User Resarch + Strategic Design + UX

Delivering bad news

Redesiging an involuntary rescheduling flight experience through analogous and strategic design.

To comply with my non-disclosure agreement, I have ommited and altered confidential information of some case studies. All information in this website is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations I worked with.


I spent over two years working as a UX Researcher in the Product and UX department of one of LATAM’s biggest technology companies, an online travel agency called Despegar.

My squad worked for the aftersale services of the company, which meant that even though the company positioned UX as an interface-focused team, we had to think like service designers orchestrating multiple channels, teams and layers of complexity.

The Aftersale Product and UX Team.


How can you improve an experience that is essentially problematic?
This was the main question surrounding the project. Having a flight reschedule is not an event that can be turned pleasant by design. Therefore, we needed to understand what improving it would look like and then how to do so.


Survey design, findings analysis and report, usability test design, usability test report, digital experience flow map, communications map, project presentation for stakeholders, hi-fi prototype, content design.


The new digital experience and communications system impacted positive NPS (Net Promoter Score) with a growth of over 5%.*

Additionally, the amount of passengers rejecting their new flight options dropped. The calls to the customer services center fell within the first month.

*The actual values are not disclosed due to my NDA.


—— Part I


Problem and context analysis

Research strategy


Expert interviews

Qualitative Analysis


Problem statement


Ideation + Prototype

First iteration

Survey design

—— Part II


Change of perspective:

Analogous inspiration

Card sort

Break up Letter


Final Communications

Digital Experience

Final thoughts

What I Learned


Communications System Part I

Problem and content analysis

By the time this project started, an average of 122.000 monthly users were being affected by the experience we set out to redesign. Because of this, before designing an action plan we needed to understand the interactions and situations that were involved in this particular scenario. We gathered with the whole squad and began the mining of information.

First meetings together before the kick-off.

Analysis’ objectives

  • Detect which were the information sources and how they worked.
  • Map out the current flow.
  • Distinguish and map the different actors currently involved in the delivery of the service.
  • Analyze the available data (NPS score and amount of monthly calls related to this experience).

We summarized the current data, analyzed the current flow and talked to friends and family who had a flight rescheduled for preliminary research.

Research Strategy

Current definitions

One of the main findings we got from the analysis of the problem and its context is that the definition of an involutary flight reschedule was technical.

The framing effect

The way we call things highly impacts on how we relate to those things.

How does it work?

The framing effect is when our decisions are influenced by the way information is presented. Decisions based on it are made by focusing on the way the information is presented instead of the information itself.

How did it influence our project?

Product and service decisions were being made from understanding flight schedules as a change of time. This meant that they were focused on technicalities (which flight has changed, what was the time change, when it occurred, etc.) rather than on the effect this experience had on the passenger.

Research plan

Our main goal was to redefine what a flight reschedule entailed from the passenger’s perspective as a means to align the squad behind a human-centered conception of the problem we were working on.


  • Understand the current model for flight rescheduling: how it is and how it works > Expert interviews.
  • Discover how the detractors (passengers giving a NPS qualification of under 6 points) were analyzed > NPS detractors’ comments analysis.
  • Discover passengers’ current experience with flight rescheduling and whether the current model fits their needs > User calls analysis.


Communications System Part I

Problem and content analysis

I sat down with a Customer Service Analyst and Product Functional Analyst to understand more deeply how the current model worked.

Main takeaways

No personalization

Passengers received the same email for a 5 minutes or a 24 hours flight change.

Lack of information

Passengers couldn’t know if other products (hotel, car, etc.) were also being managed.

Reduced POV

No analysis on how the change had impacted the overall plans of the passenger.

Qualitative analysis

As the team’s main researcher, I set out to analyze 200 comments from detractors that had undergone minor flight changes and 200 commentaries from detractors that experience major flight changes. I also analyzed passengers’ calls.


Primary findings

Main pain Point

Modification of the travel experience: layovers, expenses, commitments, etc.


Violation of boundaries

Passengers blamed the company for the change and found it disrespectful.

Secondary findings

Same pain points

No difference between minor and major flight rescheduling when it comes to the distraction reasons.

Why pax called

Bad service: Poor alternative choices and not being sure about their flight’s status.

Reduced POV

The current model doesn’t take into account the passenger’s travel plan.


An involuntary flight rescheduling is not only
a change of itinerary, it is a change of plans.


Communications System Part I

Problem Statement

Because the operation could be improved in so many different ways and the organization’s context was so complex, we sat down to define exactly what we were going to work on and why.

Proposed solution

Reframing of the definition of involuntary flight scheduling. to align the team’s efforts involving more than just communications.

Work on providing better alternatives through a model
of prediction and

Redesign the communications system and the digital experience to give better accompaniment and information.

Ideation & Prototype

Communications System Part I

First iteration

We decided to start with the first email of the flow because it impacted the most number of users (36.000/month). We designed it with the conclusions and data we had gathered in the research phase.

Survey design

To validate our first proposal, we decided to send out a survey to passengers who had recently purchased a flight.

Oh well…

Something wasn't working

How could we bring more ease to the passenger?
How could we make them feel reassured?
What were we not seeing?

(Here we go again)


Communications System Part II

Change of perspective

Our validation informed us that we were still missing the target: passengers were likely to call. This meant that we weren’t saving the company any money.

In order to explore further, we needed to denature’s the operation by looking at it not from a technical perspective but as a more profound, human experience.

Analogous inspiration

We started seeing the change of plans as bad news because it involved complications, rearrangements and passengers receiving a message they weren’t expecting.

Consequently, we asked ourselves a different question:

What industry has a lot of
experience delivering bad news?


After some consideration and thinking about personal experiences we reached a consensus. Medicine is an industry that has to deal with delivering bad news on a daily basis and also provides theoretical content about communication that we can study and adapt.

Standford School of Medicine's definition of Bad News

Bad news is «any news that adversely and seriously affects an individual’s view of his or her future» (Buckman 1984).


We read some articles and papers before finding SPIKES*,
a 6 steps protocol created by Baile & Buckman (2000).


Setting up the interaction

  • Make sure you have checked all the available information and decide terminology.
  • Decide where and how to deliver message.
  • Understand who you’re giving the message to.


Assessing receptor’s perception

  • How much do they know already?
  • Discover expectations and previous understanding.


Obtaining receptor’s invitation

  • How much detail do they want to know?


Giving knowledge and info

  • Reinforce parts of understanding that is correct.
  • Give information in small chunks.


Adressing emotions with empathy

  • Show that you registered what they told you.
  • Allow space for silence.


Strategy and Summary

  • Set an strategy of how to deal with the news.
  • Communicate next steps.
    Identify support and open the space for questions.

Center for Excellence Teaching and Learning Queen Mary University of London


We used SPIKES to create the Information Architecture by adapting the protocol and giving users 5 out of the 6 steps to put in order via a remote card sorting test. The participants were from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Brazil.

Imagine that someone has to deliver bad news to you.
In which order would you like them to conduct the actions enlisted here?


Main takeaway

The last thing passengers wanted to hear were encouraging words. They wanted to know what had happened first and then they expected to be offered the possibility of knowing details, which the next steps would be and specificities about their situation, in that order.

Break-up letter

In order to explore the emotions underlying receiving bad news we designed and printed a bunch of break-up letters and gave them to anyone around the office who offered to help.

The break-up letter method was firstly used by Smart Design (a company based in NYC) “to understand the emotional connection between people and their products, services, and experiences.”

Main conclusions

After conducting this second discovery process, our new approach led us to the following conclusions.


The expectations were interpreted as a tacit contract in terms of the arranged plan.


Not many details

When the contract was broken, there wasn’t interest in knowing the details or reasons why.

Think ahead

They expected that their schedule and commitments would’ve been taken into account.


Give me a solution

They were disappointed that there had been no solution in sight.


Communications System Part II
& Mobile Digital Experience

Bringing it all together


One of the main pain points was the bad quality of alternatives to choose from when their flight was rescheduled. This was combined with a subpar digital experience that hadn’t been iterated or improved upon for over three years.

Quick wins to guide redesign

With this in mind, the team gathered to ideate on the type of “quick wins” that could be done to improve the digital experience of choosing alternatives. A flow was defined and a prototype in medium/hi wireframes were designed by the main UX designer of the team.

Design of usability test

In two weeks, along with Facu, the team’s UX Writer, we designed and conducted the tests. Half of our team had to go to Colombia to conduct field studies so we got together and discussed the flow. They told us which specific interactions and copy they wanted to validate. Our task was to turn these objectives into a usability test that could achieve them.

We mapped out the flow to locate the key moments.

Two flows, ten participants

The biggest addition of this proposed solution was allowing passengers to swipe through their previous (cancelled) flight and their new options. We couldn’t decide whether, after reading what had happened in the first screen, the user should be welcomed with the new flights or the previous flight and swipe from there.

This was important because it set the tone for the experience: do we make you focus on what is gone or on the possibilities?

Mapping out the flows allowed us to be assertive with our testing objectives.

Conducting the tests

We used Lookback as our main research software to be able to record not only the tapping and scrolling that the 10 participants performed on the prototype but also their voices, faces and reactions. It was super useful. I was the tests’ moderator and Facu took notes.

A screenshot from one of the tests and me debriefing the results.

Sharing of findings

We debriefed the findings in a way that made sharing them easy and democratic. We analyzed them with the product managers and IT team and made sure that everyone understood what the necessary improvements were before we created a final report.


The final deliverables spanned from a communications map that included notifications, emails and nudges to a digital experiences supported across different devices.

The final deliverables spanned from a communications map that included notifications, emails and nudges to a digital experiences supported across different devices. Every decision was the result of understanding the travelers’ current pain points with a rescheduling flight experience, analyzing an analogous industry for creating a communication model and defining which interactions would support an easier, sped up process.

Final communications

Taking into account all the findings we had gathered so far,
we crafted the final version for the first email of the system.

Communications map

Additionally, we mapped out the complete communications system and rethought the choreography between emails, push notifications and the current digital experience (desktop + mobile).

What the map helped us do

  • Validate that the total orchestration of communications respected our defined storytelling and structure.
  • Create consistency throughout the content aside from the format.
  • Use paid push notifications more strategically.
  • Establish the metrics through which we were going to measure succes.

Final flow

Setting up the interaction

We followed everything we learned from designing the communications and introduced a “momento zero” to choosing alternatives. Here passengers are told again what happened and given clear instructions on how to proceed.

Main features

See alternatives

Quick onboarding

Because the swiping capability for browsing and comparing the new alternatives was new, participants in the test took a while to understand how the interface worked. We decided a quick onboarding could assure us that passengers knew how to interact with the screen.

Main features

See alternatives

Fast solution

We knew from our analogous research that informing an effective strategy was key when delivering bad news. From an interaction design perspective, we translated this into making the action of looking at new alternatives, comparing them to their previous flight and choosing them as easy as possible for passengers.

Main features

See alternatives

All this work
deserves a bigger screen

Because of the length of the case studies, I have adapted them for mobile and tablet. If you want to read the complete case study, head over to desktop.

Thank you for reading!