Redesign of the Album Creation Process in Google Photo

Introduction

For this project I wanted to work on one of my favorite applications: Google Photo. I became a big fan of Google products when I started using Gmail for the first time more then 10 years ago. I admire their focus on the core functionality of the product and the simplicity of their design that is always focused on the user.

I had my latest Google Aha moment when I started using Google Photo. Google Photo is a free online application that allows users to store all of their photos for free and unlimited in the cloud. Searching and finding pictures is super easy and incredibly powerful. Google Photo can be accessed through the browser or through a mobile app and both of them contain all of the functionalities and features.

The following video gives a good overview of the capabilities of Google Photo.

Problem Definition

I have been using Google Photos almost every day during the last year but I realized that I was never truly satisfied with the way Google lets you creates albums. Google Photos doesn’t allow you to have folders or anything like that so albums are the only way to “group” pictures. I mostly use shared albums which allow users to create a collection of pictures and then share it with others so that they can either add their own pictures or download the whole album. Unfortunately this process is not as smooth as I would like it to be and so I set myself the following design question:

How can we improve the mobile album creation process on Google Photos?

Research

To get a better understanding of the problem space I analyzed the current workflow (task flow analysis), looked at existing photo sharing solutions like Flickr/iCloud (competitive analysis) as well as interviewed and observed five current Google Photo users (qualitative user interviews).

Current flow of creating an album

This flow diagram shows the three current possibilities to create an album with Google Photo.

  1. Through the right menu icon in the search field the user can access a popup menu with the album option. Then the view switches into a “selection mode” (empty circles vs checkmarks) where the user can select which images should be added to the album. By clicking on next the user creates the album.
  2. Through a long tap on a picture the user goes right into “selection mode”. From here the user can share the image set, create an album (+ symbol) or delete the selected pictures. The selected photos then get added to the album.
  3. By clicking on the search field the user opens the search menu that allows him to search by name, type or location. Once the search is executed he can continue just like in the second option.

Main problems

Overall Google Photo is amazing at getting the pictures into the system. Searching & viewing them is also extremely intuitive in the mobile version. Picking the right images to share however is a little bit more difficult. Through the research I was able to identify the following four main problems:

  1. Uncertainty about how albums are created. Users had problems creating albums and were confused about the differences between the three ways.
  2. Filter pictures to correct subset. Users would have liked the option to filter more precisely and also wanted to combine multiple conditions. 
    E.g. Create a photo album with all the pictures of a friend and yourself taken in Seattle.
  3. Add filter options during the album creation process. Users tried to adjust the search query or add new conditions to it during the creation process.
    E.g. Can’t search/filter once you entered selection mode.
  4. Select huge amount of pictures. Users had difficulties selecting picture sets that span through longer periods of time. 
    E.g. Adding all pictures from a three long week trip with 1000+ pictures

Secondary problems

These are additional problems that I discovered during the research but that won’t be solved as part of this project.

  1. It was complicated for users to add pictures after they were joined a shared album
  2. It is not possible to create an empty photo album that friends could create beforehand and then add pictures to it during their trip.
  3. It was unclear to users where new pictures appear in the album. Albums are ordered strictly chronological and can’t be sorted by the add/modified date.
  4. It was not clear to the users if albums are meant for ongoing collaboration or only for one time events.
  5. Albums don’t allow social interactions (like, comment etc.).
  6. Photo Stream gets “polluted” with random pictures (blurry pictures, screenshots, pictures of bills & addresses) that get uploaded automatically but shouldn’t be viewed in the stream.

Ideation

Google Photo allows users to search for pictures based on four questions:

  • Who is in the photo? Myself, Peter, Maria …
  • Where was the photo Taken? USA, California, University of Washington …
  • What is in the photo? Dog, Hat, Snow …
  • What is the type of photo? Video, Panorama, Selfie …

Additionally all images are always presented through a timeline view which adds the date as an additional dimension.

This makes Google Photo great when you search for a particular picture or a series of pictures, but when you create an album these methods are not satisfactory. Rather then searching & finding the goal is to filter for a specific subset and then select a group of images which you would like to add to the album.

Early sketches

Based on Google’s Material Design principles I focused on addressing the problems without complicating or cluttering the UI.

Material Design also is very restrictive when it comes to the Search Pattern. I wasn’t able to just change the search pattern (by simply adding dropdown filter menus) because it would break the existing conventions that we see across all Google apps.

Implementation

Based on the sketches I made a rough paper prototype and then tested my ideas with three users. Afterwards I created the User Interface with Sketch and made an interactive Prototype with proto.io.

Design Solution for Problem 1: Uncertainty about how albums are created.
  • In the existing versions there are three different entry points and routes for the creation of an album.
  • In the new solution there is a floating action button that allows the creation of albums (and animations, collections) from anywhere within the app. The process is always triggered from the same spot and the process for the creation is always the same.
  • The search bar menu option got replaced with the microphone which enables users to search via voice command. The select option which was inside the menu is no longer necessary and the layout option got moved to the big slide menu on the left.
Design Solution for Problem 2: Filter pictures to correct subset.
  • The existing solution only features the recent search, people, places and type.
  • In the new solution the search bar is still the easiest way to search for anything by simply typing. The new version however highlights that users can also search for things (emoticons) and filter by time.
  • The suggestions on the first page show an overview of the most used queries and give the user an idea of possible queries. By opening a category (through the arrow) a user can now search more in depth (e.g. detailed location with radius, specific timeframes etc.) rather then only using the search box.
  • In the new version users can also combine multiple queries to get more detailed results.
Design Solution for Problem 3: Add filter options during the album creation process
Design Solution for Problem 4:
Select huge amount of pictures.
  • In the existing solution the user was only able to search before the creation of the album.
  • In the new solutions the user can search at any time and can specify or modify his search later to get more accurate results.
  • In the existing solution users can only select one picture at a time through swiping (which is okay for small amounts of pictures)
  • In the new solution the user can select (and deselect) all pictures at once. This is especially helpful in combination with precise filters.
  • Users can also select huge amounts of pictures by selecting the a picture and then scrolling to the last picture that should be included and holding this picture. This will select all images between these two images.

Evaluation

The interactive prototype can be found here:

Scenario:

You just came back from a two day biking vacation on Bainbridge Island. A couple of weeks before that you took some pictures of the UW campus and in March you went on a snow shoe hike with some friends.

  1. Look through the pictures of your past trips (scroll)
  2. Search/Filter for pictures only taken in Seattle (click search bar then select Seattle)
  3. Create an album so you can put your pictures in it (floating button)
  4. You realize that your pictures from Bainbridge Island are not part of the list. Make sure they also show up (click on search again, change radius to 60mil then go back)
  5. Look through your pictures and make sure all of them are included (scroll)
  6. Add all of your pictures from the weekend bike trip to the album (click first picture then scroll to last picture on April 16th and hold long)
  7. You realize that you actually want to include all pictures and not only the ones from the weekend (click all on top)
  8. Go ahead and create your album (click next)
  9. That is it. You created your first album. Congratulations.

Analysis and Reflection

I tested the interactive prototype with 3 participants and got very positive feedback. I will continue to work on this and add more functionality and more animations. I am planning to actually rebuild the prototype in Framer.JS so I can make it even more interactive.

It was actually super fun to work on all the small interactions, menus, details and the IA! This way you don’t have to start from scratch but take something that is already very good and try to make it better by changing small details.

It was a lot more challenging to find good solutions because there are a quite some restrictions through the Google design guidelines and also through the way the app works. A lot of really smart people already thought about these problems and came up with good solutions and so it was fun to see if I could find an even better ways to make the user experience more smooth and enjoyable.

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