Understanding Wayfinding in India
Photo by Anil Jadhav
Google announced on its official blog today an interesting revamp of the textual directions given by Google Maps India. Until now, GMaps has delivered dry, technical, and for some people, unhelpful turn-by-turn directions, simply instructing the travel to turn right or left after a certain distance, and/or at a certain road. This is okay if you are a surveyor armed with technical equipment, or have named roads to go by.
However, Google UX designers took a closer look at the needs and operating environment of Indian users and realized they were dealing with many situations where formal road names weren't available, or where users may have literacy issues or very different wayfinding habits. Landmarks, they discovered, play a critical role in orienting the traveler, and may be a more recognizable marker that indicates a turning point or correct progress--a gas pump , a seed store, a kiosk all may be better known markers of direction and distance than a formal road name (which may not be locally recognized) or distance traveled. The result is that Google has made these subtle but important changes to their text directions. It may also present a future opportunity to build a better database of locally important businesses and information nodes as it complies these marker points.
This change echoes research carried out by others around mobile and other computing or communications interfaces in markets where different modes of social communication--and levels of literacy--exist. It will be interesting to see if and how Google applies these learnings in analogous environments, and if it is applied at all in more advanced markets.