In addition to documenting my passion project, I’ve decided to keep a blog that documents interfaces I come across. I plan on detailing what I like about them, what I don’t like about them, and how I think they could be improved. I’ve decided to start with the Waze iOS app.
I’m not a frequent user of the Waze app, but as I am someone who is easily stressed while driving, clarity of alerts is important to me. The speed limit/driver’s current speed is a nice feature that includes visual and auditory alerts if the user desires, but I think it lacks context. In a stressful situation, a random phone chime or number on the screen might not immediately compute to a speed limit warning. Therefore, I propose adding the words “speed limit” next to the speed limit number, and instead of a chime, the app could inform the user what the speed limit actually is.
As someone who does not enjoy driving, the navigational user experience is something that has always been near and dear to my heart.
The feature that I want to discuss is the speed limit/driver’s current speed visual.
Let me set up how I first noticed this feature. When I took the screenshot, I was navigating from the back seat while my mother drove, and we were taking a detour to a scenic overlook on a long ride home. I pointed out that the speed limit was 30 in case she was not aware in this unfamiliar territory, to which she tersely replied, “I know, I happen to be going down a hill right now, ok? Geez.” (Proving once again that no one likes a backseat driver.)
For a use case such as mine, where the driver is not the one actively using the navigation, I wasn’t sure how helpful this feature could be. I reasoned that a driver would most likely not often see this feature or pay attention to it, unless they are often looking at their phone screen rather than mainly relying on the voice navigation. I could see this being easier to do if the user had one of those accessories that clips the phone to their dash, which is something I’ve so far only encountered in ride-share situations. I also hypothesize that most drivers are not frequently glancing at their phone navigation screen to check their speed/the road speed limit, as I feel most people use their speedometer and watch for road signs. I feel that one of the main benefits of a navigation app is the fact that it can voice directions, so that you do not have to look at your phone. If I was going to make a serious project out of this exercise, I would want to conduct a survey or do additional research into how people use their navigation apps, to see if my assumptions are correct.
To me, it seemed like it would be more useful to a navigation passenger such as myself, rather than the driver. Part of my confusion and reasoning stemmed from my experience driving (I leave my phone on the passenger seat while I drive), and the fact that I wasn’t a frequent user of the app. So, I decided to do some research into Waze's original design.
Feature Pros and Cons
I learned a few things about how you can customize this feature once I looked into it in more detail, and I really like a lot of the customization. I think it’s great that Waze added speed limit number ranges rather than just percentages when you want to be alerted about speeding. The percentages didn’t make sense to me, as it seemed to compute to arbitrary speed increments when I did the math, but maybe it makes more sense in the metric system…? I also like that Waze will alert you by sound when you are going over the speed limit, and that you can hear a preview of that sound alert in Settings.
However, I disagree with the type of sound it uses. A chime can be lost over the sound of music on the car stereo system or just the hum of the car on the road. Having the phone connected to the car speakers could help with this problem, but I’ve run into a couple problems even with this method. One is that the Bluetooth connection to the car can be spotty and often just stop working mid-drive, which is why I normally use my car’s outdated built-in navigation system. I know that it may not have the latest maps, but it will always direct me to my destination eventually.
The second problem with the chime is that it can be mistaken for some other type of alert, which is why I would suggest having Waze tell you the speed limit by voice as well as on the screen. Something as simple as “The speed limit here is 30 mph.”
The chime lacks context, and when you are performing an activity like driving that requires your full attention, clarity is of the utmost importance.
The same could be said for the visual alert when you’re speeding. Darkening the screen with a large speed limit number also lacks context. Let’s walk through a scenario. If you hear your phone chime, you look over and see something like ’30.’ It may take your brain some extra time to process that ‘30’ is associated with the speed limit, especially if you are in a stressful situation to begin with. This is usually the case for myself, as I only use navigation if I don’t know the area, which already stresses me out.
Therefore, I propose adding the label “speed limit” next to the large speed limit visual, to make the alert easier to process. After all, this is also the way that speed limit road signs are designed. When the screen is dark, I matched the speed limit text color to the speed limit border color, but made it a darker shade of red when the screen is lightened, to make it more legible.
This redesign may be less of a concern for frequent Waze users, and so I would need to conduct interviews with users to better judge that concern. However, I think there’s something to be said for designing for infrequent or first-time users as well, because it can often ensure simplicity.
It did not escape my notice that Waze has changed the look of the speed limit visual since they first launched the feature, and my design relates to the original look. While the colors have changed, I stand by the main idea of my design.
User XXSpeed on the Waze community forum also mentioned an idea about including another speed alert that would inform the user when they are going 10 miles or more under the speed limit, which they reasoned would be useful for semi-trucks and other vehicles that must travel at slower speeds. I agree that it could be nice to give users the option of having Waze alert them when they are going 10 or more under the speed limit. Their point about large trucks is a good one, but I would modify it a bit so that people that must obey a different speed limit would not have an alert going off constantly. I think that in a highway/freeway setting, it would be nice to have an “I’m driving a slow vehicle” option so that the user could take advantage of alternate speed limits.
Thanks for reading! If you have any feedback or suggestions for interfaces that I should take a look at, let me know either here or through my contact form