I spend the better part of my days staring at travel websites, but it wasn't until I started researching this story on Web design that I actually saw what I've been looking at.
Travelocity recently unveiled a redesign of its website, the first since it was launched in 1996. It features soothing colors, photographs and streamlined information on the home page. The primary new graphic element is a blue background with stars, meant to suggest a blue sky and the night stars by which travelers have traditionally navigated.
"Consumers told us the sites all seemed similar and visually confusing," said Jeff Glueck, Travelocity's chief marketing officer. "Our goal was to make consumers feel like they were starting to take their vacation rather than walking through a Turkish bazaar with people shouting information at them."
Many travel home pages do seem cluttered. In a simple and unscientific count of places to click on the home pages of the Big Three travel websites, Expedia had 82, Orbitz, 66, and the new Travelocity, 52.
"We systematically cut everything off the front page that got less than a few hundred clicks a day," Glueck said. "The other information is still there, [but it is] in dropdown menus."
Indeed, some travel sites have a muddle of options. On Lodging.com, for example, information on Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles can be found on its home page in three places for each, a total of 12 buttons for four cities.
"Online agencies struggle with presenting a clean and uncluttered home page," said Stacey Keating, a consultant with Vividence, a San Mateo, Calif., company that specializes in online consumer research and helped Travelocity with its redesign. "It's just an awful lot of information. Travelocity's redesigned home page represents a major step toward a simplified, inspiring design."
Vividence measured consumer response to Travelocity's new home page, pitting it against the old one and those of its competitors.
Consumers preferred the new version almost 3 to 1 over the old one and over its competitors, the study showed. Consumers said the design was more appealing and organized.
At least one independent expert agrees that the site's on the right track.
"For Web design right now, it's all about minimalism, super-clean pages, effortless functionality and great use of typography," said Tom Bland, a faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia who specializes in Web design.
Gone are the bells-and-whistle days of the late '90s with long animated intros and mysterious navigation.
Bland looked at the new Travelocity site for The Times and compared it with the Orbitz site, which underwent a redesign in July and features a bright color palette.
"Even though the information being conveyed is the same, I found the Travelocity site to be much better, design-wise, both aesthetically and functionally," Bland said. He preferred Travelocity's more subdued color palette, and he found the navigation clearer and straightforward.
If Travelocity's redesign is even better than Orbitz's, that could bode well for Travelocity.
"We saw a strong increase in customer conversion" from visitors to buyers after the redesign, said Orbitz spokeswoman Kendra Thornton. Additional information on the first search results page and streamlined search and purchase paths have contributed to its success, Thornton said.
Whether Travelocity will enjoy the same success with its redesign is unclear. One could even say the answer is in the stars.
Contact James Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.