This project seeks to improve the usability and reliability of Google Maps through its transportation routes and search results. My goal is to assure users that they can receive reliable transportation routes and relevant recommendations for places, ahead of time and live-time.
This is a usability report of Google Maps Web that includes problems found from the heuristic evaluations and recommendations based on these results.
Google Maps is a website and mobile app that provides a a live map platform containing street views, images and reviews of businesses, route planning features, and transportation statuses. Its convenience and live-time efficiency have made it the default digital map to use in most places in the world.
Considering that the mobile app version of Google Maps is more frequently used than its web version, it is important to analyze whether Google Maps Web offers a similar quality of experience and ease of use. It is also helpful to determine if any improvements can be carried over to the mobile app.
Three usability experts conducted a Heuristic Evaluation on Google Maps’s web interface and determined issues regarding its most important features: transportation routes, and recommendations for places.
With these results, I suggested a few simple and effortless recommendations that would greatly improve the web platform.
This is a Heuristic Evaluation, which involves three usability experts using Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for User Evaluation Design to evaluate an interface’s compliance with the usability heuristics principles. This is an efficient way to identify usability problems without having to sample a larger number of users for testing.
The three usability experts, myself included, are students taking the course INFO 644 - Usability Theory and Practice at Pratt Institute.
I, as lead evaluator, select an interface to assess and assign a set of tasks for myself and two secondary evaluators to complete on this interface. We three evaluators perform our given tasks to assess the web version of Google Maps and identified usability issues that violate these ten heuristics. For every issue identified, the corresponding heuristic violated was assigned, and a severity rating from 1 to 4 was given (Figure 2).
Once all secondary evaluators complete their tasks and heuristic evaluations, I combine all issues found and assign their final severity ratings. I now has a condensed set of the major problems and severity ratings across all evaluations, to which I will use to create mock-ups of recommendations that solve these usability problems of the interface.
The current Google Maps web interface is effective as it provides not only live-time information about the user’s location, transit conditions, and how busy a place is, but it also affords searching for recommendations on keywords that the user can input into the search bar. That said, while Google Maps affords many functions, these functions suffer from a few usability issues that compromise their ease of use, learnability, and discoverability.
Based on Nielsen’s Ten Usability Principles, the three usability experts have identified a total of ten usability problems. These were then condensed into four major problems that had severity ratings of 2 (minor usability problem) and 3 (major usability problem). Most usability issues violated heuristics six and seven.
1. Hard to locate the “Options” button when choosing the best transportation methods to the user’s destination. Transit icons (bus and subway) look similar to each other.
2. Users cannot search for recommendations in specific neighborhoods, but only in the map area visible on their screen.
3. Search results, especially their preview windows, do not contain helpful keywords indicating they’re the correct places the user is looking for.
4. Search results are ambiguously ordered and there is no option to sort them.
Problems were compiled in terms of severity ratings, frequency of appearances in the report, and elements that are crucial in reliability when users are using Google Maps in real time.
Make transportation options BUTTON clear and easy to discover
make transportation icons distinguishable from each other
In particular, one usability expert stated that "the Options button to filter results is not super visible, even though this is the best way to filter out buses and minimize transfers". Increasing the visibility of the filter is crucial given that search results show a mix of route options.
Another usability expert quoted "Subway and bus icons are similar to each other and require familiarity to easily navigate". The lack of distinguishing features between the icons can be potentially confusing for first-time users and users browsing the map in a rush.
Add option to filter and isolate neighborhoods when searching for places
One usability expert quoted that the " 'Update results when map moves' button is easy to miss, and the user may get tired to search repeatedly". Especially with a large map display on one's screen, users may get visually overwhelmed when there's too many results displayed at a time without a specific neighborhood.
Another usability expert mentioned that "You can only zoom out on the map so that Manhattan fits in your screen, and include NYC's outer boroughs in your search as well". For New York City in particular, users may have a preference for one specific borough and be completely unwilling to commute to another one. In this case, the entirety of Manhattan is too large to fit on the screen without including significant parts of Brooklyn, Jersey, and Queens.
Add option to sort search results and include helpful icons and markers in result previews
One usability expert quoted that it was "hard to determine if the businesses are in fact free entrance even after searching 'free admission' or 'free gallery'. Had to click each link and do more digging". There are no helpful symbols or keywords in the search results that can accurately inform users, as well as ensuring that their desired characteristics are being met.
Another usability expert mentioned that "poorly rated clubs with bad reviews will sometimes appear on the top, giving the user a poor experience with their search". There is no filter indicating the sorting method for the search results. Users may get confused by not knowing the reason behind the negative feedback in their results, indicating that there is a problem with their search wording instead.
Google Maps is a reliable map interface that provides directions, information about places, and transit conditions to both web and mobile users on the move or planning their next journey. While it currently serves a vital purpose for web and mobile users alike around the world, the web version evidently lacks the ease and usability of its mobile counterpart as discussed in this evaluation. Yet, both interfaces could also benefit from the addition of features such as filtering, sorting, and more distinct icons. To reiterate, these are the three recommendations that would be most useful in improving the usability of Google Maps (web), which focus on enhancing the flexibility, discoverability, and learnability of its current features.
In a future evaluation, I would suggest testing the recommendations on a group of testers beyond the usability experts taking this course. This would more accurately inform whether the recommendations are an effective addition to the current Google Maps platform, as it should be easy to use for any user of any background.