Mobility-challenged travelers face difficulty planning trips due to limited accessibility information.
We designed four features in Google Maps: location's card, amenities filters, amenities review, and prioritized street view photo.
Lead Product Designer; I led research, user flow design, ideation, prototyping, and user testing
4 months (Sep - Dec 2022)
4 Product Designers (including me)
After seven months on the project, I had a one-on-one chat with Google Geo's UX lead. He confirmed that I had identified Google's most impactful opportunities
I changed the old wheelchair icon for a more inclusive version – the wheelchair riding icon. It's not just about an icon; it's about addressing disability in public spaces, offering better info, and using an icon that better represents agency for wheelchair users.
This change was adopted worldwide by Google Maps in May 2023 ↗.
We iterated on many designs to represent the availability of different amenities. In the end, we settled on the filter bar, which is most familiar to most users, making it easier to find places based on specific needs such as ramps, restrooms, parking, and seating.
This feature allows travelers to view ratings and reviews specifically focused on accessibility amenities. It's separate from the general restaurant reviews, increasing findability and enabling travelers to access the information faster without scrolling through the entire review thread.
Street-view and amenities photos are important for mobility-challenged travelers to visualize places and set expectations for their trips. We've given priority to these photos to ensure they're accessible.
Identifying Existing Challenges
This project began with a broad topic: travel planning. We found a big unmet need in existing tools during desk research. These tools often miss key accessibility info, causing frustration for travelers.
With mobility challenges being an issue that can impact anyone, we discovered a unique opportunity to create a tool that benefits all. This shifted our focus to helping mobility-challenged travelers to curate information.
Understanding Context & User Needs
We conducted contextual inquiries to understand the precise moments of challenge they face while using these tools and how it impacts their trip. Among the participants (N=7), none felt confident in curating trip information. The main reason is the lack of information, leaving them unsure about what to expect.
Setting Design Goals
I led the team in analyzing all the qualitative data and found these insights about the types of information they're looking for during trip planning and why it is important.
Specific amenities information
Knowing whether a place is accessible is not enough. Mobility-challenged travelers want to know what kind of amenities a place has, to make sure they are all set for the trip.
Reviews from the communities
Store-provided accessibility information is considered less trustworthy and outdated. People trust more in past visitors who have experienced using those amenities.
Amenities photos & Street views
Text alone can't fully describe amenities because people are usually bad at describing them. Amenity photos and street photos help mobility-challenged travelers see the details and visualize better.
I led the team in ideating potential solutions and user flows. We used sketches to visualize ideas, and mid-fidelity wireframes to build the basic flow and quickly test with users.
Design Direction: Redesign Google Maps
From our contextual inquiry, we learned that people feel more empowered when we integrate features within an app they use daily. Through a quick survey (N=45), we found that the majority of users (>85%) use Google Maps Mobile, but still face difficulties accessing key information. This led us to identify an interesting opportunity to redesign Google Maps. I proceeded to analyze user flow and potential issues within the Search results (SERP) stage.
Testing & Iterations
After identifying the challenges at each stage, we developed a set of prototypes to address them. During this phase, we conducted moderated usability testing (N=5) to test the clarity, efficiency, and satisfaction of the new features we made. We saw data saturation after talking to five participants and rapidly iterated on our design. Here are some examples.
Our initial idea was to introduce an additional toggle on the map, but users became confused about how to locate specific amenities. We also recognized that this design solution would require more engineering efforts.
To address this, I placed the accessibility toggle on the filter bar. Clicking the wheelchair icon allows users to search for specific amenities, expanding the options for selections. This improves clarity and flexibility.
Users can easily understand this design, but they all mentioned that they still don't know which amenities the 4.5 rating is targeting. They also expressed a stronger interest in knowing if specific amenities are available.
To address this, we introduced a clear distinction from the original star system. This allows users to easily determine whether they have a particular amenity and understand its level of accessibility.
When browsing the general location card, users want to get a quick idea of whether a place is accessible. Having two rating scores is confusing. Some participants also mentioned that the wheelchair icon is not inclusive.
To tackle this, I followed the way Google Maps currently displays store information. I invested quite a bit of time in understanding the subtle difference between the wheelchair riding icon and the old one, and why it's important for people with disabilities. To offer the most empowerment, which is our design goal, we switched to the riding icon.
The fascinating backstory of this icon comes from the Accessible Icon Project ↗.
Creating Visual Consistency
To stay aligned with the experience on Google Maps, I rigorously follow Google's open-source M3 Design system. This approach has also helped me in ensuring that our designs enable people with diverse abilities to navigate, understand, and interact with our UI.
Even though this is just a personal project, I believe that what I propose could be impactful and empowering. After a few months of working on this project, I pitched my design to the head of Google Geo (thanks Dave!) . He remarked that I had very sharp insights, especially since they had just launched the location card in the summer of 2023 – a beautiful coincidence.
Set an accessibilty standard
Changing an icon might seem small, but even the tiniest design choice in Google Maps has an impact on millions of users every day. Choose what best embodies the fulfillment of Google's mission - to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Propose valuable solutions to manage information
Google Maps has a lot of crowdsourced info that can really help people with different accessibility needs. I learned how to make the most of that power to come up with some cool design solutions.
Changing the design in a complex software takes time. If I were the designer on the Google Geo team, I'd suggest a feature rollout in phases, determined by feature's impact level (measured by the number of users reached).
After discussing with the Head of Google Geo UX, I verified that all my designs were feasible and the necessary data was available. However, implementation depends on the roadmap. Here are a couple of questions I'd pose to my team if we were to emphasize these directions and delve deeper into exploration :)