A year at British Airways

  • Tom Lancaster
  • Anna Churchill

A look back at what I enjoyed the most at BA.

Design system Working with DesignStudio, BA already had a beautiful new design language ready to roll out across the whole customer experience. Nikki Barton, JP Henry and I refined and systemised this language so that it could be applied consistently as a design system across different digital experiences. We wanted to make sure the system had credibility with engineering and could be understood and identified by everyone working on digital products – a careful balance between limiting the elements at play, but keeping flexibility and room for expression. It was, of course, a pleasure working with Nikki and JP on this – I learnt a lot along the way.
Figma I suggested a move to Figma for a number of reasons: the simplicity with which a design system could be shared across all products; the ability to have all design work in one place, visible to the wider digital team; and to rationalise a growing list of design tools in use. We trialled using Figma with the app teams firstly and then gradually rolled it out across all teams. Luca Rosean, designer, and Richard McCartney, creative technologist, brought a rigour and structure to the system to help standardise how we present design work across the brand. We had some great team meetings collectively defining what we felt was a component, a pattern, and a template. Naturally Figma made the sudden move to working from home in lockdown far easier for everyone, and leant itself to remote live co-working.

Rolling out the system To get the lanaguage into the hands of customers we worked with product managers and engineering to see where we could introduce the design system quickly. On Android we worked on the selling flow, slice by slice and on iPhone we began with the homescreen – a screen that has many versions depending on where a customer is in their journey. We couldn’t have released this without designer Adam McElligott and engineer Filippo Minelle’s tireless work on all the many scenarios. In the process of updating the experience to use the design system we also achieved AA colour contrast accessibility.
Another key way that we refreshed the experience was to move from presenting all available flight data, to contextual relevant information presented in a personalised conversational tone. Sam Antrobus, writer, patiently handled all the various scenarios a customer sees with wit and good humour.

Dark mode BA’s design language is airy and light, defined by an elegant use of white space. For many brands dark mode can often become a little generic so for BA we were excited to make use of the brand’s midnight blue to create a distinct dark expression of the experience. Working with Filippo Minelli, software engineer, on iPhone, we also defined the behaviour of all colours as the app switches from a light theme to a dark theme of the system. This involved an enjoyable complexity of defining where colours invert – eg. blue text on white to white text on blue – versus where white remains – eg. white text on a bright colour background and in dark mode onto a muted deeper background. I enjoyed learning how to define the various colour behaviours for this.
Building the team As BA’s digital team scaled we needed to build the team up with a number of permanent hires. As in previous roles I loved meeting designers and researchers, finding out what they were looking for and in some cases finding the right match. Although we had some excellent long term contractors working in the team, it was a pleasure bringing Luca Rosean and Veronica Nobili onboard to join the app teams and seeing them then go from strength to strength.

Customer experience vision Alongside rolling out the design system and iterating existing customer experience we also spent a lot of time looking forward to where our experience could be in the future. We looked equally at research into what customers see as priority, gaps and opportunities in the current buying to flying experience, and different customer contexts – eg. a person that flies on a business trip, and then flies with their family on a leisure trip. I really enjoyed getting to work with the team to prototype experiences to bring our future vision to life – here you can see a few concepts.
Destination imagery Even with the smartest design system, content makes or breaks the experience. A tactical way that we looked to improve the customer experience was to start a rolling review of all destination imagery, based on the most flown routes, and refreshing images to be up to date and to align to our design principles. This is part of the job I really enjoyed as there’s so much wrapped up in using one picture to illustrate a place. I still laugh about the image of a crumbling motorway bridge we were using for Kuwait – now happily updated to some rather fun stripey water towers.
Waterside I worked one day a week at Waterside, BA’s main HQ near to Heathrow, and generally spent most of it in meetings. The day that someone accidently drove into the ornamental lake outside the building will live on for me – as will catching the BA2 shuttle bus to Staines Station with Tom, Lucy and Neil. A couple of things I loved about Waterside are the collection of wonderful travel posters in Africa (one of the wings of the building) – including a couple by Ben Nicholson – and the BA runners. On Tuesday lunches I’d go out for a snappy 10km run around the local countryside with Matt and Ian and a couple of others.
Chancery Lane WeWork Most of my time was spent in this glorious office where the digital team were based. Having a smaller space with engineers, product managers, researchers and designers all together meant more time co-working and collaborating, and contrasted with the meeting culture of Waterside. Other things I loved were coffees on the terrace, having a nice gym just over the road (Urban Fitness) and many evenings spent at the Seven Stars, or Shutters, at times concluding in spectacular fashion at Lucky Voice. I still have the succulents that we planted in the succulent workshop.
Bermuda in business No post about working at BA would be complete without a staff flights story. Luckily in my relatively brief time we managed to get away for a week in Bermuda in October as a family – and it was amazing – business class flights are definitely one of the best perks I’ve had from a job. I’m also pleased I’ll have a couple more years to enjoy staff flights – hopefully we’ll get to somewhere equally glamourous, Covid permitting.
The future As I move on to pastures new, BA will be in the best hands with JP Henry as design lead and the wonderful team of designers and researchers staying on – I’m looking forward to seeing their work each time I fly. You can see the other creative work I’ve designed this year on my 2020 Spring Summer roundup.