Why Kayak prefers mobile

One of the world’s most popular travel websites has decided mobile is better. On Monday, Kayak is rolling out an updated design for its eight-year-old site. But it’s not just any old tweak of the look and feel. Kayak is now consciously taking design cues from its recently updated iPad and iPhone apps. (s aapl)
Normally a web-based company that decides to make an app wants to translate the look and feel of its site to that app. But Kayak has been there, done that. And from the design team to the executive team, those within Kayak say it now makes more sense to do the opposite. “IĀ got to the point where I actually liked iPhone app better than our website, I thought it was aesthetically more beautiful,” Kayak co-founder and CTO Paul English told me in an interview last week.
Here’s what the site will look like going forward:

If you’re a regular user of the site, you’ll notice some of the subtle changes right off the bat in addition to the shaded background and more consistent gradients and buttons. Chiefly, there are fewer filter choices and fewer flights displayed if they are duplicates or too similar (for example, if two flights are the same price, but one has a longer layover, Kayak will now hide the lengthier travel option unless requested to show it). The layout is also much wider, and how Kayak’s developers used that space is strongly influenced by the Kayak iPad app, which, when in landscape mode, is also a wide-screen device.
At its design lab up on Concord, Mass. Kayak does eye-tracking studies to see what users are or are not using. “Our design goal – if something is on the screen and people aren’t clicking on, we remove it,” said English. The overall goal in making the site look more like a mobile app is to shed unnecessary details and simplify.
Mobile first is a strategy we write about often here at GigaOM. Usually it refers to companies getting more traffic from their mobile apps than their web sites, but it also can mean that mobile is influencing the design of even almost decade-old products like Kayak.com.
If you really want to get a sense (and a good chuckle) of how far Kayak has come in the design department, check out this screenshot of what the site looked like when it first launched in 2004.