Articles & Research

How The Amtrak App Got On Board The Good UX Train

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In the UX Spotlight series, we post about UX features that impressed us online, and are great examples and inspiration for anyone looking to enhance their digital user experience.

I recently moved to New York from the other side of the country. Knowing nothing and nobody in this city, everything is exciting and new. With that, I occasionally need two things – love and fresh air. For this, I have the occasional weekend with my sister and her family in Boston, where I can get a reminder of what the world looks like outside of the wonderful mutation I have made my home.    

Booking my trip up north is always a happy occasion - I love having a family weekend to look forward to, and with the easy-to-use Amtrak app, all it takes is a few clicks to reserve my tickets. (By the way, I should mention here that Amtrak is not a client of ours…)

On a rainy Monday morning, with a long gray week ahead, I open up the Amtrak app and begin planning my next trip.

WHEN BOOKING A TRIP LEADS TO A GOOD DIGITAL JOURNEY

From the moment I begin, they’ve already made me happy. I get a fleeting vision of the journey I’m about to take – I see a picturesque landscape with train tracks disappearing into the horizon. This is the image that will stay with me throughout my online experience, and for the rest of the week. (1)

I click ‘Book’ in the lower menu bar. The overall look of the app is clean and simple, and the train icon has a charming, old-school feel to it. All this makes me feel more comfortable about booking online. Even the prompt to enter my departure and arrival stations - ‘Where can we take you?’ -  is engaging. (2)

Because the system remembers my main stations from previous journeys, this process takes seconds. (3)

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The next screen is the best. It just makes me happy. It’s showing me every type of train, whether regional or express, as well as travel class. Not only does it give me only the information I care about, it also just looks good. Notice the color difference between Coach tickets and Business Class Tickets. (4)

Once I pick a train, all the additional details are displayed above the fold. Another menu of pleasing icons - all clickable - lists  the amenities on the train I’ve selected. A clickable yellow triangle allows me to consult the service alerts. In a weird way, the honesty of this feature actually outweighs the inconvenience I might feel about a potential disruption. (5)

Next I must enter my details. For many, this is the least favorite part of any digital journey. But instead of making me click to reach payment, the system takes me there in one smooth transition. Right after I’ve picked my train, I am immediately directed to the personal information section, so I don’t have time for that unhappy hesitation. (6)

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Each time I reach this page I am reminded that I still haven’t set up a Guest Rewards Number. I do find it slightly annoying that the system hasn’t remembered my personal info. ‘Of course,’ my inner voice says, ‘had you registered and logged into the system, then it would remember you. And now you’re complaining about the system, when you were too lazy to do it – as usual!’

I tell my inner voice that it’s right, of course, but that if I’m too lazy to register, others probably are too. A link next to the Guest Rewards Number box encouraging me to sign up for an account could do the trick.

I like the inline form validation – nothing super advanced or high-tech, but elegantly done. I also like that there are no extraneous questions. Every single thing that needs to be there is there - no optional info.  

Clearly a lot of thought has been put into what type of digital experience a prospective traveler expects. 

Throughout this whole process I can go forward and back to any screen without losing any info.  This level of continuity also adds to comfort – it’s always nicer to continue in a process when you feel you aren’t being locked in. ‘That’s why you live in New York – you’re so afraid of commitment it’s even hard for you to commit to a few screens in an app,’ inner voice says. I murder inner voice.

Aside from that opening shot of a sunset, there’s nothing glamorous about this app. It doesn’t use advanced date pickers, video, or animations. It does however make every step of the digital journey simple and painless, and clearly a lot of thought has been put into what type of digital experience a prospective traveler expects.

I also like that, as well as enabling me to complete my booking task, the app connects me to the experience of physically riding a train with the splash screen and cute little icons. I wouldn’t mind even more of that, by the way.

Compared to what’s out there today, this is great UX. Inner voice and I can get this whole booking done in about a minute, and merrily go on with our happy, schizophrenic day.

I think we are not so far from the day that I’ll step into a virtual world and already be there with my sister… I’ll see the New England foliage in front of me and hear the birds sing, even if my body is in a New York high-rise. For now, letting me easily book my trip while giving me small glimpses of a train ride on a gorgeous day is all the experience this user needs.

 

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