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How To Humanize Google Maps

Innovation needs human inspiration.

By Gustavo Razzetti

March 22, 2015

I still remember the first time I used Google Maps. I had just moved to New York and the iPhone didn’t exist yet. For a guy like me, who was struggling with East-West cardinal directions, it was the best thing that could have ever happened.

Fast forward to today. I’ve experienced many Google Maps iterations, yet I believe that it falls short from its true potential. It still feels like a tool, an improved GPS. As a practitioner of Human-Centered Design, I can’t help but wonder how might GM provide a more human experience.

Five Human Thought Starters

  1. Punctuality: Google Maps has helped me become more punctual. Yet, talking to others, I noticed we all have the same problem. As opposed to a car GPS, you check GM before you get in the car (for example, when having breakfast). Calculating travel time from one direction to the other is not enough. GM could take into account that “extra” time, either by calculating it or by pushing us into action so we can always make it on time.
  2. Parking: Finding parking space, parking your car and walking to your final destination takes extra time. Shouldn’t that be counted when you’re planning to leave? Even better, how might GM help me find and reserve a parking space before I even start driving? Connecting with parking apps (ParkWhiz, ParkNow, etc.) could create a seamless experience.
  3. Smart choices: As an avid biker, I use GM a lot. It’s added an extra layer of fun. Yet, talking to many commuters, I realized that they don’t just drive or just bike or just take public transportation. How might Google Maps combine different means of transportation to offer you the most time-effective option depending on your needs? Or how might it let you know when it’s cheaper to park farther away and then take UBER to your final destination? In cities like SF and NYC, where both driving and parking can sometimes be challenging, it can save you both time and money.
  4. Customizing information: We’re all human but we’re not all alike. Allowing users to provide some simple information could make the experience more relevant. If you’re like me, who always finds one last-minute thing to do before leaving the house, how might Google Maps help you leave on time? If you are more of a money-conscious commuter, it could give you the best transportation option for your buck.
  5. Social maps: When you’re traveling or looking for a place, it’s usually for an experience that you’ll be sharing with someone else. When you are out of town and want to meet a friend for lunch, both of you need to look for a convenient restaurant and both of you have to figure out how to get there. Or sometimes you’re at the agreed-upon location and want to see if your colleagues will be arriving soon. How might Google Maps create collaborative experiences that will consider the interests of all parties, not just yours? Knowing how close your date is from where you are, without having to bug them with text messages, seems pretty cool to me.

Google has probably figured this all out already. Either way, I love to do this kind of exercise and start a conversation with my colleagues. It’s always a good reminder that we are in the business of solving problems for people.

What do you think?

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