After landing her first UX design job at United Airlines during a global pandemic, Talayeh Motameni was faced with a unique conundrum: how to help air travelers make sense of ever-changing travel regulations in response to COVID-19, such as border closures and mask requirements. While some countries require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery in order to gain entry, others accept vaccination cards.
Since joining the airline, Motameni said she’s had the opportunity to work on high-visiblity projects and is now leading other designers. One of these projects was “‘Your Shot to Fly,”’ a sweepstakes program designed to encourage people to get a vaccine by giving away a chance to win free flights to anyone who uploads a photo of their vaccine card. The program gives entrants a chance to win a roundtrip flight for two to anywhere in the world United flies, and was widely featured in prominent media outlets including Forbes, USA Today and Good Morning America.
Motameni recently sat down with us to talk about her project, her new role at United Airlines, and her experience in Springboard’s UI/UX Design Career Track.
I was hired by United Airlines back in October. One of my first projects was the Travel-Ready Center, where I was the design lead. This feature was created to help United customers prepare for their upcoming trip and have all their documentation ready. Travel restrictions are changing constantly due to COVID-19, which leads to long lines at the airport or people who are frustrated because they don’t have the right information.
I was brought on very early on and we wanted to find a way to display information in a way that would help our customers. Because of the magnitude of COVID-19 and how it impacted international travel, we were trying to find a solution as quickly as possible. So I joined many root cause analysis calls, where we had conversations with people all throughout the organization.
I went to airports and I actually shadowed agents and observed what was going on at the airport. I even did some own personal travel of my own to really understand what problems people are facing. From there, I was trying to solve the problem of customers being confused about travel regulations and not being provided with the right information.
The Travel-Ready Center launched in January and we’ve continued to iterate and improve the user experience. One of the main features we’ve introduced is the ability to upload your vaccination information ahead of an upcoming trip. The EU is opening up for vaccinated Americans this summer, while some other countries require COVID testing. So we created a user flow to allow customers to upload and validate their vaccine cards for travel so that it provides peace of mind.
Firstly, there are over 20 different COVID tests out there. Every country accepts a specific type of COVID test or tests. Some countries accept vaccination cards now but some countries don’t—they only accept COVID tests or documentation of recovery from COVID.
The rules change on a daily basis, so it’s definitely tough for a person who’s trying to travel, whether it’s for pleasure or business. If someone arrives in a foreign country without the proper documentation, they will get sent right back, and that’s not a good customer experience for anybody. So, although it’s not entirely in our control, we’re doing everything we can to help our customers have a better experience.
The “‘Your Shot to Fly”’ sweepstakes are an initiative to entice people to get vaccinated. There are a lot of companies out there who are asking customers to bring their vaccine cards in exchange for some offer. So these sweepstakes were a version of that, and the technology behind it was created and ideated from the Travel-Ready Center.
Yeah, I definitely am interested in behavioral design as well, and really understanding our users and how they interact with our digital products.
I don’t think that that was really the focus of my design. My design was in order to make it very quick and easy and simple and digestible for the user. We want to just change the narrative that traveling can become easier and more seamless with technology that is available to us. The travel experience is not the same as it was 20 years ago.
It’s really exciting. Previous to working at United, I did a few freelancing contracts with other companies and I have my own personal projects that I worked on, but I love being able to work on something that’s so impactful and helping millions of people every day as they’re getting ready to travel and get back to the “new normal.”
I also work with an amazing set of people at the company, so I’m truly inspired everyday by the people I work with, by the projects that we’re on. And it’s so exciting to see it in the news and Forbes and Travel + Leisure and all of these outlets.
With the state of the pandemic, people’s sentiments around travel are changing constantly and what was important to them before is not as important to them now, or vice versa. So I’m learning about our customers every day and how to make this process as seamless and easy as possible for them. So we’re conducting as much research and testing as possible and looking for ways to always improve the experience. The United Airlines Travel-Ready Center has gotten a lot of fantastic feedback, but that doesn’t mean it stops there.
Yes, the app was so helpful. I went to Hawaii recently and I used the app to find out what COVID tests I needed to get, where to get it, where to upload it, and have it approved.
I think it gave me a really good foundation of the design process. When I joined United, I received many compliments about having a very strong foundation in user experience design as far as my process and what I was doing in order to solve a very massive problem and finding ways to improve the app. No pun intended, but it really springboarded me into my career because if I didn’t have that foundation, I wouldn’t be able to fall back on it and say, okay, this is what I need to do in this scenario or I can improve this user experience by following this methodology. So it gave me a very strong foundation in that regard, as well as a very helpful toolkit of the tools that I use day- to- day and will continue to use.
My capstone project was actually a trip planning application. I’ve always been interested in travel. I also did a lot of personal projects and other work, which, in conjunction with my capstone project, made me a good fit for this role. Last summer I worked on a contact tracing application for a company that used the technology at political conventions.
I also started my own personal project to help restaurant owners improve the dining experience during this difficult time. So I went through the end-to-end process of understanding their problems and providing solutions and testing and conducting user interviews.
My mentor lives in Valencia, Spain, and funny enough, my sister-in-law lives in Valencia. So while I was studying, I met with him in person for a meal and it was really cool. He was a great mentor. I feel like a lot of times as a student you overthink what you’re doing. He always provided really great feedback and was interested in the things that I was working on. I really enjoyed working with him and getting the opportunity to meet in person was really cool as well.
I used the career services at Springboard, which is very helpful and having those biweekly check-ins and feedback on resumes as well as conducting practice interviews. I just followed Springboard’s recommended process for job searching, such as applying to a certain number of jobs per week and reaching out to a certain number of people. My first UX interview was with United and it was the first UX role that I received a callback for.
I had wanted to work for United for a while because I am based in Chicago [where United Airlines is headquartered]. I always heard that they had such a great culture. The people are fantastic to work with. So it always piqued my interest, but when I graduated Springboard in June 2020, that was at the peak of the pandemic, so applying to jobs in the airline industry was not on my radar part of my thought process at the time and I didn’t even think they were hiring. But one day I saw that they posted a job only for UX—they weren’t hiring in any other departments. So I applied and I received the opportunity there.
Yeah. I think that Springboard is a great program to help you launch your career and give you that foundation and methodology that you need in order to become a very well-rounded designer. I think that anybody who’s interested in the field should continuously learn and put themselves out there for different projects. There are a lot of really awesome resources where you can find freelance or pro bono projects depending on what interests you have. For example, after I graduated, I took on a few pro bono projects as well as paid projects. I joined a Slack channel called UX Rescue, which helps designers who are interested in showcasing projects for their portfolio or doing design work for NGOs.
Just like when you’re in school, it’s not enough just to do the coursework; you have to do a little bit more, but the foundation that Springboard provides is extremely helpful. And the mentors are extremely helpful as well throughout this whole process.