Evolving the look of Google Maps

Friday, October 23, 2009 at 11:09 AM


Today the Google Maps team is rolling out a number of refinements to the look and feel of our maps, the biggest such changes since we first launched about 4.7 years ago.  In that time we've been steadily adding details like walkways, address labels, bus stops, new country coverage, and improved satellite imagery, but the look of the map hasn't changed much.

Today's changes are intended to keep the same information-rich map while making it easier to pick out the information that is most useful.  The changes affect both the 'Map' and 'Hybrid' styles, and include numerous refinements to colour, density, typography, and road styling worldwide.  For example, in map view, local and arterial roads have been narrowed at medium zooms to improve legibility, and the overall colours have been optimized to be easier on the eye and conflict less with other things (such as traffic, transit lines and search results) that we overlay onto the map.  Hybrid roads have gained a crisp outline to make them easier to follow, and the overall look is now closer to an augmented satellite view instead of a simple overlay.

In some areas the changes are obvious, while in others they are quite subtle.  But overall we hope you'll agree they're a nice improvement.  Let's take a quick world tour to see some of these changes in action...

Taking a look at a far zoom of the area around my hometown London, notice the improved readability and density of the roads in the hybrid view. The motorways are easier to follow, and the A-roads are surfaced earlier:



Further north and more zoomed in still, the small town of Portinscale in England's beautiful Lake District shows the benefits of displaying increased road density.  Local roads, important in this context, are now visible:

Jumping west across the Atlantic to San Francisco and switching to map view demonstrates the changes in colour and font treatment. All the same information is maintained on the map, but there is more contrast between background detail such as local roads, and important orientation signals like neighbourhoods and major arterial roads: 

Heading south to Brasilia illustrates the advantages of the newly optimized road widths. The thinner treatment at this zoom makes it much easier to pick out fine detail in the complex local road shapes:

Heading northwest across the Pacific, Beijing sees some dramatic changes: the subway lines are coloured to fit local convention, the text is aligned with the streets, and the overall colour scheme is tuned to be more harmonious:

And finally, completing the journey where we started, note the finer road widths, cleaner rail lines, and less visually heavy colour scheme in London:

We hope you enjoy the changes to your local area too!


Posted by Jonah Jones, User Experience Designer, Google Maps