GOOGLE MAPS /// UX, Research, Information Architecture



We noticed that the Google Maps Explore needs some oomph... 

Zoshua Colah, Siddharth Naik, and I decided to modify the Explore function in Google Maps as our project in a Design Methods class. We noticed that people don’t know of the existence of places around them and have a difficulty finding new places to visit using their phones and other devices. Some look to Google Search or other services, but don't really know the Explore function exists. 
In addition, we also found that the exploration functionality, though present, is limited only to food and drink. We feel that it should be broader, including many of the typical activities that person looking for fun might want. 

My Role

  • Creating scenarios and design plan.
  • Creating the UI kit using Material Design guidelines collaboratively. 
  • Drafting and editing the first draft of the survey collaboratively. 
  • Conducting contextual inquiries with 15 people on February 8th at the Seattle Center.
  • Affinity Diagramming.
  • Persona creation.
  • User flows. 
  • Paper prototyping.
  • Hi-fidelity static prototyping.
  • Hi-fidelity interactive prototyping.
  • Animations.  

Tools used

Google Maps tools.png

A scenario

By Siddharth Naik

By Siddharth Naik

Boredom in the Emerald City
Julia Honrade has recently moved to the University of Washington in Seattle from California. She has spare time and has been to all the popular places in Seattle that her friends suggested. However she wishes to explore more but doesn’t know where to go. There are quite a few places she would find interesting but she doesn’t know about them. She instead ends up exploring places on her own and not achieving anything exciting as such many a time and returning to her room disappointed. She yearns for a better exploration experience. 

Questions to Make Julia's Life Better

  • Does the existing Explore UI offer some unique advantages that the regular maps UI doesn’t?
  • Is the explore feature adequately visible?
  • Do users know what the explore feature is and what it does?
  • Do users need additional categories of collections such as activities and places of interest such as shops, parks, malls etc. through Explore?

Early Solutions

By Zoshua Colah

By Zoshua Colah

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 3.47.10 PM.png

Contextual Inquiries

We decided to do contextual inquiries because of a combination of factors. Firstly, it would tell us how users were actually using the product out "in the wild."
Secondly, their semi-structured nature allowed the users to give us a wealth of data that wouldn't otherwise be found. 

We did three contextual inquiries in total: 

Scenario 1: Use Google Maps to find a nearby restaurant to eat.

Scenario 2: Use your mobile phone to find a nearby place you would be interested in visiting.

Scenario 3: Use Google Maps EXPLORE to find a nearby restaurant to eat.

We made the visit on a beautiful February day to the Space Needle, where we felt the context would give us an adequate diversity of people. Our special focus is on ensuring that people notice the Explore feature, and that first time users of the feature can easily navigate to adequate collections of places to visit or see. Our research questions were as follows:

  • How can we expose people to businesses and places around them in an engaging manner?
  • How can business and places be exposed to people and business? 
  • How can people be exposed to nearby business and places which they may be interested in visiting?
  • How can people be exposed to business and places nearby based on their interests?

The salient points of our visit are as follows:

  • I was personally involved as lead interviewer for the first 5 subjects due to my experience interviewing people. I also took notes for 3 other inquiries. We did 15 people in total. 
  • We created 3 separate tasks to be completed by users. They were "Use Google Explore to find a nearby restaurant to eat," "Use your mobile phone to visit a nearby place you would like to visit," and "Use Google maps to find a nearby restaurant to visit."

Affinity Diagramming

We felt affinity diagramming was the ideal analysis method for us as it would help put a degree of structure into a lot of semi-structured information received from our contextual inquiry subjects. Our raw notes (pictured here) weren't adequate to completely understand the patterns. 

I decided to use our task questions as an ideal way to organize the data, as they were already very specific to the task.

For increased granularity, I decided to tag each response in a <contextual inquiry number>:<subject number> format to make it easy to spot patterns. Therefore, the first subject from the second contextual inquiry was tagged C2:1.  

While we are still in the process of analyzing the data, the pictures of the completed diagram are pictured to the right.

Persona Creation

My persona creation method with the team followed the guidelines laid down by Pruitt & Grudin in their seminal paper. In order to better extract meaningful information from the affinity diagram, we also relied upon objective analysis to flesh out our work.

To extract information from the affinity diagram, my first step was to find common characteristics among our users. 

The commonalities we found were:

  • No one knew how to go to Explore or even that it exists.
  • Out of the 15 people with spoke with, 10 wanted more variety within the suggestions. 

    I also noticed a disjunct between people who use maps for navigation and those who use it for discovery. So while people use many different apps to find places, they usually use Google Maps to navigate. This presents a gap that Google can fill by providing a more robust discovery application. 

In finding common patterns of use, I drew up flow models for users. I took all three contextual inquiries and created user flows to show common patterns of use, given below. 

The final personas reflected our research closely. Among the patterns found were a certain degree of tech-savviness, large age disparity, and between users, and variations in locations. Most people used Google Search as a discovery portal, and used Maps to navigate nearly everyday. The biggest motivation was finding new places to eat, but finding live music, places to hike, places to drink, and smoking weed were also represented.  

Coming Up With Solutions

After establishing a baseline for personas and finding out patterns of use, we came with a few actionable solutions: 

1. Integrate Google Explore and Google Nearby into one feature as they offer competing solutions to the same problem of discovery. 

An example of an iterated flow, dealing primarily with the interactions in the Events and Discover tabs. 

2. Improve the onboarding process to the Explore feature by either having a popup dialogue box or by moving the Explore button to the Search bar.

3. Diversify and expand the kinds of places discoverable to users beyond just food and drink places. At this point, the new categories speculated included music venues, smoke shops and weed shops.

4. An optional toast notification to get the user to discover the area they're in. 

6. Be able to search for events. 

I sketched out paper prototypes focusing on onboarding customers. I came up with upto five user-flow solutions, and iterated with my teammate's designs to choose the best one. 

We settled a more complex version of the flow displayed on the left. The main ideas on the final prototype were:

a) Move the "Explore" button all the way up under the Search bar. 

b) Using a square-element grid instead of a horizontal element grid. 

c) Reducing the services tab to one line by default and at least three upon expansion. Provide a link to Explore in short order. 

d) Use the space left for the events tab.   

Hi Fidelity prototypes

Using the information during the prototyping phase, I created a series of high-fidelity prototype screens on Sketch, dealing primarily with the main Explore feature. A team-mate created the screens for events and services. 

Using Principle, I animated some simple interactions to show how the user might flow from screen to screen for iOS. 

We also created a more complex prototype for Android. 

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of the quarter, I spoke with my team members asking them what they aimed to learn from this experience. Siddharth and I wanted to focus more on UI design, whereas Zoshua wanted to focus on contextual inquiries and research. 

I'm happy to say that I was able to offer my team mates some of my knowledge about getting information from people as a journalist. My skills were a natural fit for the research methods we chose to use. 

To wrap up the quarter, we gave a highly regarded presentation to our IMT 540 class. I would like to thank Professor David Hendry and his TA Katie O' Leary for their constant guidance and informed critiques throughout the quarter. 

For me, this was a quarter with a lot of learning packed into a few weeks. I developed the following skills: 

a) Creating and conducting a full contextual enquiry. 
b) Creating user flows, personas, and scenarios. 
c) Using a variety of tools like Sketch, Axure, Adobe XD, Principle, and Marvel to create prototypes of our final work.
d) Working with a team to create concrete deliverables within the constraints of a company's existing design language: Google's Material Design.