Dustin Curtis is a UI designer. He was fed up with how hard it was to book travel on American Airlines' AA.com Web site. So last May, instead of complaining, he sent them a better UI design. That led to an interesting interaction with a member of the team involved in the design of the AA.com Web site.
Dustin refers to his correspondent as "Mr. X" and claims that he is, in fact, and excellent UI architect and that his identity will be revealed soon.
Here's an excerpt from the response Dustin received from "Mr. X", then a member of the design team at AA.com, who was, by the way, summarily fired as soon as this response became public last Spring:
"The problem with the design of AA.com, however, lies less in our competency (or lack thereof, as you pointed out in your post) and more with the culture and processes employed here at American Airlines.
Let me explain. The group running AA.com consists of at least 200 people spread out amongst many different groups, including, for example, QA, product planning, business analysis, code development, site operations, project planning, and user experience. We have a lot of people touching the site, and a lot more with their own vested interests in how the site presents its content and functionality. Fortunately, much of the public-facing functionality is funneled through UX, so any new features you see on the site should have been vetted through and designed by us before going public.
However, there are large exceptions. For example, our Interactive Marketing group designs and implements fare sales and specials (and doesn’t go through us to do it), and the Publishing group pushes content without much interaction with us… Oh, and don’t forget the AAdvantage team (which for some reason, runs its own little corner of the site) or the international sites (which have a lot of autonomy in how their domains are run)… Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that AA.com is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means.
Oh how I wish we were, though! Imagine the cool stuff we could do if we could operate more like 37signals and their Getting Real philosophy! We could turn on a dime. We could just say “no” to new feature requests. We could eliminate “stovepiped” positions. We could cut out a lot of the friction created when so many organizations interact with each other. We could even redesign the AA.com home page without having to slog through endless review and approval cycles with their requisite revisions and re-reviews.
But—and I guess here’s the thing I most wanted to get across—simply doing a home page redesign is a piece of cake. You want a redesign? I’ve got six of them in my archives. It only takes a few hours to put together a really good-looking one, as you demonstrated in your post. But doing the design isn’t the hard part, and I think that’s what a lot of outsiders don’t really get, probably because many of them actually do belong to small, just-get-it-done organizations. But those of us who work in enterprise-level situations realize the momentum even a simple redesign must overcome, and not many, I’ll bet, are jumping on this same bandwagon. They know what it’s like."
Click here to read the full reply as well as Dustin's ruminations about the fact that American Airlines should be taking its ENTIRE customer experience seriously, because, as Dustin Curtis says, "Customer Experience is the New Brand."
(This was all reported in a great blog post: Why American Airlines doesn’t fly online, and what they should do about it by Paul Smith in his engaging Bitter Wallet blog which focuses on customer experience snafus. I found it via a recent tweet from Liam Green-Hughes @liamgh who is a developer at Open University in the UK.)