearby overhead bin (i.e. the plane’s overhead bin space cannot accommodate all passengers’ carry-on items). We had a few ideas for these edge cases but ultimately landed on providing these passengers with complementary air miles to promote customer loyalty. Additionally, passengers have the option to join a waitlist at the gate, in case overhead bin space near their seat is made available last minute.
Give passengers who could not get a reserved bin the option to join a waitlist, in the case a bin opens up last minute.

During the testing phase, we learned that participants have different levels of hopefulness regarding the waitlist process. Therefore, we opted out of automatically putting passengers on the waitlist.
Providing passengers certainty ahead of time and options when there are no overhead bins available for reservation.
What I Learned
This was my first time designing an end-to-end service. I learned a lot.
  • Story-telling was important for visualizing the end-to-end idea
  • Discussion of edge cases helped us even better understand the customer experience, but sometimes we can’t get too caught up in these details
  • Rapid iteration is crucial. I learned to make changes to the prototype as soon as I gained insight from a user test
  • Experience design shifted my focus away from technology/UI. Technology is useful in supporting the whole experience, but should not be the main focus when it comes to experience design
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© 2023 Emily Shu