Why we built Peanut, a free Chrome app to make travel safer
A new and free Google Chrome extension aimed at simplifying travel decisions. How 3 ambitious friends made lemonade from over a year of crazy lemons.
Because we all love traveling without worry.
How it started, how it’s going
Full disclosure, I’m writing this as the lead designer for Peanut.
COVID-19 was still rampant, and in a volatile state – as were most of the people suffering from it. Escaping the mundane repetition of life was seemingly out of reach, and yet all most of us could think about was getting to the Amalfi Coast for an undisclosed amount of time. But how?
Fast forward to some random Saturday. It was a sunny afternoon in various parts of the west coast. Brady and I were talking on the phone about why traveling was so convoluted, especially increasingly over the months to come. We both wanted to get out of dodge but had so many questions.
Is the destination even open to US citizens? Do I need a PCR test? What about flight operations? Either way, this info was either hard to find or hard to trust across sources and time-consuming at best.
2021 is the year of worrisome traveling & GTFO
‘Why can’t we make this better?’ It can’t be that hard. I know the info is out there, it’s just a pain to find and then utlimately trust
Couldn’t we just aggregate from various API’s and collate the data into a single source? How? It would have to reach across OTA’s in some seamless way, probably during a typical booking experience.
Why not a Chrome extension?
Well, there are only so many ways to layer on top of various sites to pull this data in a contextual, hyper-relevant way. Yea, we might be on to something. Focusing on these top user problems:
- Flight delays
- Travel restrictions
Remote life, uncertain times, and the urge to solve a global problem
Holy shit. Wait — we could actually do this. But at what cost? How would it look and work though? We could layer this over top the most trafficked booking sites probably pretty easily/with some finesse/careful planning:
- Google Flights
That’s how it happened. We brought on an engineering lead, Roy –– and went to work, basically in our spare time. A few alumni from Facebook and Google decided to build something that no one else had. We used a few principles to guide us:
A small but mighty team
So, to be clear –– there are about a handful of folks helping make this happen, from all over the world actually, including Singapore and the UK. They’ve been instrumental in making this happen. While I cannot discredit their involvement, I want to call some attention to the core founders:
- Brady — Ex Facebook. Initial founder and seasoned entrepreneur
- Alex–– Ex Google. Founding brand and product designer
- Roy–– Ex Facebook. Founding tech lead and excited traveler
/ Inspiration & research. Browser extensions are great MVP’s and actually work well for our booking cases. Honey was an intuitive place to start for inspiration. It does a good job of porting lifted data into a single location, across several locations. What if we showed this info before someone ever visited? Better yet, before they book their trip.
/ Where we landed (pun intended). Trying to give travelers more confidence with relevant data, when they need it most ––– before spending a lot of money on a trip that they can’t get value from. Wouldn’t it be great to know the weather, covid-19 restrictions, and even flight delays before committing to a trip? We did too.
/ Brand & market fit. Looking at the landscape, Honey is cute, sticky and memorable. What about something food-related that everyone can relate to? Everyone loves cute foods. It should reflect travel and something ubiquitous to all forms of it ––– maybe… the Peanut.
/ Distributed collaboration. We pressed on and secured a few more folks who felt just as strongly about solving this immediate and yet long-term need as we did. As a test, our group remained fully distributed across the west coast including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
/ Growth through social media. From here, we looked to boost awareness and engagement through Instagram and Facebook. This relied on promotional content, as well as a brand story. We sourced commercial-free content from Unsplash to keep with the inspirational travel theme
Developing the brand & product
Landscape & a memorable foundation. With Honey in mind, we then took to the drawing boards. We took further UX inspiration from our top OTA –– Google Flights. Using a vetted Material design framework, we were able to design and develop more efficiently.
Scalable naming & system design. As previously mentioned, the name is derived from the travel food, the peanut. Thus the color system felt natural to rely on yellows and oranges, with blacks as high contrast counterparts. This was then fleshed out as a Figma library. This also allowed us to use ADA and cross-browser-supported interaction models, states, and typography.
Delightful iconography. We found Twitter’s Twemoji to provide a great and extensive set of unique, flat icons that span a wide range. This allowed us to use widely supported SVG libraries for lightweight and delightful usage.
Lightweight product & performance. Designing for a Chrome extension comes with limitations. Working within desktop constraints as well as performance across OTA’s proved to be challenging at times but simple enough it allowed us to maintain a consistent feel across cases.
Online presence, distribution & strategy
We used Webflow, Product Hunt, Instagram, and Facebook to boost our online presence through ads, stories, and quality posts across relevant communities and followers.
- Product site (built using Webflow)
- Product Hunt
Sourcing the web for meaningful insights
After some research, we found that most travelers (domestic vs international/ infrequent vs frequent) were dying for some core info to aid in their decision-making process:
- Overall risk and vaccination rates
- Covid-19 travel restrictions (testing, entry requirements, dining)
- Flight predictions
- Visa statuses
- Weather forecasts
- Hotels and transit (coming soon)
This information can actually be found on the web, yet requires a hunt and a peck to locate. Some of it is free to aggregate, some are more accurate than others:
- Covid Actnow
- Trips Guard
- Visa list
Okay, how does it work?
- Download the free Chrome extension from the Chrome store
- Search flights on your favorite booking sites
- See uncommon insights from all around the world
- Travel safer, smarter, better
- Wanna learn more? Take a look at the video below & show us some love on Product Hunt! 👇
Taking it all in, and lifting off
For what it’s worth, we are far from done. It’s been several months in the making and we’re still taking baby steps. A recent feature on Forbes has jump-started publicity efforts, yet kept us grounded enough to know we have much more to do before taking flight.
Big thanks to our early adopters, supporters, and contributors –– we couldn’t have gotten this far without you.
We encourage everyone to travel safely this summer and Peanut wants to help you do it. To learn more, please visit our website and or extension on the Chrome store to download and start traveling better, safer, and smarter.