Turning Traffic Nightmares Into Fun And Games

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Since its launch in 2008 and acquisition by Google in 2013, Waze has amassed more than 50 million users worldwide. Even more impressive, they’ve somehow managed to make traffic, dare I say, fun.

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Fun is a strong word for what Atlanta traffic looks like some afternoons, but an app that delivers a route to make me feel like a traffic superhero is pretty darn close. So how have they done it?

Historically, we’ve been able to put the vast majority of mobile experiences into one of two buckets:

  1. Utility
  2. Entertainment

The latter has been largely reserved for the Angry Birds and Candy Crushes of the world and entertaining is certainly not the first word that comes to mind when we think of traffic.

Waze’s combination of utility and entertainment is what invites us into a rich, rewarding and ultimately somewhat addictive experience.

So how did Waze make an addictive game out of one of our most mundane headaches? Better yet, what can we learn from it?

Waze Screens

Understand that not all players are created equally 

Not everyone gets excited about unlocking a new badge or becoming the next Waze Royalty, but for those that do, the mechanics are there. For others, the value may be in tracking progress along a traffic bar or reporting on the nearest low gas price.

Mobile affords us a personalization opportunity larger than any other digital touchpoint. By leveraging user data, Waze caters an experience to a user’s strengths and wishes, making the experience relevant for multiple cohorts of users simultaneously.

Balance community + anonymity

The power of a large community doesn’t always lie in solely the people I know. Simply seeing a name associated with a driver adds a level of trust that notifications in other experiences cannot. Even if the same data is crowdsourced, putting a face with the action adds an additional layer of responsibility and reward for the user.

As opposed to experiences that hinge on social connectivity, the user isn’t required to participate to reap the benefits, inviting users to explore and engage at their own pace.

Don’t force me to break my habits 

Sure, this seems like a no brainer, but why do we so often download an app and find it sitting in an unused folder a few weeks later? It distracts me from the life unfolding in front of me.

For most mobile experiences, we can’t expect users to break their existing habits just to hang out with us on their phones. We’re challenged to do the opposite and add value to what users are already doing in an interesting and rewarding way.

At its core, Waze is a traffic app, but it’s the realtime nature of the additional mechanics that ensure it doesn’t land in your ‘apps that seemed cool when I downloaded them’ folder. Keeping users engaged relies first on connecting on their terms, in their worlds.

So Waze has gotten it right and they’ve built an experience that’s worth sticking around for.

This level of design and thinking has emerged as the future of more than just mobile, but how we connect technology to the world around us. Designing experiences that provide people with value as well as genuinely engage them is no small feat.

As we work to evolve mobile experience strategies, this balance of game mechanics and real-world solutions is certainly worth repeating.