If you haven’t already updated to ViewRanger version 6, then you may not have seen quite how transformational this latest version is. We’ve made a number of changes to the way the app is structured, and in this blog post we wanted to share with you some of the reasons why things have changed.
So, why did we move everything?
To cut a long story short, we needed to improve the usability of the app.
If you’ve used ViewRanger for a long time, you’ll have learnt to work around some of the quirky behaviour. But many brand new users struggled or just gave up – unable to work out how to do some fairly basic things. Aside from that not being cool, it’s in everyone’s interests that the app is simple to use and that the community is happy. We had to do something.
So over the past six months we spent a lot of time with existing and new users alike, running countless usability tests and conducting in-depth interviews to work out exactly where ViewRanger wasn’t up-to-scratch.
It’s been an eye-opening experience and pretty humbling at times (we’re lucky to have such a great community to work with). You’ve helped us understand where things were too complicated, which things are really valuable, and whether our improvements were any good. Thank you!
But, undoing some of that quirkiness has inevitably meant changes, so let’s look into the reasoning behind these changes, how things work now, and hint at what’s to come.
Why did we change to a ‘tabbed’ layout?
One of the most significant changes has been to change from a pull-out side menu to the row of ‘tabs’ along the top of the screen. So what was so wrong with the side menu?
Mainly, it was a feature discovery problem, but it was kind of an identity problem too. ViewRanger attracts a huge range of different people, but coming at it from different angles. Some people hear about ViewRanger as a better alternative to dedicated GPS devices for recording a track, some hear about us as a means to get detailed mapping on your mobile, and others hear that we have lots of trail guides to follow.
The common theme here is helping people to confidently explore the outdoors, but ViewRanger looked mostly just like a map. That’s important, but in interviews, we’d often hear people say that it would be nice to know what routes were near a location. And knowing that they could do this with ViewRanger, we’d show them the app and watch as they couldn’t find them. Or worse, if they did figure it out, 19 taps of the screen later they had the route they wanted. 19 taps! That’s a lot of effort, and it’s probably of no surprise that it meant that only the most dedicated of people used routes. We needed an easy-to-access place to expose this content.
Other reasons why the old layout wasn’t great.
The old pull-out menu meant you were always one additional tap away from what you wanted, it contained a mix of action and navigation buttons which all behaved differently, and significantly, the whole menu was often completely overlooked.
Over the years, this had led us to duplicate functionality and provide multiple ways of getting to the same end-point in the app’s user interface. That’s bad, because it made the app bigger, it was filled with more interface than it needed, and in turn it made it harder to learn and find the thing you wanted.
Tabs helped us to make sense of where you’d find things in the app. We could broadly split the app into logical areas that matched what people typically did:
Before your adventure, when you want to find interesting places to go, tap on the Discovery ‘lightbulb’ tab and get inspiration. During your activity we’ll pinpoint you on the map in the Map tab. And after you’re done, you can relive your adventures in the My Adventures tab.
Search and settings needed to be accessible wherever you were, so these deserved top-level prominence too.
So let’s look at these tabs in more detail.
The discovery tab exposes all of the routes that publishers and the wider user community have chosen to share. We already had most of this content, but it was difficult to find in the old app. Now you’re one tap away from finding something to do wherever your map happens to be centred on.
You might not be a person who likes to follow other people’s routes, but this tab can still help you know where the interesting places to go are. Looking for inspiration for that next 100km cycle ride? Where’s a nice, short and easy walk to take the kids? Or how about a really challenging coast-to-coast route for a holiday? It’s all there.
We wanted this to be an inspiring place to browse, but equally an easy way to find routes for all experience levels.
Oh… and it’s no longer 19 taps to get a route!
The Map tab
For current users, this should hopefully feel familiar. The map has (and still is) at the heart of ViewRanger. Aside from a fresh coat of paint we’ve made some changes here too.
The most notable is the addition of the ‘New’ button. From testing we quickly learnt that many people didn’t really know what to do when they first opened up the app. They’d tap on a few things, find themselves in a menu or dialog somewhere and still not be sure what they were doing.
The New button gives everyone an obvious starting point that’s still useful whether or not you’re a new or long-term user. Previously hard to discover activities like plotting your own routes, adding points of interest and recording your own track are now simple to initiate. It also helps you learn what you can use ViewRanger for, where as previously some features might have remained undiscovered and unused.
Another change was to combine the compass with the ‘GPS/Centre me on the map button’, which makes things neater.
We love maps, and we know that sometimes you just need to clear things out the way and have the space to delve into the detail they provide. So, if you press and hold anywhere on the map for about a second, almost everything disappears and you can explore the map distraction-free. It’s something we worried people might not find, or worse, might accidentally trigger and not know how they got there, so we included a little close button for when you’re done. You can also long press again to restore the user interface or tap on the back button in Android.
The My Adventures tab
This is the part of the app that’s all about you. It’s where you’ll find all the tracks you’ve recorded, as well as any routes you’ve plotted or downloaded from the community.
It’s similar to the Organiser we had in the previous version, but a little more visual to make finding routes and tracks a little easier. It’s also a place where you can customise your profile.
Why did this become a tab? Well, when we talked to users they’d tell us about all of these amazing adventures they’d been on. Treks across Peru or that family hike where Sally’s hat blew off in the wind. But when you looked at what we’re capturing of those adventures, it’s very data heavy. That data is brilliant and very useful, but somehow it also feels a little lifeless in comparison to the actual experience. We want to make capturing those adventurers more simple and reliving those adventures richer and more accessible. That sounds like something pretty important – not something to hide 4 taps away in a menu.
There’s still work to do here if we’re honest. For example, we often hear in interviews that the pictures you take whilst you’re recording a track should be saved with your track. That would be a simple way to really bring those tracks to life, and it is currently possible to do this, but it certainly takes a little dedication to set it all up.
Search and Settings
There’s not much to say about search, really. We learnt from testing that is was something that people naturally wanted to use for quickly moving the map to a location, but also to find walks or rides in a certain area. It was often the first thing people did when starting the app.
Search was made a tab so that it was always accessible and didn’t need to be repeated under each of the main areas of the app. A significant change was to bring finding coordinates into the search function – this used to be accessed via its own menu, but now sits more neatly under conceptually similar actions.
There’s a similar story with settings. We had settings in a number of different places, and what we noticed is that users would have to try one place, then another and then another before they found what they wanted. So by centralising all of the settings in one place, we should make it easier to find and make any changes you need to. There’s still some work to do here to simplify the settings further and make sure we’re covering the key things that people might need to change.
And what of the future?
We take all feedback very seriously and want to ensure we’re building an app that people love. It’s through listening that we’ll continue to make these improvements.
Making these layout changes has been hard and we know that a few people will find it frustrating that things have moved. But the hope now is that we have a stronger starting point from which to improve things further.
High on the list of improvements will be to make it easier to manage maps and synchronise content you might have on multiple devices or the web.
We’ll continue to optimise the way core things are done and look, like exploring the map, recording tracks and navigating. And we’re very keen to make capturing and reliving your adventures a better experience too.
Ultimately, we’re building something that will help you have the best outdoors adventures. A way to find the best places to explore, to confidently find your way, and a way to remember every adventure.
It’s exciting, and we hope you’ll continue to count ViewRanger as your essential outdoors companion.
by Dom Reed - Head of Design, ViewRanger