case study

Mobile Mapping Use Research

Project overview

During my graduate “Testing and Assessment Programs” course, we were given the opportunity to work with a big-name corporation on a real-world project.

My group’s client was in the process of developing a mobile mapping application and wanted to get a feel for how people were using Google’s “My Places” functionality for saving and sharing Google maps.

However, they also wanted to learn broader behaviors and attitudes related to saving and sharing location information, including how people find places they’ve never been, and how they communicate location information when meeting up with friends somewhere that aren’t already familiar to everyone.

They hoped that this more general information would lead to insights that they could use when offering a new mobile mapping application to their targeted audience: young, urban users.

To get at these broader answers, we made sure to always explore broad questions first, before narrowing down to Google-specific topics.


Rather than doing a standard screener, where each and every question helped narrow the field of potential usability testing candidates, I put together a more informational survey to dive into these larger questions, with specific questions that we used to choose our candidates.

Expert review

We were required to do an expert/heuristic review for the course, but without an actual product that had a client expecting feedback, I needed to be creative about how to fulfill this requirement, while still providing valuable insight to the client.

The approach I took for my individual review was to evaluate the competing product (Google Maps My Places) by taking on the role of our client company’s target market, and identifying what inspirations could be derived, as well as where the opportunities to do things better were.

Usability testing

During the testing, we broke our tasks down into 3 categories, getting more granular with our instructions during each task.

The first batch we gave people tasks to find locations but gave no guidance on how they should do so. The presence of a computer in the testing room might have biased some to use the internet, but they did also have their phones with them, and some chose to use the mobile device instead.

The second batch of location-finding tasks indicated that people should start out using Google Maps to find places, but gave the users the freedom about how they chose to share and save locations for later use.

The third set of tasks had people use Google Maps to find locations, but also prompted them to use the Google Maps My Places functionality for saving and sharing.

This approach not only revealed the places where Google Maps My Places was leaving the door wide open for a competitor but also showed us the standard workflows that user had developed on their own.


Similarly to the approach for the Expert Review, our presentation with our survey and testing results presented general user attitudes, things Google was doing well – inspirations, and things that Google wasn’t doing as well – opportunities for our client to differentiate by doing it better.

Tools & methods:

  • Survey
  • Participant recruiting
  • Survey analysis
  • Expert review
  • Usability test script
  • Moderated testing
  • Findings report and recommendations

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