Behind the Screens: How Google Flights Takes UX to New Heights

Our first in a series where we pay homage to exceptional designs.

Photo: JP Holecka
Published by Priscilla Ho on 08.12.2019

Clean. Functional. Simple.

That’s how we’d describe the best user interfaces and experiences. Yet we know that nothing in UI and UX is ever as easy as it looks. Extremely complex processes are taking place behind the scenes — or in this case, behind the screens. The best sites cover this up, delivering elegant platforms that conceal the algorithms working below the surface and user experiences that are intuitive and friction-free.

In this series, we want to take a second to pay homage to these exceptional designs — starting with Google Flights. Let’s take a nuanced look at why, from a design perspective, this platform is just about as flawless as it gets.


Taking the Stress Out of Trip Planning, Plain and Simple

I’m passionate about travel, and while I would love to just hop on a plane and jet off, there’s one problem: finding the best flight at the best price. Google Flights streamlines this process. As soon as I arrive on the page, its system determines the nearest point of departure based on my IP and unobtrusively shows me good deals to popular destinations. Its user-friendly, attractive interface lets me search for any flight, to anywhere, on any day.

This is the epitome of “less is more”. It may seem counterintuitive to some, but a simpler interface demands a much higher level of designing, planning, and programming. When digital platforms have an utter lack of in-your-face content, it shows a careful consideration of the entire UX process.

google-flights-screenshot Reference link:

At POWERSHiFTER, we view design through our six lenses of simplicity — reducing excess, organizing information, saving time, enhancing discoverability, providing context, and contributing knowledge. These represent our core values, and Google Flights fires on all cylinders.

  • It reduces the extra fluff by seamlessly integrating ads and sponsored content in visually-appealing, inconspicuous ways, so that users can find what they’re looking for while easily viewing other offers and opportunities.
  • The effective use of drop-down filters enhances the organization of the system, creating an elegant interface that yields additional information only as needed.
  • It saves time due to the fact that it has two paths to entry. Users can either go to the website directly, or they can get Google Flights results from the Google search bar; from there, they can connect directly to the booking sites through airlines or other aggregators.
  • It increases discoverability through a helpful sidebar whose “Explore”, “Flights”, and “Hotels” functions let users plan every facet of their travel.
  • It enhances context by showing you the cheapest deals on each day of the month, colour-coding the best prices in green so you can see, at a glance, the best time to go.
  • The platform shares knowledge through tool tips, explaining to users why they received the results they did, and providing travel advice and suggested itineraries in clear, well-written copy.

What Goes into an Interface Like Google Flights?

The complex algorithms that inform Google Flights came from ITA Software, an independent company that Google acquired in 2011. Its founders were among the first to admit that planning air travel is a very computationally complex process. With more than 30,000,000 scheduled commercial flights per year — that’s one per second — there are so many fixed and controlled factors to account for, along with multiple variables.


It’s a testament to Google’s design principles that this much information and calculation can be masked by such a straightforward platform. But it’s also impressive when you take into consideration that several competitors have built their own platforms on the same or similar software.

It’s clear that Google has invested diligently in A/B testing to understand what works best for the average user, and that’s why its UI is so much more intuitive compared to others in the same space. I also wouldn’t be surprised if qualitative research was conducted as well, allowing developers and designers to observe people interacting with different sites in order to identify common friction points.

How Google Took a Good Thing and Made It Better

That’s not the only way Google Flights has gone above and beyond. Along with simplifying its UI with navigable menus, more white space, and non-intrusive ads, the site also incorporates machine learning. Advanced analytics can keep track of arriving and departing flights in real time so they can notify users when there’s a delay; but they can also gauge and predict the likelihood of future delays based on historical data, with approximately 80% confidence in those predictions.


This is a service whose entire architecture is fully focused on the end user: knowing how to structure information so that it’s discoverable and understandable, striking a meticulous balance between sharing too much and too little. They say that design is art with a purpose — and Google Flights has definitely mastered the art of trip planning.

In an ideal world, all services would be as simple as Google Flights. Find out how we can help you streamline your user experiences.