It was March when things started to escalate. COVID-19 had already been declared a global pandemic. But now the world was witnessing just how bad things could get. So in the space of a couple of weeks, we all switched into a new normal. What had started as limiting social interaction became a blanket closure of public spaces and venues across most of the globe. Countries started closing their borders and residents were urged to cut their trips short and return home.
It was in this environment that #ArmchairAdventures was born. A way to offset the stress of travel uncertainty — we wanted to provide a way for anyone, anywhere in the world, to share and discover new places during the #stayhome period.
To build a prototype that would enable users to do 2 key things: share your own travel photos, and discover new places by other people - all while staying in our armchairs, literally. Pretty simple — and we were keen to learn about:
Over the first 18 days, we’ve had:
381 unique visitors to the site
402 places celebrated so far, in 48 collections
A mixed user set consisting of travel bloggers and vloggers, photographers, personal and aspiring content creators, and travel consultants
Speed was our priority. So we started to explore Boundless, a no-code development platform. After three intensive days of building, we had a desktop site ready to go. Intentionally basic, but that captured our 4 design goals:
1. From bite-sized travel content, to story-led collections. To change up the way visual content is shared, we created what we call — Collections. Users log on to create a collection, which consists of up to 8 photos. There were no limits on what these collections could be, apart from stemming from their travels. Leaving this open allowed us to observe what people were posting about, and in doing so gave us insight into:
2. Thoughtful curation — not mindless consumption. We steered away from the endless scrolling screen of other social platforms to encourage curation over consumption. Having a collection implied more considered inclusion of content, and no scroll meant this content was not lost in an endless feed. Initially, we wanted to foster a community of creators to build up the platform’s content. The idea being to not only use the platform to plan and inspire a trip, but to give back to the community with your own travels.
3. Frictionless storytelling. Each traveller has their own story, and we wanted to help them tell it. The people often make the place, and their stories shouldn’t be lost in a sea of content. Our user’s collections reflect what kind of traveller they truly are — but not everyone has the time to create a personal travel blog. So we provided a dedicated profile page for users to showcase their collections. This also allowed our audience to filter content. If they resonated with another user they could easily see all collections created by that person, to inspire their next trip!
4. Making trip planning easy. We believe there is an easier way for travellers to discover and organise content. On #ArmchairAdventures users could search for a city or a place, which brought up the collection that place sat within. They could then save collections to their profile as favourites. Collections could also be ‘liked’ by others, helping the community surface the right content, by up-voting quality content that resonated with them.
Our main channels at launch were Instagram and Medium. The visual nature and ease of use made Instagram where the majority of our audience sat. Using a mixture of re-posting (and crediting!) beautiful photos amongst our own illustrated assets we then set about sharing the news about #ArmchairAdventures.
So, what did we learn?
1. How you don’t need to be an official ‘content creator’ to have a travel story to share. Leveraging our own networks for the first content push meant we went past the conventional bloggers or digital creators. We reached out to friends who were already sharing travels amongst their own circles, but may not usually have shared publicly. Then were pleasantly surprised by those who (while usually shy to share) shared more than we expected.
2. How millennials are quick to adapt and hungry to create. Instead of shying away from the pandemic, we observed a community turning virtual. Though people couldn’t travel IRL, we saw travellers sharing past travels and encouraging others to stay inspired. Our early adopters were keen to #keeptravelalive. We helped them along using our blog, which helped followers look for the creativity within quarantine and travel at home with our #stayhome ideas.
3. How people use a platform in unexpected ways. We think we design for a certain user type and interaction, and are constantly surprised by how users then interpret it their way. Our users showed us how the platform could be extended past bite-sized content collections. Such as a travel blogger who used her collections as an extension of her blog. Introductory descriptions told a more complete story in a lengthier way than we expected. It’s prompted us to think about how we can reach those who don’t want to commit to a personal blog, by providing an easier and simpler way to start sharing.
4. How travel stories are a uniquely powerful reflection of a person. The initial collections we saw were a mixture of in-depth travel explorations, city food guides, point of interest highlights or city stops on longer trips. How might we delve deeper into this? Could we help users better showcase their travel personalities through story? We’re starting to explore this with our series on ways to share travel stories.
We’re going mobile with #ArmchairAdventures v2.0 this weekend. With this update it will be even easier for our community to upload photos straight from the source.
And we still have a lot to learn — and big questions we are solving for. So if you are a brand or content creator, and are keen to shape the future of travel, we’d love for you to be a part of our user research network. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.