This is Finland: Skinny-dipping in a frozen lake in Lapland, dog sledding through a snow-encrusted forest, the ethereal Aurora Borealis Northern Lights streaking the sky. Scroll through Finland’s Instagram story, and you’ll quickly understand why it’s captured the imaginations of people around the world, becoming a popular travel destination.
Finland’s also the happiest country in the world, according to the 2019 World Happiness Report, which ranked 156 countries around the globe on factors including life expectancy, freedom, GDP and corruption.
Finnair’s new Now/here travel website wants to capture Finnish happiness, lifestyle and sense of adventure, and what the Finns call sisu—pushing yourself beyond your physical and mental comfort zones to discover your strength. The travel website is geared towards city dwellers who want to escape urban life and experience the solitude and open space the vast Nordic landscape offers.
The title is a play on words, reading both as “Now/here” and “now here”—allowing travelers to be present and in the moment outside of their busy city lives.
“We wanted to tap into Nordic happiness and all the things that define that happiness and look at offering it as a lifestyle,” said Paul Collins, the Nordic head of experience design at Publicis Sapient, a global digital business transformation agency. “We conducted many qualitative interviews with users early on in a design sprint, and our learning showed that the whole travel journey starts on Instagram. People get inspired by an Instagram photo and want to go to that place.”
With the rise of air ticket aggregator sites that search for the best deal across multiple locations, most customers make a purchase decision based on the lowest price, said Collins. He added that because of this, online travel has become a commodity with little or no brand loyalty.
With Now/here, Finnair pivoted away from not only selling the auxiliary but also providing an end-to-end travel service. Visit Now/here, and you’ll not only be able to book your flights and accommodations, but also authentic Finnish experiences curated and led by locals—from bear watching to ice floating—categorized by season, theme and destination.
“Historically, airlines don’t sell travel experiences,” said Collins. “Now/here is helping Finnair pilot what could be a new lens on travel by offering an end-to-end experience.”
We sat down with Collins and Johan Verkruyssen, Head of Experience Strategy for the Nordics at Publicis Sapient, to discuss the design process used for Now/here, how emotions can drive design, and what it means for a company to truly disrupt.
Inside Design: What did the design process look like for Now/here?
Verkruyssen: The process took around ten months, but we went pretty fast from ideation [and forming] a hypothesis into testing, building prototypes, and then getting Now/here mobilized and pushed out into the world.
The first part was running three weeks of design sprints to go from idea to a simple storyboard and flow. Our client was very much embedded in each sprint. We involved real-users from the very start; it was a powerful tool for conducting live interviews together with the client.
Having that live moment with a real traveler in a design sprint was very informative because Finnair could ask the questions themselves rather than us coming up with the questions and then replaying it to them. There’s an immediacy to it and a more direct kind of feedback—that was one part of our user research.
ID: How important are prototypes in your design process?
Collins: We used lots of InVision prototypes to share with Finnair for validation and users in Singapore for testing and feedback. Prototypes are a great way of bringing the experience to life, [putting it] in front of people, and testing from a flow and interaction standpoint. And once we got a bit more into the high-fidelity design, we started testing that out and seeing how people reacted from a branding point of view and the different travel themes.
What’s great too is that you send the prototype link to the client and it clearly tells the narrative behind the design, which means you’ve got a controlled storyline. We used the prototypes in this way to get buy-in from Finnair and key stakeholders.
ID: What are some of the ways you conduct design sprints to ensure they provide insight into the value of the work?
Verkruyssen: I think designers tend to see design sprints as the answer to all design and experience problems when that is not the case. When we’ve used design sprints or the principle of working collaboratively, the main focus has been on creating a shared understanding of why we’re doing this—what the benefit for the people actually using this is going to be, and how we can test and scale a service/product with the most essential features to make this work.
The basis for all this to work well is research: understanding the market situation; finding out any competitor info; having a deep knowledge of your intended audience (doing service safaris, user interviews, observations, etc.).
ID: Now/here wants to capture the “emotion” of the Nordics. How was design used to achieve that?
Collins: Now/here is a sub-brand of Finnair designed to bring emotional value and present something that is very Nordic. It’s quirky and emotional and just a little bit melancholy, which is reflected in the design and tone of voice.
Now/here offers [the user] [Finnish] experiences you can’t find anywhere else—everything from dog sledding to bear watching, the experiences are very localized, creating a marketplace for small businesses. I think it’s not traditionally what you would see or what you would buy if you went to a travel agent—which is what differentiates Now/here from its competition.
ID: Publicis Sapient tries to create digital campaigns that become part of a cultural movement. How do you achieve that, and do you have any examples?
Collins: I think this should always be the goal, we are in the business of underpinning human behavior, most of which are driven and impacted by global movements. Be it, for example, the need to embrace diversity. One project the agency is proud of that addressed just this was #ShowUs for Dove. The project aims to create awareness that more than 70% of women don’t feel they are correctly portrayed in media and advertising.
ID: What are some exciting projects happening now at Publicis, and what’s next for the agency?
Collins: We have a lot of exciting projects, such as our work with Bang & Olufsen, Audi, Walmart, British Gas, and Nestle. Some are large intricate transformational pieces that look holistically at an end-to-end experience; others are more focused on unlocking a new service layer within a new, or existing product.
One example I feel best describes a customer service layer, leading into value creation for the brand, is a project from our UK team for Amplifon, the world’s first app to connect to any Bluetooth hearing aid on the market. We helped enhance the product’s benefit by creating a new service for people with a hearing impairment, which allowed the app to pair with other hearing devices, instead of just locking the IP to Amplifon.