Redesigning Maps: Google details the app’s evolution

google maps evolution explained screen shot 2014 06 26 at 6 31 12 pm

Google Maps is one of Google’s biggest, most interesting projects. Google is regularly making changes to Maps, and the product that users see today is vastly different to the one rolled out eight years ago. During its “Redesigning Google Maps” session at Google I/O 2014, designers Jonah Jones and Annette Leong detailed the journey to the current version of Google Maps and what is coming in the future.

Google Maps initially launched in 2005, and recently underwent the product’s biggest re-design, which Google announced last year. The changes and overhauled design rolled out slowly and are now the default Google Maps experience. Google Maps is now “dynamic and full screen” and “adapts to every click.” It is also more streamlined and simpler for the average Joe to use.

Maps had begun to become cluttered and was in need of a redesign to make it possible for users to easily access all of the information contained within the app. The app’s design team realized that it needed to make some changes to help users make the most of Maps.

“The best design, people won’t even notice it. It will work and get out of the way,” Jones said.

“We felt the existing mapping products were basically taking an old, scanned map” and adding pins and a search bar. Addressing this was part of the first of three lessons that Google Maps lead designer Jonah Jones took from the project: “Think big.”

The second lesson Jones focused on was “question everything.” As an example, Jones walked through the visual changes from the original Google Maps to how it appears today. That process consisted of questioning why things were done another way before and figuring out how to make it better. Google took inspiration from how a person might draw a map “on the back of a napkin,” only showing the important landmarks rather than showing all of the possible information. This is visible in the new Google Maps, which highlights important roads and blends less relevant paths into the background. That way, users don’t suffer from information overload and simply see what they need to see.

“The best design, people won’t even notice it. It will work and get out of the way,” Jones said.

Additionally, the search bar has been improved. Previously, the search results not only yielded less-than-relevant results on the map, but also displayed the information twice: once in a side bar and once with the pin on the location. Annette Leong walked through some of the previous design iterations before they landed on the current design, with the results displayed below the search bar and easy to hide so as to not take up extra space on the map. That way, users can read the map more easily.

The final lesson explored during the “Redesigning Google Maps” session was “listen to users.” This applied directly to the speed of Google Maps, which users often complained about. While the new Google Maps performed faster than previous iterations, people with older computers found that the burden of the new Google Maps took too long to load. The solution to the problem was to load the maps tiles first, so as to improve the perceived speed and allow users to access the information they want.

Google also found that people weren’t using Google Street View the way they wanted to. Most people didn’t navigate using the system, actually moving around on the street. A simple change in the cursor that appears on Street View increased Street View usage by three times its previous usage rate. Leong also detailed the plight of “Pegman,” the small, yellow stick figure that can be planted on the map to activate Street View. Google took it away briefly, but received enough user requests to bring him back, and he is currently still available in the new Google Maps platform.

Google’s designers left the audience with the takeaway of the three lessons of design and encouraged the developers within the audience to take the advice of their overhaul of a product designed for a billion users and apply it to their own projects.

Mobile

You can now listen to Google Podcasts on your desktop without the app

The Google Podcasts app is no longer entirely necessary to listen to the podcasts it offers. With a simple tweak of the sharing URL, you can listen to a Google Podcasts podcast on your desktop or laptop without the app.
Mobile

Google Fi: Phones, plans, pricing, perks, and more explained

Google's wireless service, formerly Project Fi, now goes by the name of Google Fi, and it's now compatible with a majority of Android phones, as well as iPhones. Here's everything you need to know about Google Fi.
Social Media

Your Google+ public content will remain viewable on the web, if you want it to

Google's failed social network — Google+ — will soon be wiped from the internet, but there's a team of volunteers working right now to save its public content for the Internet Archive.
Gaming

Nintendo Switch controllers will soon be compatible with Google Chrome

Nintendo Switch controllers will soon be supported by Google Chrome, according to a new commit spotted by 9to5Google. The code is likely related to Google's Project Stream game streaming service.
Social Media

A Facebook, Instagram bug exposed millions of passwords to its employees

Facebook, Facebook Lite, and Instagram passwords weren't properly encrypted and could be viewed by employees, the company said Thursday. The network estimates millions of users were affected.
Mobile

Diesel’s denim-inspired smartwatch straps are a casual, colorful must-own

Diesel will release two new versions of the On Full Guard 2.5 smartwatch later this year, with seriously cool, denim-inspired straps in classic Diesel colors. We tried them on at the Baselworld 2019 show.
Movies & TV

Apple’s next big event is set for March 25: Here’s what you can expect

Apple's next big event takes place on March 25 in Cupertino, California. The company is expected to make several announcements related to its services, including Apple TV, so follow our guide to get ready for the big event.
Wearables

Tips and tricks to get you started with your new Fitbit Inspire HR

The Inspire HR may be an entry-level fitness tracker in Fitbit's lineup, but the device still has plenty of features to explore. These are our favorite tips and tricks to help you use the Inspire HR to its fullest potential.
Mobile

How three simple words could be the difference between life and death

What3Words’ app-based address system gives a three-word code to every three-meter-square patch on the planet, with its accuracy and ease of use now catching the attention of first responders in the U.K.
Mobile

The Moto G7 Power, with its massive battery, is now available for purchase

After a number of leaks and rumors, the Motorola Moto G7, Moto G7 Play, and Moto G7 Power are finally here. The devices represent quite a spec bump over the previous-generation Moto G6 phones, yet still come at a reasonable price.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

We're glad to see that USB-C is quickly becoming the norm. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone. We've got USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB-A.
Computing

Get ready to say goodbye to some IFTTT support in Gmail by March 31

If This Then That, the popular automation service, will drop some of its support for Gmail by March 31. The decision comes as a response to security concerns and is aimed to protect user data.
Mobile

5G's arrival is transforming tech. Here's everything you need to know to keep up

It has been years in the making, but 5G is finally becoming a reality. While 5G coverage is still extremely limited, expect to see it expand in 2019. Not sure what 5G even is? Here's everything you need to know.
Mobile

This is the easiest way to save your iPhone data to your computer

Living in fear of losing your contacts, photos, messages, and notes on your iPhone? Fear no more -- in this guide, we'll break down exactly how to back up your iPhone to your computer using Apple's iTunes or to the cloud with iCloud.