Applying Equality and Equity-Based Design Principles to Improve UX in Google Apps: A UX Case Study.

Google is a major player in defining human-machine interface standards, with products built upon these standards. However, there are times when their products fall short of meeting user needs.

Equality and equity-based design principles –

At the core of achieving an intuitive user experience is placing the user at the center of application design. There is a slight difference between approaching and implementing equality and equity-based design principles.

Equality-based design involves creating a single design that caters to everyone. In this approach, the application is designed once with consideration for all users, regardless of their individual needs or characteristics. The goal is to create a design that is accessible and usable by all, without requiring any modifications or accommodations. The focus is on creating a universal design that is functional, practical, and straightforward.

The equity-based design employs tailored designs to address individual groups, accommodating everyone’s needs. This approach involves creating slightly different designs wherever applicable to cater to different groups of users. The goal is to address the unique needs and characteristics of each group, making the application more accessible and user-friendly for all. The focus is on creating a design that is equitable, inclusive, and respectful of diversity.

In summary, the equality-based design focuses on creating a universal design that caters to all, while equity-based design aims to address the individual needs and characteristics of different groups of users. Both approaches aim to promote inclusivity and accessibility, but they differ in their strategies for achieving this goal.

The purpose of equality and equity-based design is the same with the latter being an industry-standard in recent times.

While Google emphasizes equity-based design principles in its digital products, hardware devices, and stores, there is still room for improvement in its apps. As a Google user, I believe more UX improvements could be made in future releases, making me question whether equality or equity-based design should be the standard.

Here are some apps I noticed could benefit from UX improvements:

1. Nest/Home – If you’re a Google enthusiast and enjoy using smart home technology, you may have used the Google Nest/Home app. While the individual app experiences may seem satisfactory, Google needs to take the lead in merging the two apps to provide a seamless user experience. One common UX problem I recently encountered was selecting the appropriate WiFi band for smart devices. Some devices work on the 2.4 GHz band, while others operate on 5 GHz. The app was not intuitive enough to guide me through the process, and it seemed as though the personas considered during the design thinking and research assumed users had extensive knowledge of WiFi bandwidths.

What I didn't like about the existing UX?
1. 2 apps for the same functionality
2. Broken journey mapping
3. No intuitive user discovery or learning screens

Here are possible solutions:

When a user is setting up a new device, the app could ask them which WiFi band they prefer. The app could then show a list of devices that are compatible with that band. If the user is not sure which band is best, the app could provide more information about the bands and how they work.

The app could also make it easy for users to switch between WiFi bands. For example, the app could have a button that allows users to switch between the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
Possible experiences for Home/Nest App

2. Play store – It is a marketplace for both app producers and consumers, providing users with a platform to discover and download apps, as well as share feedback. While there are general guidelines for leaving reviews on the Play Store, app developers have no way to address users’ concerns unless they publicly reveal their identity. To enhance the feedback process and enable secure communication between users and developers, the Play Store could offer an optional form that app developers can include when publishing their apps. This would allow users to provide feedback or report issues while keeping their identity confidential.

While there are other ways for developers to address user concerns, many enterprises struggle with identifying users and resolving issues through the existing public review system. By providing an optional form, developers can access the details securely provided by users and work on addressing concerns on time. Overall, this enhancement to the Play Store feedback system would improve the user experience and help developers to better understand and address their users’ needs.

What I didn't like about the existing UX?
1. No way for the user to reach out to the app developer apart from emailing the developer
2. For a platform as old as 15 years, it is surprising that there is a lack of secured channel interaction between consumer and producer

Here are some possible solutions for the Play Store feedback issue:

Google could allow app developers to add a contact form to their app's listing on the Play Store. This would allow users to send feedback directly to the developer.

Google could create a separate feedback system for app developers. This would allow developers to respond to feedback without having to worry about it being publicly visible.

Google could allow developers to respond to feedback through a private messaging system. This would allow developers to communicate with users directly without having to worry about their conversation being made public.
Possible experiences for Play store reviews App

3. Bard – Generative AI has become a trendy term in the technology industry, and many applications are already leveraging generative AI models provided through APIs. OpenAI’s ChatGPT has established the standard for user experience when interacting with generative AI. The conversational text view in ChatGPT offers a realistic conversational experience by typing characters sequentially in a visual context, making it feel like an actual conversation with an AI. Google’s Bard is a similar generative AI tool, but in its early stages, it still resembles searching on Google rather than generating responses. The absence of a simple visual conversational view detracts from Bard’s status as a generative AI tool.

What I didn't like about the existing UX?
1. A new tab view to see the bard activity/history. Also, currently, no way to see the previously generated responses
2. Lack of a super intuitive prompt design with a conversation view

Here is a possible solution:

Bard could improve its user experience by presenting its results more visually. One way to do this would be to create a conversation view, where users can see their questions and Bard's responses side-by-side. This would make it easier for users to follow the conversation and understand Bard's responses.
Possible experiences for Bard App

4. Photos – It is one of the most popular photo storage and sharing applications, with billions of photos and videos being uploaded every day. Despite its success, some users may find it challenging to navigate the cloud storage features of the app. To improve the user experience, it would be useful to add features such as the ability to easily differentiate between photos stored locally and those stored in the cloud, as well as the ability to select and take action on multiple photos at once. Additionally, users should be able to see which albums are taking up the most space in their cloud storage and filter them by storage usage. The improvements made to the Photos app since its launch has been remarkable, but continued enhancements can make it even more user-friendly.

What I didn't like about the existing UX?
1. No intuitive way for the user to know the difference between on device vs cloud-stored photos
2. No way to select all photos
3. No way to filter albums based on the storage utilized in the cloud storage

Here are some specific solutions:

Local and cloud storage: Google Photos could show a small icon next to each photo to indicate whether it is stored locally or in the cloud. This would make it easy for users to quickly see which photos are where.

Selecting multiple photos: Google Photos could add a "Select All" button to the top of the screen. This would make it easy for users to select all photos in a folder or album.

Filtering albums by storage usage: Google Photos could allow users to filter albums by storage usage. This would allow users to find albums that are taking up a lot of space and delete them, or to find albums that are not taking up much space and move them to a different storage location.
Possible experiences for Photos App

5. Calendar – Two major issues that users face with the current user experience (UX) are the absence of a yearly calendar view and difficulty in navigating between years. A yearly calendar view provides a quick overview of the entire year, enabling users to plan their activities accordingly. Navigating through each month individually without this feature can be time-consuming and cumbersome. Additionally, the inability to efficiently navigate between years is another UX problem. The app may not meet users’ needs as they plan for future events or appointments without an easy way to do so. Implementing a more straightforward way to navigate between years, such as a drop-down menu or a swipe gesture, would significantly enhance the overall user experience and improve the app’s user-friendliness.

What I didn't like about the existing UX?
1. No yearly calendar view in the app
2. No way to navigate between years easily apart from navigating through months every year

Here are some specific solutions to the calendar problems:

Yearly calendar view: Google Calendar could add a yearly calendar view to the app. This would allow users to quickly see the entire year at a glance and plan their activities accordingly.

Navigation between years: Google Calendar could make it easier to navigate between years. One way to do this would be to add a drop-down menu that allows users to select different years. Another way to do this would be to add a swipe gesture that allows users to swipe between years.
Possible experiences for Calendar App

Share your experience on improving the UX of the most common applications we use in our day-to-day life.

Happy learning!

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