design lead  |  UX design  |  UI design  |  mobile  |  location based systems

BlackBerry 10 Maps

lead design on one of the core apps for the mobile plantform's new OS

I had been providing UX and UI design services on contract to RIM's Mountain View office for over a year, helping to improve BlackBerry Traffic and the existing BlackBerry Maps application that came on the older BB operating system. These LBS apps and services had a history of being deprived of design help by company management.


BlackBerry 10 OS was to be all-new and vastly improved, and it would require an all new Maps application. Since I had been leading all the other LBS design efforts for the past year, I was asked to lead this design effort.


I was additionally asked to find some innovation, some feature or function that would set BlackBerry Maps apart from Google and other map apps.

the context


The team of experienced LBS engineers that had come with RIM's acquisition of Dash Navigation two years earlier was starting to dwindle, and eventually development would be done out of house.


Instead, I worked closely with three product managers (one local, two in Ottawa) to define the general product idea. I also had at my disposal a fe vw hours a week the design help of one of RIM's senior UX designers, who would help to ensure my work adhered to BB10's design patterns.


During the development phase, I made frequent trips to Southern California to confer with the engineers and artists who were building the app.

my contributions


  • general product concepts, including emphasis on My Places and close integration with the OS's personal information management systems
  • detailed user flows up to and out of (and not including) drive-time navigation
  • a complete set of wireframes for the application
  • a complete set of UI specifications (not including drive time navigation)





To design a mobile maps application that met the "table stakes" set by Google Maps yet felt different from Google Maps, better and more useful in some distinct way. Time and resource constraints did not allow for any market research, so the team was dependent upon new ideas that simply made sense.

a sense of place


Seeking to leverage BlackBerry's legacy of security and enterprise functionality, the LBS group had been seeking ways to make location more pertinent to the user's experience. To me, location and "place" have always been very powerful concepts. "You are here" is a deeply meaningful notion. What about it?


Every user inhabits a world that is in many ways uniquely their own. The places they frequent and the destinations they look for are all quite personal and more importantly knowable.


Just as a person's phone can manage who they know, Contacts, and when they do something, Calendar, it should also manage where these things happen, Places. After all, this is a MOBILE device.


Hence, the genesis of My Places, location for personal information management. A user's personal collection of places gain meaning over time as the log of times, people, and events there add up. Old places gain value, any search for new places become more relevant.


app features


Integration into the core OS enables BBMaps to be opened from any other context where an address or place is recognized,  whether from calendar, contacts, the browser, etc.


Opening BBMaps would always feature the user's current location, "You Are Here," and afford the user to browse what is nearby (relevant to their user profile) and to quickly access their own collection of Places.


A person's Places could be shared like currency, including optionally whatever meta-data has come to be associated with that place.


the process


  • With the product managers, we defined in detail the new feature requirements, mostly around the My Places concept, the what's nearby idea, and the core integration goal.
  • The third-party developer already had a "white label" maps and navigation app. I deconstructed the information architecture of that app and looked for where the new features could be slotted in, as well as where extraneous features of theirs could be removed. Overall flow was also radically rethought.
  • I documented these high-level changes and got the external engineering team on board.
  • With close collaboration of the external engineers, artists, and product managers, I developed and refined a detailed UX specification.





BlackBerry 10  was released in January 2013,  and this new Maps app was received to generally positive reviews. The departure from the typical user flow, emphasis on You Are Here and My Places seemed to be understood as sensible,



my other work at RIM

Prior my work on Maps for BlackBerry 10, I had been contracting with RIM’s Mountain View office providing UX design services for BlackBerry Traffic and for the older version of BlackBerry Maps.

BB Traffic was targeted to commuters who do not typically need a map or navigation while driving. Simple and handy, designed for in-car use, it featured abstract linear representations of driving distance, duration and traffic. Designed by engineers, I gave it a facelift and overhauled the work flow. It was the top-rated BlackBerry produced app in 2012.

For the previous BlackBerry Maps, I revised the cartographic standards - colors, textures, lineweights, fonts etc. for every map scale.

Copyright 2016 Joseph M. Knight