Usability high on BA agenda

British Airways is talking a lot about how its facilities at the new Heathrow Terminal 5 will make the user experience, air and terminal-side, one of the best air travel can offer.

The online channel of the airline,, is also continuing its crusade on usability – an area given massive prominence with the redesign of its main site in late 2006.

Nick Gassman, usability and standards manager, says: “We have been championing usability within BA for some years.

“User-centred design and understanding is at the heart of everything we do.”’s redesign of its website followed a review by Flow Interactive, and a subsequent discussion of how to incorporate Flow’s suggestions into’s design methodology.

“The way we go about deciding what our requirements are is written down with a development methodology called Blueprint.

Flow looked at that and gave us some advice about which activities we should be doing at different stages to formalise the customer view.

“We took the report, discussed it with ‘IM’, our IT department, and worked through an IM steering group to identify some pilot projects, and then managed it as a change programme.”

BA’s IM department currently uses a standard ‘waterfall’ methodology for its IT development, but Gassman says it may consider ‘agile development’ too, provided it can establish that such an approach would work for BA.

Gassman adds that customers can get used to the look and feel of websites, and delivering something too radical can be counterproductive.

“If you have customers who’ve been looking at different airlines, then you have to display flights in a certain way, because that’s what people are used to.

“There’s a standard, a modus operandi. A business that is doing something radical has either got to be intuitive, or believe that by doing something different, people will like it and return to it.

“In understanding users, we have to realise that with the web, we are building systems for people who cannot be trained to use it. We’re not in a position to get them in a training room, nor give them a guidebook.

“If they’re able to buy quickly from a site, they’re likely to buy from the same place in the future.”

One of the areas Gassman expects to be targeting is more remote testing of users abroad, e.g. Australia, monitoring how customers are using the website.

“We have plans for a number of things we could be doing. We need to see how we can incrementally improve across”

BA received a commendation in the Best Airline Website category in the 2007 Travolution Awards.

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