User Experience

Delivering luxury and tradition to Cunard’s digital audience

Redefining luxury cruises

This iconic brand is part of the world’s largest leisure travel group. In 2015 we pitched for and won the digital business and began to evolve Cunard’s online presence and increase the proportion of sales taken directly.

Cunard’s website was tired, utilitarian and provided a disjointed experience resulting from uncoordinated content and functionality updates over the years. What they had was a poor representation of the luxury product they were offering the consumer.

Relaunching a flagship

A combined team of UX, creative and development talent was tasked with the redesign of Cunard’s ‘brochure’ website, where customers would explore and select cruises before being handed off to the booking engine.

As experience designers, our initial objectives were to understand the needs and behaviours of cruise customers whilst capturing business requirements and learning about the Cunard proposition.

Our brief included a need to cover the imminent dry-dock refit of Cunard’s largest ship, Queen Mary II and promote the relaunch a few months later.

Phased approach

Because of the tight timings, we agreed with the client that we would deliver a new QM2 section ahead of the rest of the site. This would be a content-rich set of pages documenting the refit story and promoting the enhanced experience guests could enjoy on forthcoming cruises.

QM2 site map phase 1
QM2 sitemap phase 2

Components would be designed and built with an understanding that they could be deployed for the other two ships’ sections and elsewhere in the site.

QM2 wires phase 1
QM2 wireframe phase 2

Cruise holidays are big ticket items. Customers spend as much as £250k on a Cunard vacation. Planning such a holiday can take months or years and the bookings can be made over a year in advance of the sailing.

I organised an experience mapping workshop with the client to discover the timelines and touch points and build a picture of those areas where the website had to excel. The exercise provided a very business-sided view, so this was balanced with a series of telephone interviews with cruise customers and forensic examination of the discussions held on forums like Cruise Critic.

Wall from our experience mapping workshop
The wall at the end of our experience mapping workshop with Cunard

We discovered a need for more emotional storytelling content for those at the top of funnel, compared with functional material for those close to booking or having booked but with weeks or months to wait before sailing.

Insights were played back to the client as presentations to maintain a pace and generate discussion. However, our findings were also delivered in a designed customer experience map which I put together in Adobe Illustrator. Whilst this may appear to be a lot of effort for discovery documentation, The delivered A2 print was very effective in bolstering the agency/client relationship.

Cunard CX Map
The consumer experience map artwork I created in Adobe Illustrator

Whilst we were working on the QM2 section we were also looking at the overall site. Our research with consumers and from the site analytics was telling us that the structure was not providing ordered or easy to find information.

Our response to this was a card sorting exercise programme followed by tree testing of the existing and revised site maps. We recruited staff from managerial and customer-facing roles at Cunard as well as a number of Cunard customers to take part in the sorting sessions in London and Southampton. Each session was recorded on video so that we could review the discussions around placement of cards and understand any rationale.

Extract from the IA testing report

IA report slide
The navigation task
IA report slide
Results shown as pie charts
IA report slide
Write up of results
IA report slide
Paths in the current site structure
IA report slide
Paths in the proposed site structure
Sampling the product

To get a better picture of the ‘product’. Cunard allowed us to visit one of their three ships whilst berthed at Southampton. As guests were disembarking and before others came aboard, we had two hours to explore accommodation, restaurants, a theatre, library and various other facilities. The visit provided valuable insights into how we might create a guide to life onboard and help customers select their accommodation when booking. We also had time to enjoy a three course silver service meal – if you’re going to market a luxury product you ought to experience it yourself!

Cunard stadd an SYZYGY colleagues
Myself with our creative director, Harwin and the account director, Elaine, plus a couple of Cunard bell boys.
Bringing White Star service to the digital consumer

The new QM2 section launched to announce and document the ship’s refit. We arranged live video streams from the dry dock in Hamburg and provided content that showed how archivists were drawing on Cunard’s rich history to influence designs for cutlery, carpets and cushions.

This new section, which would be the template for the remainder of the site was tested with users in the UK and US to ensure we were meeting their needs and expectations. At the same time we experimented with changes to the existing site. Employing A/B testing to measure effectiveness of specific elements such as breadcrumbs and promotion positioning.

Meanwhile our discovery phase had provided the necessary insights for a new site structure, simplified navigation and content that would do justice to Cunard’s heritage, traditional values and 21st century luxury experience.

Our website designs were achieved through close collaboration between myself, the creative director and the development team. We shared ideas and explored possibilities with layout, motion and functionality.

The resulting experience was as much about immersive storytelling as it was about answering questions and driving bookings. The platform delivered 10% of global sales, making a significant contribution to two consecutive record breaking years for sales.

In 2019 the site was relaunched on the Adobe Experience platform by parent company, Carnival. This was part of an initiative to move all brands into a templated structure. Whilst our site disappeared, the new platform retained many of the design features we had brought to the brand and Cunard remains the leader in the luxury cruise market.

Cunard wireframes
Cunard wireframes
Cunard page layouts
Cunard page layouts
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