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We talked to Gianpaolo Tucci and Martin Jordan, Visual & UX designers from the HERE web team, who’ve been working on the new version of the site, and asked them what’s new.
“When you open the site, you land at your current location on the map,” says Gianpaolo, “and as well as the normal search box, there’s a ‘hero area’ with contextual information, the time and weather conditions, for the location you’re looking at. In the background of this contextual area is a picture from the location, which changes according to the weather.”
But the major change is that the ability to explore an area has been brought front and centre.
“When people use a map, they typically either want to find a new place or find a route to get somewhere specific,” says Gianpaolo.
Those two core actions now have equal status and sit on the same screen, rather than requiring people to move to a different tab to explore, as on the old design.
On the bottom of the contextual area are different categories of places you might be looking for: ‘Eat and drink’, ‘Going out’, ‘Sights and museums’ and ‘Leisure and outdoor.’ Two further choices – ‘Accommodation’ and ‘Facilities’ are tucked inside the dropdown menu.
Clicking on one of these options opens up the card with suggestions of places to go. The map also changes to show these places with icons. The map changing automatically in response to your actions is one of the major benefits of the new design.
From here you can click on any of the places to go deeper and reveal details, get directions, see photos and read reviews. Again, it’s striking that everything takes place on the same screen – you aren’t moving to a different page or a new part of the site when you click on items.
This new prominence for discovering places is aimed at helping people to get more out of our maps, and uncover the value they can offer.
It also anticipates new developments that are coming in the future. In May, HERE acquired technology and personnel from Desti, which is all about intelligent, personalised recommendations. With that technology plugged in, one day, the locations shown won’t just be places other people have recommended: they’ll be places that you’ll probably like, based on your own previous decisions.
The model of changing the map to match your actions also underlies the direction-finding mechanism. If you ask for driving directions, then the map automatically switches to traffic view to show the level of congestion along your route. Different options to get to your destination are shown, but the best is highlighted, based on current traffic conditions.
“What’s shown changes according to the context,” says Martin. “We aim to surface the right map for the right time.” The map doesn’t show traffic conditions until you ask for a route i.e. until the point that they become relevant. If you ask, instead, for walking directions, then the traffic information disappears again.
When we talked to HERE future maps design chief Markus Ort in May, he told us, “A map should focus on the essentials of the moment,” and this new version of here.com is a step in the direction of that vision.
From this point, you can get detailed directions, or you can switch transport mode to take public transit or get walking directions. You can also alter the arrival or departure time, and the route will adjust itself to better suit the likely conditions at that time. For example, the most direct route might be very slow during the day, and best avoided, but really fast at night, when the traffic has died down.
The beta version isn’t the finished product – it’s a way to test what’s been made so far with a much larger group of people and to see what needs further work. “We’ve been testing it with individuals and groups in our usability labs since January,” says Martin, “But there comes a point where you need large numbers of people to use it to be able to see whether it works well.”
Excluded from the first version of the beta are Collections. "They need more crafting to fit in correctly," says Gianpaolo. So don't worry - they haven't been deleted or abandoned - and they'll be available soon. (Update: now Collections are available on beta.here.com too). Other new features will be added and refinements made over the course of the beta, so do check back regularly over coming weeks to see how the work is progressing.
A final, important part of the beta programme is to gather feedback from you, its users, and to plan more changes – in this version or the next – to respond to that. There’s a prominent ‘feedback’ button on the lower right of the screen.
“Some people wanted to make the button more discreet,” says Gianpaolo, with a laugh. “But I said ‘no – the feedback is absolutely essential’. In fact, we’ve taken on a new person who will work to collate the feedback and scores and present it to us at regular meetings.”
“In our studio, there are these large screens on the walls,” adds Martin. “And when someone types in some feedback, it comes flashing up on those screens. That’s actually really good for the developers’ and designers’ motivation.”
Especially if you’re planning to use HERE on your Samsung Galaxy smartphone, register for the beta and let us know what you think. But more importantly, let the web team know your thoughts by using that feedback button!
[Update] The Android app is out now and available for download through the built-in Samsung App Store on compatible devices. Read more about getting started here.