New Jersey, the country’s most densely populated state, can be a difficult place to get around. There are times where drivers do not know the exact address or need to locate alternate roads. Driving with printed directions can become confusing – especially if they are directing the driver to go southwest instead of right or left. With these challenges in mind, this document outlines sites that can be used to find the best and the fastest way to get to a destination, focusing on comparing these websites based upon functionality.
A correctly created web page, which is designed to provide maps, should invite the viewer and provide attractive and practical visual effects and precise directions. The elements that the designer should consider are: color, space and arrangement. That is one side of the story. Some web pages could be just pretty to attract users, others need to provide the functionality and information that users would like to find. The viewer with different technical and education levels should be able to find all information easily. As an example six web sites that provide driving directions and maps will be compared: www.mapquest.com, maps.google.com, maps.yahoo.com, www.AAA.com, maps.live.com and www.maps.com. This document will compare the best one and the worst one and then describe the positive and negative sides of the rest. The same audience is interested in these sites: people that are looking for precise driving directions. All the websites have similar purposes: to provide driving directions and maps. Their designs is similar: pastel color palette, company logo, menus and tabs to direct users to the right place, yet users will choose one not the other. In this example the reason why one web site is chosen is not because aesthetically appealing but because it always provides accurate and fast directions to where users want to go. The figures below show the first two websites that I will review: www.mapquest.com and www.maps.com.
Figure1: Image taken from www.maps.com
Figure2: Image taken from www.mapquest.com
All of them are information-rich and present a variety of topographical topics. Interactive communication is encouraged through various features, such as text hyperlinks, buttons, and colorful graphics. One of the web pages, www.mapquest.com, has much better design, organization and purpose.
Www.mapquest.com is designed to provide general maps, driving directions, mobile products and gas prices. The organization of the web page is simple but effective. The home page is divided into four parts: advertisements, “MapQuest” tools, search engine and “Useful Links”. Colors are coordinated and not overused. The viewer can locate navigation buttons quite easily. They are located in the same level as the viewer’s eyes. They provide links to more specific topics: maps, driving directions, mobile products and gas prices. Page size fits the screen, which allows the viewer to see all of the information at once. It is possible to save the last three of the recent driving destination searches are saved. After the viewer enters the destination address a detailed map appears on the screen. This detailed map provides zooming capabilities.
Figure3: Image taken from www.mapquest.com
By clicking on the map one can magnify the selected region. It takes just a few seconds to download the zoomed portion of the map. Additionally the viewer can click on the arrow, located in four directions on the side of the map, and move North, South, West and East of the previous destination. Moving in all directions is very easy and fast.
No ads pop up while changing the zoom of the map. Additionally an aerial photo is provided. The graphics and colors are consistent and attractive. Navigation is very easy on this web site. The arrangements of all icons are appealing and esthetic. The most important information appears at the top of the page, which allows for easy navigation. The text size varies according to the importance of the information. The instructions on how to get to the viewer’s house from other location is more detailed than in www.maps.com. There is an option to choose from “text” directions to step by step “graphical” directions. Notice below how easy is to see where you need to go by looking at the signs that are located on the left side.
Figure 4: Image taken from www.mapquest.com
Additionally this web site allows printing, e-mailing, sending to cell phones, and reversing directions. You can print your directions in shortest time, shortest distance, avoid highways, avoid tolls and avoid seasonally closed roads. This web page is not cluttered and the information is easy to find.
The second web page, www.maps.com is just as informative as MapQuest. It provides tabs that the viewer can use to access different web pages and more specific information. This web page provides more information for an additional fee of $59.95 per year. Looking for information on this web site is very frustrating. When the viewer clicks on some of the hyperlinks he is asked to enter a password.
Figure 5: Image taken from www.maps.com
The web page is not divided into general use and subscriber access. The viewer often wastes his or her time by clicking and waiting for pages to download, only to find out that content is restricted to subscribers. The web site is full of information, but most of it is advertising or options to buy maps.
Figure 6: Image taken from www.maps.com
Something like the below figures demonstrate the difference between these two web pages. Travelers who need driving directions will find that it is easier to use www.mapquest.com because the printed directions use graphics and text to show the route to be taken. Driving directions obtained from www.maps.com are not as user-friendly and require a person to read them while he or she is driving which could easily lead to a car accident.
Figure 8: Image taken from www.maps.com
Figure 7: Image taken from www.mapquest.com
Additionally by clicking on the map one cannot magnify the selected region. This web site does not use buttons as navigation tools, only text hyperlinks. Using buttons is more appealing to our eyes and easier to use for some people.
The next two website I liked because of the unique functionality they provide. Maps.google.com allows us to view the streets as we are driving. User can see the street signs and buildings that are located on both of the street, which allows recognizing the location later when he or she is driving.
Figure 9: Image taken from maps.google.com
The website is very simple. No advertisement, extra tools. It is designed to take you where you want to go. An additional unique function that this web site provides is the ability to use Google Maps on your phone. These two functions are very powerful and will attract users to use this website. The searching tool is simplified. You can enter in one line start and end location by using: “from:” and “to:”. Again this feature makes this website unique. User who wants to print the directions will get fast and accurate results using this website. Web site would benefit from more tools to customize directions.
Www.AAA.com is a unique website because of the variety of information that it provides to AAA subscribers and at the same time simplicity.
Figure 10: Image taken from www.aaa.com
You can just go straight to get driving directions or browse through very interesting topics and tools. This website is the most informative. It is organized very simply and efficiently. Website offers TripTik® Travel Planner, Trailer/RV Travel Tips, Drive Tips, and Tour Book etc…
Figure 11: Image taken from www.aaa.com
Maps.live.com and maps.yahoo.com have nothing interesting to offer to the users and the directions are again just plain text on both of them.
Figure 12: Image taken from www.live.com
Figure 13: Image taken from www.maps.yahoo.com
The navigation features are not effectively used. The web sites are boring and don’t have any unique tools that will make users want to choose them. They are functional but not attractive and inviting. These two websites will benefit from some unique tools that will differentiate them from other websites.
After reviewing these six web sites it is apparent how important proper design is to the web page. By providing the appropriate tools, a designer can make browsing through web pages very pleasurable or a horrible experience. Any one who visits the www.mapquest.com web site will want to come back to use it to find driving directions, or look for maps. On the other hand, www.maps.com can only frustrate the viewer and discourage him or her from using it. The driving directions web sites have to emphasize functionality and tools that are unique and will invite users. Users who can virtually experience traveling from start to finish and experience the surroundings will be very grateful and always use web site that provide these functionalities. Users welcome tools that allow him or her to calculate the trip, compare gas prices, etc…
Vest, J. Crowson, W. Pochran, S. Exploring Web Design. Thomson Delmar Learning, 2005)