Using graphs to visualise text

BA does Data Vis

Richie Barter | Hugh Leoidsson | DATA-VIS

Here at AltViz, we are full time data visualisation watchers, always on the look out for innovative visualisations by other companies. We do this to keep an eye on emerging trends and technologies, and also to see how visualisation is seeping its way into different domains.

The airline industry has a history of early adoption of emerging technologies, right back to the earliest Sabre booking system from the early 60's (for an excellent read on this topic try The Future Of Airline Distribution Report commissioned by IATA). Online booking for air travel is one of the cornerstones of modern eCommerce and constant technological innovation is key to companies operating in this competitive industry. 

So when I recently logged into my British Airways Executive Club membership account, I was happily surprised to see a new data visualisation of my BA flying history, which they've titled 'My Flightpath'.

BA My Flightpath - Dashboard

Hugh, our chief designer, and I wanted to share some of our thoughts on the design and implementation of the visualisation. 

First up: One minor grumble is that the link to the 'My Flightpath' page was a bit buried on the Executive Club home page. Might be worth looking at other ways to surface the visualisation to Club members on the site.

On the 'My Flightpath' landing page we liked the nice clean implementation. The primary dashboard is effective with the data set-out in a consumable format. Also, each time you log in, the representation changes to show alternative cuts of the data, such as minutes, or hours in the air. The reference to the distance you've travelled, translated into number of times around the earth, or number of journeys pole-to-pole, is engaging. It's also possible to share the data from your personal Flightpath via twitter, which is cool.

BA My Flightpath - Timeline

The timeline is particularly nice as I actually paused and went back a few years to holidays past that I'd long forgotten. The first time I visited San Francisco for my friend's wedding, numerous trips to Europe, visiting my brother in Singapore - this trip down memory lane was an engaging experience. It also had my mind wandering to potential future adventures.

The visualisation contains a straightforward map view, which gives an overview of the countries and cities that I had previously visited. Clicking on one of the icons reveals some additional information about the location: Number of times visited and the date of most recent visit.

BA My Flightpath - Map

Less interesting to us was the passport badges. I can see that you can 'earn' better badges the more that one has travelled but we didn't feel like something we would ever specifically login to check.

BA My Flightpath - Badges

We also decided to put together some additional design ideas of our own, to build on the great foundations that BA have put in place.

Perhaps worth considering is a simple line chart that illustrates of the growth of miles or Avios points over time. At each major increase we provide hover or click icons that provide information on the booking that increased the miles at that stage. Potentially the chart could also overlay Avios point earned from spending on my BA Amex card and suddenly the data becomes very interesting.

BA My Flightpath - Points Over Time

A more sophisticated version of the line chart could look at the available points in the account and suggest locations that the Club member could get to with those available points. Further, if tier points were visible on the chart perhaps suggest possible flights that would bring the tier points above the threshold required for a membership upgrade.  

BA My Flightpath - Booking Conformation

The other idea we had was to enhance the timeline with personal annotations. At the moment each timeline provides a link to a Facebook campaign that BA are running, which felt like a missed opportunity. Perhaps at the end of the flight booking flow on the main site, once the booking has been confirmed, a free-text area could be provided that allowed frequent fliers up to 250 characters to annotate that booking with a personal message. That message would then be pulled through and displayed on the Flightpath timeline.

A fun extension case for this was to further enhance the timeline was to include for historical flights the in-flight menu or movie selections that were available on that actual flight. 

BA My Flightpath - Timeline

One final thought that struck us was regarding the communication surrounding the project. Many large organisations have developer blogs dedicated to technical topics. It would be great to share the story of how this website feature was conceived, designed, and implemented by BA. More generally, I'm sure as an organisation you work with some interesting technologies to solve challenging problems. Again a developer blog around this would be a great place to share these experiences. Some examples we like are the Netflix Tech Blog, the Linkedin Dev Blog and the Guardian Developer Blog.

To close we wanted to send our congrats to BA on a job well done. We aren't sure if you built this in-house or brought in a third party to assist but it's a great example of sharing otherwise incidental data in a genuinely engaging and interesting way. Bravo and keep up the good work!