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Reimagining customer loyalty by making legacy and community tangible


research, ideation, UX/UI design, graphic design


Edwin Zhang (rapid prototyping, UI design)


Alorah Harmon, Yao Tong, Federico Casalegno


Photoshop, HTML/CSS, tangible print assets (cards, brochures), Framer.js (retroactive)


appx. 100 hrs. Spring 2016


Interactive prototype, presentation at Marriott Loyalty Summit

In the spring of 2016, I was part of a project-based class at the MIT Mobile Experience Lab where teams of 2 worked with Marriott to reinvent customer loyalty through novel interactive experiences.

My team partner Edwin Zhang and I designed an interactive lobby tabletop for exploring and repurposing the experiences that previous guests have left behind. As a team, Edwin and I worked in tandem on design decisions, with him doing the bulk of prototyping and me doing most of the research, conceptualization, and design work.

Our 5-month process included numerous ideation sessions, iterations, user testing sessions, expert interviews, and culminated in a presentation at the 2016 Marriott International Loyalty Summit in Bethesda. This course was part of an ongoing MEL-Marriott collaboration, so much of our work was built upon the previous knowledge of MEL researchers.

After the project ended, I took our prototype and recreated many of its features in Framer.js to practice my own prototyping skills.

Final Design

Welcome, Marriott Guest.

“The Roads We Take” is an interactive lobby tabletop for exploring and repurposing the experiences that previous guests have left behind. Here’s a deck of cards handpicked for you based off of your interests and history with Marriott. Place the cards on the interactive tabletop in the lobby to explore and save the experiences of travelers who came before you.

The Lobby Table

Demo of tabletop interaction

Recreation of prototype in Framer JS

Want to try it yourself?

The Printed Components

Personal deck of “experience cards” handpicked for each user. Special cards for celebrities and influencers (like Jackie, the food blogger) who create themed paths.

Printed itineraries based on users’ choices from the table. Pertinent information about each location is shown. Users also have option to send itinerary to phones through text.

Key Features

Personal Deck

“Marriott knows you.” Loyalty through personalization and exclusivity. Cards are presented in a small deck unique to your preferences. No need to maintain them in the lobby. Opportunity to offer exclusive experiences to top guests.

Printed Saved Places

“Marriott values your contributions.” Loyalty through personalization (user) and social validation (content creator). Rewards top creators.

Star Routes

“Marriott is of-the-moment.” Loyalty through cultural relevance. Collaborate with top influencers. Offers fun and exclusive experiences to guests.

Thoughtful Content Details

“Marriott takes care of the details.” The content that shows up about each place on the table and printed itinerary is optimized based on interviews with operations experts about current concierge behavior and what users value

Understanding Marriott Loyalty’s Challenges

Chains like Marriott are rapidly losing out to upstarts like AirBnB due to Millennials’ increasing emphasis on community and authenticity.

Marriott/Starwood and other large loyalty programs have traditionally been highly transactional. Customers accumulate points and companies dole out standardized and impersonal rewards. MEL researchers and Marriott have found that this leads to a shallow kind of loyalty—the type in which consumers sign up for dozens of “loyalty programs” in an attempt to game the system, while not truly remaining loyal to any company long-term.

Marriott hotels don’t inspire emotional connections with consumers. One particularly illuminating insight came from Matthew von Ertfelda, VP Insights, who acknowledged Marriott’s lack of tribe pride when he observed, “I wouldn’t wear a Marriott shirt to the gym.”

Matthew von Ertfelda, VP Insights

Not a common sight; this one is photoshopped.

“I wouldn’t wear a Marriott shirt to the gym.”

Another problem that Marriott loyalty executives emphasized was the lack of tangibility. At any given moment, people are unaware of how many points they have and what those points can be used for—meaning many missed opportunities to delight a customer.

Given these challenges, our goal was to design an interactive experience that would spark emotional connections and drive the sense of tangible belonging that leads to long term loyalty.

Project Goal

Design an interactive experience that sparks an emotional connection to Marriott and drives the sense of tangible belonging that leads to long term loyalty.

Defining Project Goals

We synthesized MEL’s wealth of research into 4 key themes that we wanted to incorporate into our design. These were all themes that came up as highly valued and important among our target customers.


foster community among guests; sense of friends being there for you no matter how far you are from home


enable unique and authentic local experiences

Personal relevance

meets key travel goals in a personalized, relevant way


above attributes should feel present and accessible


We allowed our imaginations to roam free as we thought of new experiences ranging from the typical—like gift boxes of curated products, pop-up events, co-working common spaces, local-given tours— to the outlandish, like inter-city portals and art installations. Many ideas were discussed, guerilla-tested, and shot down, but the rapid ideation allowed us to extract valuable gems from each failed idea.

Brainstorming, mockups, and sketches from the ideation phase

Iteration 1: The Roads We Take

During an ideation session focused on how to represent unique local experiences tangibly, Edwin and I started playing with a deck of cards. This would provide the spark for our ultimate concept, “The Roads We Take”: an interactive lobby tabletop where guests “deal the cards” of past visitors to explore the experiences they’ve left behind.

First-stage proof-of-concept mockups and sketches for “The Roads We Take”

To better explain our concept and user journey, we filmed an initial concept video that illustrates the journey of a Marriott guest who discovers and produces content for the table.

Initial concept video showing the user journey and how the table/content works within the ecosystem of a hotel lobby

Credit: Stella Kim (videographer), Jean Berthelot-Kleck (animator)

User Testing

Edwin, a super talented front-end developer, then hacked together a usable prototype on a 50-inch TV screen for us to user-test with.

Conducting user tests on our first prototype

While observing how people interacted with the table, I noticed that they intuitively tapped towards the video previews, expecting to find more information about the places. This happened multiple times, leading us to shift towards using the exploratory table as a starting point for discovering—then learning more about and recording—interesting places.


Table as a starting point for discovering—then learning more about and recording—interesting places. A crowdsourced concierge service.

Feedback from Loyalty Team

At this point, we had the opportunity to meet with Loyalty executives at Marriott to discuss the business value of our idea. Their expertise in Hospitality influenced our positioning of the product as the “modernization of the guest book.” From there, we came up with the following ideas for Marriott to monetize the content ecosystem and strengthen its relevance to loyalty.

New feature idea: Expert Paths

Incorporating “Expert Paths” curated by top area influencers (bloggers etc.) and brands, allowing Marriott to get involved in the local community and monetize the content ecosystem.

Incentives to Save and Share

Allow guests to engage with the tabletop content, ranking, favoriting, and saving interesting and unique paths. Top content creators get loyalty points and a boost to their pride. Encourages high quality content creation and a sense of community.

Expert Interviews at Marriott Cambridge

Armed with ideas from user testing and feedback from Loyalty management, we brought our prototype to the Marriott Cambridge to get feedback from their operations/management team. We were specifically interested in talking to the concierge manager to learn what guests value and find challenging about current concierge services.

Interviews with concierge and operations managers at the Marriott Cambridge unveiled many insights from the point of view of professionals who are “on the floor” of the hospitality industry every day.

These interviews unveiled a key challenge.


Difficulty of maintaining cards on the table: “a five year-old would rip them up immediately”

And some useful information about opportunities and user needs.


Many guests don’t trust the traditional concierge, believing them to be partial/getting kickbacks. Digital services from peers (like Yelp, and our concept) are perceived to be less threatening and more trustworthy.

Important Things to Know about Locations

Running paths, family friendliness, and smoking/non-smoking are the top 3 most important considerations among leisure travelers

Final Concept Design Process

For the final concept design, I focused on incorporating the research and insights garnered from our user-testing and key stakeholders—namely, working to ensure that the content and UX/UI of our table suited user needs and was intuitive. I developed situational personas, thought about different ways to save individual locations vs. whole paths, and did a whole lot of wireframing of both our tabletop interface and tangible assets (printed itinerary and card deck)

Development process of final product concept

Final user journey map including actions and options available at each stage

Next Steps

Though this project has concluded, some questions I would ask if it were to continue are:


How do we maintain the quality of the content and make it interesting/unique enough to differentiate it from services like Yelp or Google?

Will people create content?

Is there enough incentive for people to actually create these “roads”? Will people have privacy concerns about leaving behind records of where they went?


How difficult is it to maintain? How much content quality control must be done? What about the effort in creating personalized decks?