DRMacIver's Notebook

Some free user experience consulting for Google

Some free user experience consulting for Google

I am not a UX expert. I’ve worked with people who are, and I’m probably a lot better than my otherwise utter incompetence at front-end work would suggest, but I’m at best OK.

Nevertheless, as a user I get to see a lot of the sharp edge of the problems, and I’m good enough at UX that I think I can see what the shape of the solution is.

The product I would like to offer Google some free advice on is the following: Google Maps’s driving navigation.

On a related note, if you can recommend a good driving navigation app to me (iPhone, sadly), that would be delightful. It would be especially useful if it were one that understood features of English roads like “has roundabouts” and “is verrah verrah smol” that seem alien to people from the US (although given how much of Google maps is in Zurich, I’m still surprised by its failure to understand these).

Anyway, free UX consulting. User stories are cool I hear, so here are my two user stories for Google maps:

As a driver, I would like to survive my trip.


As a driver, I would like to be able to drive without a constant sense of paranoia.

Currently Google Maps fails both of these so hard that I have conjectured that I have somehow triggered a special murder-mode for ex-Googlers, because honestly if Google Maps treats most drivers like it treats me then either not many people can be using it or I would have expected a better publicised death toll from it. I am not actually being hyperbolic here (or even parabolic).

Google maps reliably does everything in its power to destroy my trust in it, which is not ideal in something that I have to use while driving.

As the most basic minimum that would be required to restore my trust, I would like to propose the following feature:

Google maps should never, under any circumstances, exit navigation without an audible confirmation that it has done so.

There is what is almost certainly a bug in Google maps where sometimes it just goes “lol, I’m done here” and exits navigation without telling me. This is functionally indistinguishable from the sort of confirmation Google maps uses to tell me to just keep going straight. As a result, whenever Google maps is silent for an extended period of time, I end up feeling a gnawing sense of paranoia that it’s just not telling me what to do and I’m going in completely the wrong direction.

Almost all of the time this is not the case and the correct thing to do is to keep going straight (although Google maps’s notion of what “keep going straight” is is often very funny and involves amusing interpretations of the word “going straight” that include things like “turning left” - it is not very good at actually knowing where the road markings are, and if the road follows around to the right it will often confuse a left turn with keep going straight. However, I will forgive it data problems, particularly on the weird back country roads I often drive), but this bug triggers just often enough (last incidence: about an hour ago) that the exceedingly common operation of driving in a straight line fills me with deep unease whenever I use Google maps for navigation.

Even if this bug were fixed, the damage is done, and I will never believe Google maps is still running if it is silent.

On top of that, I would like to propose the following feature:

Google maps should never be silent for an extended period of time.

I’ll grant that if the last instructions were “Keep going for 500 miles” it doesn’t need to give me a mile counter every five minutes, but if it could tell me every half hour or so “Yup, everything is cool, keep going” that would be great. In normal operation, every five minutes sounds about right.

The second source of paranoia is that Google maps gives absolutely no feedback as to when you have done something wrong. I know the whole nagging satnav going “Make a U-Turn. Make a U-Turn. Make a- *urk* (noise as satnav is thrown out window)” has a bad reputation, but there’s a happy medium: When you do something Google maps does not expect, it should say something along the lines of “You missed a turn, I’m going to try to turn you around” or “You missed a turn, finding a new route”.

Fun instances where it was very useful to have a second person in the car yesterday:

  1. When Google maps took me 30 miles up the wrong motorway before eventually turning me around.
  2. When Google maps was very upset that I didn’t drive through the traffic cones blocking the route it wanted me to take and insistently tried to turn me around for another go.

Feedback that I had done the wrong thing would have been very helpful on the first, because I would have spent a lot of time confused without it. Feedback on the second that it was taking me around for another pass would also have been very helpful. I would have probably ignored its instructions even without Luke to assist me, but I would have felt much less certain about it.

Anyway, those is the main sources of paranoia. Lets talk about the other moderately important feature: Not dying and/or killing people.

This is a very simple issue: Google maps literally never gives you enough advance warning. This is especially true in the following two cases:

Giving this sort of last minute instruction is deeply unsafe, and needs to stop.

On top of that there’s all sorts of data problems and things where Google maps just clearly doesn’t understand UK roads, but I don’t realistically expect those to be fixed, especially with the UK dooming itself to irrelevance next year and the only Google UK presence being in a city where you already have to embrace paranoia and risk loss of life and limb to drive in anyway, so I won’t bother venting about those now.

In the meantime, I’m serious about that desire for recommendations of less murdery navigation apps. Please?