HotelTonight has the hardest working logo in the business. The bed-shaped "H" emblem figures prominently in the company's new ad campaign. And over the past five years, the logo has boosted HotelTonight's revenue by more than 10% each year.
How? It doubles as a key user interface element.
HotelTonight is an app that helps users find last-minute details on hotel rooms in three taps. But last-minute hotel bookings are generally nonrefundable—and right after the company's launch in 2011, about two in every 1,000 customers were booking accidentally. As the calls began to pour in from unhappy users, HotelTonight's cofounder and CEO Sam Shank decided to issue refunds, at great expense. The refunds cut into the company's profits by 4%, a steep amount for a young startup. The three-tap UI imperative had made it a little too easy to book.
Shank began to look for a design solution, hoping that a clearer user interface would stop the confusion for customers and bolster the company's bottom line. At first, HotelTonight asked users to plug in their initials as a final confirmation before they could book. The company began to see results, but the solution was clunky and felt too corporate for their brand.
Instead, the former HotelTonight engineer Ray Lillywhite came up with a UI solution that's still in use five years later: to book a room, users must first trace the company's existing "H-bed" logo with their finger as confirmation. The logo becomes more than just the brand's icon—it's a clever UI feature that has a direct impact on the company's profits. Accidental bookings dropped, retention increased, and non-completion of the booking process dropped by 75%. Today, the app has millions of downloads and the company is partnered with 15,000 hotels in 35 countries.
Taking advantage of the touchscreen makes sense for a company that's entirely mobile, turning the UI into a way to separate itself from other online booking services like Expedia or Booking.com. "Since then, it’s become this iconic feature of HotelTonight," Shank says. "We now say, three taps and swipe to book a hotel tonight."
This kind of integration of logo and UI is part of a larger trend—logos aren't just logos anymore. For the internet-of-things consortium Zigbee, the new ":||" logo serves as a visual signifier for the brand, but it's also a string of code that can live in any font, on any platform—apt for remixing and repurposing. For HotelTonight, the logo doubles as an unlocking mechanism for booking a hotel room. Both are more than just a visual system. They extend the brand beyond the surface-level identity and turn it into a functional tool for the user—a key to the future of branding.
"It impacts the metrics of the business in terms of the results," Shank says. "But then there’s the part that’s unmeasurable. That’s about making it memorable and different from what’s out there."
[All Images: via HotelTonight]