Won Sun Parque

Tripadvisor city guides

TripAdvisor City Guides was the first native mobile app that TripAdvisor ever offered. Travelers could download maps, reviews and photos and use the app offline when traveling abroad. We reached 1 million downloads in 3 months while maintaining user rating of 4.5+ on both iOS and Android App stores.

London Olympic Games selected TripAdvisor City Guide as its official travel app. Glamour magazine selected TripAdvisor City Guides as one of the best 50 apps ever created. It maintained 4+ user rating for 4 years until we migrated most of its features into TripAdvisor Mobile app and took it off the App stores.

I designed the app and lead user research and testing, both in the lab and on the field. Some key capabilities of the app include Offline data access, Self guided tours, and Point me there. Each of these had unique design challenges.


offline data access

When we designed the download/offline capability of the City Guides app, we had a few possible approaches. One, we could make it explicit by offering travelers an on/off switch to decide if the app is pulling live data over the Internet or staying offline by using the local downloaded data. Two, we could do this automatically by detecting if the internet is available on the phone. Three, we could pull live data automatically only when users are on WiFi. Or four, we could even offer a data access slider that let users control the amount of live data that the app can use before switching to offline.

We decided to go with automatic detection because during our user research, we found that most travelers turn their phones to airplane mode when traveling abroad. This airplane mode is a phone level on/off switch for live data access. If we also offered an on/off switch in the app or any variations of it, we would be creating another level of data access control that users needed to manage. This would complicate the interaction without a significant gain in the quality of user experience. When traveling, especially to a foreign country where roaming is a concern, we can be excited, we can be tired, we can be distracted, and we can be forgetful. We wanted to design the app so that travelers had one less thing to worry about (in this case, "Is one of my phone apps using live data?"). Automatic detection allowed travelers to focus on other more important things at hand.

This was one of the design principles that we followed: Leave phone level controls out of the app interface. 


Self guided tours

When it came to things to do, "What can we do this afternoon?" or "What should we do around Little Italy?" were the type of questions many travelers asked during our user research. It meant that many of our users' thought process was time-based or area-based, instead of based on one single place. Self guided tours were designed for this pattern/mental model. Users could launch one of many walking tours and followed the route to visit multiple points of interests. This became one of the most popular features in City Guides.

To provide a successful touring experience, it was important to not just offer the map view, but also photos that travelers could use to verify that they were following the right path and looking at the right point of interest. It was the reason behind offering a swipe-able photo area overlaying the map.  When interacting with the photos, the map would pan to reposition the focused spot to be within the center viewing area. More details about the POI, such as history, why it was included in the tour, suggested time spent, etc, would overlay on top of the map when travelers tapped the photo of the POI. Tapping the photo again would dismiss the detail information overlay.

Photo overlay could also be dismissed by tapping outside the photo overlay area when travelers needed to focus on the map.


Point me there

One of the most popular features in City Guides was the Point Me There feature. It was the only mobile navigation tool that worked when internet access was not available. It was later migrated to TripAdvisor Mobile App.

We got the idea when we were on our way to a meeting in San Francisco from our Palo Alto office.  We found ourselves arriving early so we decided to get some coffee first. We used our City Guides prototype and kept our phone offline to see how well it worked. While it had no trouble finding us a great nearby coffee shop and showing it on the map, we did not know toward which direction to start walking. We were just coming up to the street from the underground BART station and were completely disoriented. That was when we said to ourselves, "Wouldn't it be nice if there could be an arrow showing us the direction to the coffee shop at all time?"

A couple of days later, Point Me There was born.