Assignment 2 Critique

1. Summary of 3 important points

The application that I will be critiquing is Google Trips as presented by Group 7.

Firstly, the group mentioned that one of the key selling points of Google Trips is the ability for users to access all important travel information (flight, hotels or rental car reservations) in one place. These information are also gathered automatically from the user’s Gmail account and organised into individual trips. However, they pointed out that one of the app’s downsides is its inability to detect reservations accurately from Gmail. I feel that this is a serious shortcoming because there is a flaw in one of its most essential features. If the automatic reservations detection does not work well, and one has to resort to adding the reservations manually, then one can also easily switch over to other travel planning apps.

The other key feature of Google Trips is that it allows users to plan day plans on an interactive map. The group said that the interactive map is laggy, thus reducing its usability. They also mentioned that the day plan planning screen is too cluttered ¬†with a large header bar, the interactive map and a side scrolling carousel view at the bottom showing the places of interests in the plan currently. I feel that this is an important point because it is a prime example of what happens when one tries to cramp too many features into a mobile app that has limited asset. Given that the interactive map already has many clickable points, I feel that the UI indeed can be simplified; such as combining all the other buttons into another side drawer menu. Simplifying the UI of the app’s key features will therefore allow users to use the app to it’s full potential.

Lastly, the group placed a lot of emphasis on their recommendation to include the “timeline” feature, which they propose should replace or be used to enhance the current “Day Plan” feature. The timeline feature will allow users to plan every day of their trip to the hour, view the approximated cost for each day and also integrate with Google Photos to automatically generate a post-trip travel photo journal. While I feel that these are definitely useful features (especially the feature to allow planning by the hour), it will very likely result in a big UI/UX mess if implemented wrongly. Like I mentioned earlier, with limited asset as a mobile app, it is difficult to present so many functionalities to the user. If Google Trips can simplify their current day plan UI (making it less cluttered and complicated), then they can consider adding this new Timeline enhancement. I feel that it is important for developers to always perfect their current UI/UX before thinking about adding more functionalities because that will normally result in a slippery slope to a bad app UI/UX.

2. My original thoughts

For Functionalities:

One qualm I have with Google Trips is that it is only able to detect reservations from Gmail accounts. I believe that they can find a way to allow support for users that use other email providers too (may require extra setup steps, but it is definitely a step up from having to manually forward every reservation email to a gmail account). Having this support may increase its appeal to a much larger target audience as well.

Secondly, while I find that Google Trips “Things To Do” feature works quite well in well documented and thus content-rich cities, it did not work quite well for some of the more rural (but still touristy) spots. The places suggested were quite off as compared to what other travel guides may have (one example is the Aomori prefecture in Japan). I feel that this is an important gap to fill; Given that there is now already a proliferation of travel guides for the more popular tourist regions, if google can improve their data sets for the more rural areas, their app will have an edge over the rests. Also I believe that Google Trips can do so because they are probably large enough to be able to source for these data as compared to smaller companies out there.

For UI/UX:

Personally, I did not have a huge issue with the UI for the Day Plans section because I find it similar to how Google Maps work. I did not feel like there was too much clutter since one can actually tap to hide the bottom carousel view. The part that I think was lacking is the lack of directions or guided tutorial to bring user through the interface. The UI is good enough, but the UX has to be improved to compliment it.

Apart from that, I think that Google Trips has fantastic UI/UX for the other parts of the app. The front page has an immediate call to action: a search bar that says “Where do you want to go?”; This allows users to easily ease into the app’s main functionalities as they are very explicitly prompted to do something (and something very simple actually).

While textbooks may say that using multicolours for UI elements is not a good practice, I think Google Trips used it very well for the background of the different cards. They used muted tones and a similar level of darkness for every card even though the hues are different. Muted tones are easier on the eyes, and using the same level of darkness (white text is used for every card and is easily distinguishable) promotes consistency, which helps users to take in the UI even better.

Lastly of course is the fluidity of the app. There are transitions for almost every action and navigation in the app, and every transition is kept consistent (page navigations have side sliding transitions, contents that appear or disappear do so with a fading transition etc.). The fluidity of the app makes the it look and feel more polished, which is important to for greater usability and marketing advantage.

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Progress of Assignment 1

Last week, we started building the website – NUSReviews – from scratch. I was in charge of the front-end development together with Sam. I used React.js before last semester and this is my second time dabbling with front-end web development. For this assignment, we decided to use Angular (the newest version). I’m relieved that it was actually a breeze picking up the basics of Angular thanks to my experience previously in React. In fact, I found Angular to be much more intuitive and easy to use. With the help of my teammates, we managed to incorporate some CSS libraries into our project and that helped a lot with styling.

Contrastingly, the ideation and designing process was much harder for this assignment. We have to make sure that our idea was feasible enough to be done within the timeframe of assignment 1, and yet is useful enough as an application. Furthermore, I was in charge of the main UI/UX design of the website so I have spend lots of time thinking about the placement of the UI elements and colour decisions. One thing that I have not done is to validate the preliminary design with other students (that weren’t in my group). I aim to start working on that next week. Fortunately, our app’s target audience is NUS students so it was easier for us to design the app without having to do some interview or data collection before hand (since we are students ourselves).

What I hope to learn in CS3216

I want to familiarise myself with web development because I think it is an aspect that I am lacking in (both technical skills and experience). I hope to at least be exposed to the full stack of web development from front-end to backend, and also to focus on front-end development for the final project. Apart from the technical aspects, I hope to engage in startup-esque development as well and learn some important business or marketing strategies.