According to a former UX Design Lead at Google Maps, Elizabeth Laraki, Google Maps faced a challenge in India due to the lack of street names. In 2008, when Google Maps launched in India, turn-by-turn directions were unusable as some streets didn’t have names. They discovered that many communities in India rely on landmarks instead of street names for navigating. So, they adapted the product to use landmarks as a reference point for navigation. This approach has stood the test of time and helped Google Maps become the dominant navigational product in India.
The team found a solution that would focus on landmarks but also subtly include road names when available. The team flew to India to do some ground field research. Two of the tea members found that people used landmarks to navigate in a few key ways:
Orientation: “Head towards the water”; Description of a turn: “Turn just past the big bazaar”; Confirmation of the right path: “You’ll see a petrol station on the right”; Error correction: “If you get to the roundabout, you’ve gone too far.”
“Landmarks that were used for navigating included parks, monuments, shopping centers, notable buildings, stores, petrol stations, roundabouts, etc.
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