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. AccessMap is also continuously working to better understand our users and their needs.
We realized that there are a number of complex problems our users face.
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.
The original user interface lacked essential features and had a series of 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.
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.
Our team was flexible and always ready to tackle tasks beyond our original expectations.
We regularly created plans for the progress we wanted to make in order to pinpoint what we were trying to accomplish. We often had to steer off course, dealing with more pressing issues. When it was outside of our control, we also had to wait for other issues to resolve before being able to continue certain work. While waiting on the submission and approval of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the AccessMap research study, we took on a number of other UX related tasks and continued to iterate on our designs. We also worked closely with the developer to get some of our design implemented for the upcoming beta version.
We landed on several design principles that helped inform our design decisions.
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 our work that we had done up until that point. It got a really positive response. The research plan we wrote out is currently being conducted both to better understand general pedestrian mobility as well as testing the usability and accuracy of our design. For the Summer 2018 Special Olympics we assisted the developer in a getting basic AccessMap navigation app for the visitors and competitors in the games. We also worked closely with the developer for the upcoming AccessMap beta version for both the desktop and mobile version. The team continues to lead efforts in street data collection so more preferences will be available for users.