A backstory to Rediscovering Google Explore

How I started my journey towards learning the value of exposure

This Winter 2017 in my IMT 540 Design Methods class at UW I along with Siddharth Naik, and Arunabh Satpathy worked upon redesigning and expanding over the Google Explore feature of Google Maps. It was an extremely in depth and extensive project which involved a lot of research and designing which I felt would be great to share on Medium with other designers through a series of articles. Before I did that however I wanted to give a backstory to the project as to how I came to starting it.

In the beginning of January 2017 I set myself an aim as a user-experience design student to work on a project which would involve me working on an already existing real world application.

The reason I decided to do so was because in the past I had always designed prototypes for applications whose start points were the beginning of a class project. They had never existed before in the real world. Apart from time and research resources, I had no constraints and rules to follow while developing prototypes such as following a particular design language or adapting to an already existing information architecture.

I was curious to experience what it must be like to join an already existing project. However as an international student without a declared major I was not allowed to join companies off campus and work on their projects which already existed in the real world.

I was still hungry and curious and hence thought of adapting my needs to my current situation. I still had interaction design classes left to take and each of those classes would involve projects and decided to simulate the experience of working on improving and expanding an already existing functionality in a real world application in my class projects.

Now I just needed to decide which application and feature I would be working on. I began my shortlisting process by looking at all the applications I saw myself and my friends using on a frequent basis. I studied and explored all the features of Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Messenger, Google, Gmail, Google Maps and really enjoyed the process of actually using each feature in these applications. I never actually used quite a few of them especially in Facebook and Google Maps and actually realized that many of their features could have come in use to me in my life if I knew about them earlier. It was here that I noticed that they had failed to onboard me onto their features and realized that there is no point in developing a feature your users need if you are not going to them to use it. Even though I had not yet decided on a particular product forget feature I had already learnt my first lesson: on boarding users onto your feature matters just as much as developing your feature.

As I began to go through Google Maps I began to notice a lot of features I had never used and got particularly interested in using them. I began to interact with Google Places, the Search by Places feature and then came across the Explore option. It was a small grey bottom bar which only allowed me to find restaurants and bars by navigating through a bunch of curated lists of places developed by them which I found rather time consuming to browse through.

This was the first feature I had discovered which frustrated me.I wondered if this feature was known to my friends and if they would get frustrated and lost while using it as well. I began showing the feature to my friends and they liked the concept of being able to identify places nearby as they could go to new places but wanted more variety in types of places and found the interface rather time consuming to use to discover and chose a place.

Noticing that users liked the concept of being exposed to new places but were unsatisfied with Google’s current solution I decided to make my class project “Improving the discovery experience of places using Google Maps”.

But before beginning I wanted to find two team mates to collaborate with because design is done better in groups. It helps bring in different perspectives and different skill sets thus producing a better result than what would have been achieved if I would have done it alone. In my quest for collaborators I found Siddharth Naik, an upcoming UI/UX designer and Arunabh Satpathy, a journalist pursuing UI/UX design who was well experienced in conducting interviews. We were all passionate about what we were doing and we set out to study and design a better discovery solution for Google Maps.

And thats how our project began.