Expedia launched its London usability lab back in November, so Travolution decided to catch up with Tammy Snow, director of global user experience research at the firm.
Using state-of-the-art facial recognition and eye tracking technology to understand the movements of subjects’ eyebrows and cheeks, Tammy is leading research at one of the world’s biggest travel companies.
She’s busy learning how to improve holiday websites, if she’s not buried in her books.
Q: What does your typical day involve?
A: I’m awake every morning at 5:30am and spend 45 minutes catching up on emails while drinking my morning coffee and I’m out for a run by 6.30am. I leave home at 7.45am and drop my son off at school on my way to the office. I run the global ‘User Experience Research’ team which is all about using scientific research to ensure that our site is the best travel experience for consumers and that Expedia PartnerCentral is evolving according to the needs of hoteliers. We have several test centers called ‘Usability Labs’ around the world, including one in London we opened last November, and hope to open more in the future. I manage the teams running those testing labs. After work I head home to make dinner for my son and help him with his homework. As I’m an early riser, I’m in bed and asleep by 9.30 most nights.
Q: Why did you become a UX Professional?
A: I love technology, studied psychology at university and have always been interested in human behaviour. From my time working in tech support in the 1990s, I understand that any technology service should be user-friendly and easy to use. I’ve been at Expedia for five years. Before that I was an independent consultant and worked at Microsoft for 11 years.
Working at Expedia on how we can use our research to make our technology easier and simpler is the perfect job for me.
Q: Whats’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Seeing the fruits of our labour. Our research uses two main tools, eye tracking and electromyography technology (EMG). With EMG we put small sensors on the cheek and eyebrow of our test subjects and our technology can measure tiny changes in their muscles. We use this to understand how people interact with the Expedia site and how we can adapt to their needs and reactions. One of the interesting insights we’ve found in our labs is that consumers really appreciate clarity on how one room is different to another and that all guestrooms should include a photo of the bathroom. This way we can ensure the information available is presented in the best possible way.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: You need patience and perseverance to achieve through technology what at first sight could seem impossible. We are always able to deliver improvements but proper research takes time. We’ve done extensive research on how people react to different types of pictures and what kind of pictures create strong positive emotions. One interesting insight we found was that consumers don’t like ‘fish-eye’ views of rooms and if a room isn’t properly lit it can appear artificially small.
Q: What’s your favourite destination?
Q: What’s the most common thing you are asked?
A: What does a user experience researcher do? Or, what is User Experience.
Q: What’s the worst thing that’s happened at work?
A: We were showing our executive team our eye-tracking technology and during the presentation there was a computer glitch which meant it wasn’t working properly. I didn’t want to let on there was anything wrong so I stretched out my speaking points whilst I quietly rebooted the computer. Luckily the only person who realised what was going on was my vice president!
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: Exercise, particularly running. I love reading and am often reading three or more books at any given time. If I’m not reading I enjoy pending time with my family exploring the Pacific Northwest.
Q: What one thing would you take to a desert island?
A: A stack of books or my iPad with a lot of ebooks.
Q: What results do you expect to see from the usability lab in the next five years?
A: Our research is showing there are strong regional or geographic variances in behavior and needs. Getting a better understanding of this means we can better tailor our services locally.