Recently, we have participated and completed in a pitch for a large Colombian travel/loyalty aggregator, which allows its users to not only book flights and hotels, but moreover save and redeem loyalty points (from a range of different partners). One of the main questions they had was how they should optimally design and make use of the different channels they’d like to serve. Their main search engine was optimized for a desktop experience, but a (native) app was missing altogether.

So, let’s briefly look at the differences between a ‘full’ experience and a mobile one. Why are they different? What are important design principles to take in mind? And what does this mean for a travel/loyalty aggregator?

Desktop vs mobile

Let’s look at some key differences and characteristics of both channels:

A larger screen (laptop, desktop, or an iPad in some cases), generally holds more pixels than a smartphone. Although the resolutions of today’s smartphones are very high, the actual dimensions of a larger device still make the digital experience ‘fuller’.

As such, it offers a more immersive experience that generally feels more comfortable, resulting in longer sessions. Also – as we’ve learned from doing research for airlines – people often start browsing and seriously exploring their next travel journey on a laptop/desktop, especially when they want to do the actual booking. For some reason, we tend to turn to a large screen when we have to do a ‘more serious’ task (such as booking an expensive flight).


The mobile phone on the other hand, is by definition contextual (meaning: it’s always with you and thus there ‘at the right moment’). Due to its properties (smaller screen, but more handy, often used in a social setting), it excels in helping you achieve quick, goal focused tasks.

Those tasks are generally two-fold: 1) to know and 2) to do or buy:

  1. To know: check price alerts for flights, check new redeeming options for your points, browse the latest trip updates and hotels
  2. To do or buy: (in the context of traveling and loyalty) redeeming and paying in-store (e.g. with NFC), find a local destination, or share/upload social moments

Mobile sessions are also generally much shorter than sessions on laptops, but more actionable. They almost serve like and extension of one’s brain and body, giving you a direct tool to perform an action in the moment.

Implications for design

And so we see that the function and characteristics of different channels influence the tasks people (want to) carry out. Understand why and how differences occur and design for them accordingly. For example, we designed the large desktop experience with a clear focus on exploration, research and immersion:

The emphasis is on ‘starting your journey’ in this home screen, especially for people that don’t know where they want to go or what to do. Giving them a ‘I want to go…’ option nudges them in the right direction to start discovering what this company has to offer. Large white spaces and a clean design invite users to start their exploration as soon as possible.

On the other hand, we designed the wireframes for the mobile app version as follows:

Here, we see a clear focus on contextual and actionable features. On the left, we see relevant, real-time notifications that have been pushed based on user location, history and interests. On the right, the redeeming screen unveils an easy way to redeem a reward or even pay in store through a QR-code (which could also be NFC, for that matter).

Context as guidance for functionality

And so what we can take away from this, is the fact that context is key in determining which functionalities and actions one can perform. Device type, surroundings and dimensions further determine the best way to utilize the various channels you’re designing for. Consider those channels as an ecosystem in which they complement each other, rather than being ‘mirrored’. What works on a full resolution laptop might not be the best choice for a smartphone and vice versa. Understanding those differences and deciding which functionalities belong where, is a valuable exercise to invest time in.