AccessMap is an online map routing service for those that have difficulty getting around. It provides routes and information to wheelchair users, cane users, and many others. It allows users to select pedestrian focused preferences in their routing that that have been overlooked on other platforms. This includes maximum incline grades, requiring of curb ramps in routing, and avoiding construction. Since it’s release, it’s helped hundreds of pedestrians get around the city of Seattle every month.
To better accommodate to our users, we have worked to provide more features while simultaneously improving the user experience of the service. We worked to incorporate additional preferences, onboarding, and account profiles. To make accessibility more accessible, we got started on the AccessMap mobile site. We also worked on creating the Incline Finder Tutorial, which you can learn more about here. By conducting research studies, AccessMap is also continuously working to better understand our users and their needs.
Because of the complexity of our users’ problems, we had a variety of ways of conducting research
Prior to joining the team, a survey was sent out to existing AccessMap users. To better understand the user-base, their needs, and the pain points of the existing version we analyzed the findings. Since accessibility and pedestrian preferences were not something we were familiar with, we also conducted secondary research and consulted Anat Caspi, the director of the The Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, who is also the lead on this project. Anat has years of knowledge within the topics that we were looking to learn more about.
We had to understand existing accessibility standards for wheelchair users. We also researched terrain types (a pedestrian preference feature that was requested) to get a better grasp on the kind of options we could provide once the sidewalk data has been collected. We also worked to better understand urban layout and landscape features through research studies. To the left are some other of the examples of the types of research we conducted.
The data we gathered helped inform our design.
Alex used the quantitative data to gather findings regarding which transportation methods our users use, the difficulties correlated with each method, and the pedestrian preferences correlated with each mode of transportation. I analyzed more qualitative data in survey responses to get identify more specific pain points of users. We used this information to better understand individual case-by-case scenarios and to construct personas for each user type.
The original user interface lacked essential features and had a series of pain points.
Despite being an incredibility useful tool, since the AccessMap version that was live is a minimum viable product, it was limited in features. It also did not have a strong design emphasis due to the nature of the project, with a primarily engineering and data-driven focus. From the survey, the qualitative data I focused on also helped me identify pain points in the AccessMap user experience. As a group, we also went through a process analysis of using the service to identify additional problems.
We explored many approaches to solving these problems.
After better understanding our users, we began to ask a series of questions regarding the parts of the experience that we hope to optimize. We then created general user flows of the existing AccessMap experience and identified where there were pain-points to address. As a group we each iterated on wireframes which we presented each time we met. We identified pros and cons and individually went back to address these issues.
Throughout the process, we consulted with the project lead/director (Anat Capsi) and the lead developer to identify whether our designs were feasible. There were many features that we believed could be beneficial, but we did not pursue them because they were not feasible due to lack of data, time, research, or enough people working on the design and development efforts. We focused on prioritizing features.
We worked on creating feasible solutions to the pain points.
To better accommodate AccessMap’s transition onto mobile and inclusion of additional features, we changed the underlying layout of the desktop platform. We also added a number of features, including an incline finder tool, which you can learn more about here. Tooltips also provide useful information regarding each preference. We added the option to save user profiles and made room for more pedestrian preferences. Within this, surface types will be one of the features that will be added to the site once enough data has been crowdsourced. All the high-fidelity mock-ups were created by me.
With limited screen real estate, we had to find a way to incorporate all features onto the mobile site.
Our goal was to ensure that users had access to all features while keeping the map accessible. We went through countless wireframes exploring the pros and cons of each. We wanted the UX to work for both the mobile website and the mobile app in the future so developers could get started even if there are no designers able to work on it on the spot. Since our design was flexible, some of our UX work was already incorporated into the AccessMap navigation app for the Summer 2018 Special Olympics held at the University of Washington.
Since the changes in preferences are live it is vital that the map is visible at all times.
The combination of the challenge of keeping abstraction to a minimum and making the map visible at all times proved complicated. We had to work to design the UI so that the transition from desktop to mobile made sense. It was vital that we keep in mind that some of our users have various disabilities—whether cognitive, physical, visual impairment. Because we emphasized the importance of designing with our user in mind, at the end there was a trade off that more steps are required to change certain preferences. Ultimately, we believe this was the right choice to make sure we can accommodate to as many as possible.
AccessMap will soon have the option to save multiple profiles.
Part of the reason we incorporated the option to save multiple profiles is the complex problem of weighing the cost and benefits between routes. Until more research is conducted to better understand this space, we give the control to the user. We give the option to save multiple profiles so the user can switch between them and decide themselves. Creating profiles also takes the burden off user from having to re-enter their preferences every time.
The account onboarding process is flexible and works with the user.
Account onboarding can be accessed different ways based on if the user already began the profile-creation process. A full onboarding will begin if the user has simply clicked the button to sign-up. On the other hand, if the user was entering his or her preferences and clicked “save profile,” it would go to a shorter version of the process. To accommodate for the regular changes in the AccessMap team, we kept the UI and UX simple to ensure that anybody would be able to pick this up and implement the design.
We landed on several design principles that helped inform our design decisions.
We landed on these design principles as we were working, gradually better understanding our priorities. We realized the importance of keeping our designs simple and feasible since much of the development work is implemented by students. We also kept in mind that our users range in ability varies (many have cognitive or physical disabilities), thus, our designs should avoid abstractions and focus on discoverability. We use familiar mental models, and where possible, use existing research to help inform our decisions.
Some design decisions that stemmed from these principles were already implemented in the upcoming AccessMap beta version. For example, Alex analyzed the text to speech function while I assessed the readability of the text.
Slowly, but surely the work we completed for AccessMap is making an impact.
During March 2018 we showcased the work that we had done up until that point. It got a really positive response. Since then, we finalized our work and began working with the lead developer, Nick Bolten.
For the Summer 2018 Special Olympics we assisted Nick in a getting basic AccessMap navigation app for the visitors and competitors in the games. We also worked closely with him on the upcoming AccessMap beta version for both the desktop and mobile version. The research plan we wrote out is also currently being conducted both to better understand general pedestrian mobility as well as testing the usability and accuracy of our design.
The AccessMap team as a whole continues to lead efforts in street data collection, programming, and data aggregation so more preferences will be available for users in the future. AccessMap is also working on expanding its efforts to other cities.