Early start-up: Research & Design


Problem Statement & Goal

Mystro is a nascent start-up in development that is a lightweight trip planning/organizational tool to keep track of places, plan trips, and share experiences with other people.

Mystro has a working desktop platform at Mystro.io, however, me and my other UX design colleagues were tasked to research and provide a better understanding of trip planning behaviors and mindsets of users. Our end goal was to design a research-based prototype that allows users to organize a trip and gather recommendations from friends. Once the project brief was clearly defined we delegated roles.


My Role on the Design Team

I was the project manager and main point in contact for the client. I conducted comparative analysis research, initial wireframes in Sketch and early prototypes in InVision. I wrote and created the research report and presentation materials to the client.

Glimpse at Project Plan

Glimpse at Project Plan

Initial Usability Findings

To begin our initial research, the team conducted usability tests of the current Mystro site. Mystro.io is an operating site with the ability to:

  • Create a profile
  • Add trips
  • Add activities for trips
  • Filter trips by visited or not visited
Creating an itinerary on the original site

Creating an itinerary on the original site

We conducted 5 usability tests asking users to do us an existing login and create a trip and add an activity they would like to do for the trip.

All users were able to create a trip. However, consistent challenges existed after each trip was created including:

  • Map orientation 
    • Many users noted the orientation to be in New Haven initially and not updating when they entered a city. For example, when entering Florida the map oriented to Brazil and when one user wanted restaurants in Trinidad she received New York recommendations.
  • Site responsiveness to selections 
    • When users chose a category or activity the site did not give a confirmation of their selection
  • No recommendations 
    • Users also expected to receive recommendations when selecting a category
  • Types of activities 
    •  Default types of activities were confusing to users (e.g. tapas in Taiwan or fishing anywhere there wasn’t water)

General user observations and confusion

  • Could not determine how to save a trip (or if a trip had been saved)
  • Calendar required users to click through each month to get to a date rather than a scrollable option. We observed a user planning a trip in April 2017 have to go through each month in 2016 to get to their chosen date.
  • “Custom” as a category was unclear
  • “Visit” and “Visited” options were in an unexpected location

Style Guide

Since Mystro is so early in development there is no defined style guide. We created a basic style guide for John to follow to better reflect hierarchy in content and give it a more clean UI. After creating a style guide we dug deeper into our research and evaluation.


Competitive Analysis

We conducted a competitive feature and elements analysis of seven travel sites. We found with the feature analysis that all sites but one (86%) allow for a form of collaboration and only one (Tripit) allows for easy population of information.

Comparative Analysis

With comparative analysis, the design team followed the same process of feature and element analysis, but went beyond just travel sites. We researched twelve sites which have the primary function of list creation (a mechanism for organization and planning) and those with the main function of collaboration.

We conducted a feature analysis for list making applications and found that once logged in, the majority of sites require three clicks to accomplish the primary site function.

Heuristic Evaluation

When conducting a heuristic evaluation, the design team used 10 heuristics and evaluated each site on a 1–5 scale (5 being the strongest). We reviewed the overall usability of 6 of the top comparative and competitive sites. We found that most of the sites (4 out of 6) were communicative while the ability to control content varied across sites.

Analysis From “Best in Class” Sites

We identified Evernote as a best in class for organization because of it’s light weight, ease of use and simple user interface. Citymaps’ map view gave clear location indicators and visuals of cities creating visual interest. 

User Research

Survey & Analysis

We conducted a survey with a focus on understanding overall trip planning behavior. Our 57 respondents answered questions about their previous trips, tools used and general planning habits. All respondents sought some form of recommendation in helping the trip planning process with 66% of them saying it was “the first thing they do.” Other findings include:

  • 95% need to collaborate with some sort of stakeholder while planning
  • 73% use email as a form of collaboration
  • 61% create a form of itinerary before they travel
  • 88% look online for inspiration

Interviewees used 73 different type of “planning tools” ranging from travel inspiration to recommendations.

Our primary persona


Affinity Mapping & User Personas

From a romantic trip with a partner to a relaxing beach vacation to a cultural immersive trip in a foreign country, travelers spoke of the need to determine this to be able to make travel plans. Trips such as those for business or obligation (e.g. visit parents, friend’s wedding) were less planning focus.

With the focus on organizing and planning, we used our research to develop three user personas which differed based on serving the following:

  • Varied planning needs (more and less structure)
  • Ability to collaborate with friends
  • Understanding of travel types

Becca is the planner and our primary persona. She enjoys having a place where she can collect her thoughts and findings in an organized manner and collaborate easily.

Kenny is the companion and secondary persona. He wants to avoid touristy places and wants to get input without planning everything.

Sharon is the context traveller and our additional secondary persona. She takes on many faces based on they type of travel she is taking whether it is a family trip or a foodie restaurant searching trip.

Users collaboration and site flows


Feature Prioritization

Based on our personas and affinity mapping we began to see consistent pains and pleasures in the travel planning process. In proposing a redesign we would look at both pains and pleasures to better determine how we would serve the user. Below are a list of identified pains and pleasures by users:


  • applicable recommendations from friends
  • local experience
  • collaboration with others
  • ability to find documents
  • efficiency
  • interest matches (e.g. travel with “foodies”)
  • feeling of accomplishment
  • tracking the places you have been


  • touristy things
  • overplanning
  • being unprepared
  • bad recommendations
  • lack of flexibility
  • understanding local schedules
  • environmental/health
  • airline and hotel points and miles



Sketching, Ideation & User Flows

Initial Sketches & Siteflows

We used the design charrette approach to draw out various screens. We went for a minimalistic UI keeping the focus to Mystro being a lightweight organizing, planning, and collaborating tool.


Usability Testing & Iterative Design

Early iteration and feedback

We conducted over 30 usability tests and made 5 iterations.

We wanted Sharon to be able to share restaurant recommendations and initially had a drawn out 6 step process until one tester said:

Why would I go through all these steps to send a recommendation?
— User feedback

She was right. We needed to make it simpler so we made it two clicks.

Later iteration and feedback


We found in early iterations much of the layout was unclear so we made a number of changes including clearer icons, clearer definitions (no longer my notes but my trips), and hierarchy in the content. 

As with any design and particularly one in such an early stage there are a number of next steps.

Next Steps

Our end goal was to design a research-based prototype that allows users to organize a trip and gather recommendations from friends. With considerable management and defined deliverables, we were able to accomplish this. Because of the early stage of the Mystro start-up there were a number of next steps.


Short Term

Short term next steps are primarily continued testing of the design. Additionally, our team recommends looking closer at the market position and overall feasibility of Mystro. With the competition and various options available (e.g. the 73 different tools users called out in our research) Mystro needs a defined USP (unique selling proposition).

Long Term

For the long term, Mystro would need to be responsive (particularly on mobile) and the potential of booking travel through Mystro. We also recommend looking into auto population of itineraries by email and a messaging platform.