A good landmark always stands out

A good landmark always stands out

Google launches Google Maps India, and now gives directions like a local:

We knew from previous studies in several countries that most people rely on landmarks — visual cues along the way — for successful navigation. But we needed to understand how people use those visual cues, and what makes a good landmark, in order to make our instructions more human and improve route descriptions. To get answers to these questions, we ran a user research study that focused specifically on how people give and get directions. We called businesses and asked how to get to their store; we recruited people to keep track of directions they gave or received and later interviewed them about their experiences; we asked people to draw us diagrams of routes to places unfamiliar to us; we even followed people around as they tried to find their way.

Why is using landmarks better?

We found that using landmarks in directions helps for two simple reasons: they are easier to see than street signs and they are easier to remember than street names. Spotting a pink building on a corner or remembering to turn after a gas station is much easier than trying to recall an unfamiliar street name. Sometimes there are simply too many signs to look at, and the street sign drowns in the visual noise. A good landmark always stands out.

Growing up, I would like to tell people to turn right at the corner with the house that “looked like a castle,” not Adams Avenue. Admittedly, I just liked using “castle,” really. When I moved to Japan later on, I was baffled to find that streets didn’t have names and blocks had numbers. One had to retrieve directions via a combination of landmarks and public transportation stations with confidence (and a bit of body language).