Why is Google talking about design so much?

Why is Google talking about design so much?

Summary: User experience is suddenly all the rage in Mountain View. Has a data-driven giant turned over a new leaf?

TOPICS: Google

Everywhere you turn, it seems Google is talking about design.

Its Official Gmail Blog, for example, has long been the playground of its product managers and engineers. But lately, the titles in the bylines have contained curious words like "user" and "experience."

Is this the Google I know?

The truth is, it's not -- and that's exactly why we're suddenly seeing lengthy posts about the design of navigation and information density management.

Google has long been the company of choice for software developers and engineers. Data is the name of the game, and unremarkable utility is the way to get there. Occasionally complicated, not always natural, often inelegant but always able -- that has been the Google way, with its search home page leading the charge from day one.

(See: "Data, Not Design, Is King in the Age of Google" in the New York Times and "Goodbye, Google," former design chief Douglas Bowman's parting words in 2009. Also, this lovely Q&A in Businessweek with Irene Au.)

But lately, UI and UX -- user interface and user experience -- have been all the rage. The popularity of Apple has put the discipline at the forefront. Microsoft's Metro interface is giving an old company a new face.

Google for many years has been restrained in its changes, but lately the company has loosened that self-restraint with a new look that spans its many web-based applications, from Blogger to Gmail. New fonts, fixed navigation bars, an altogether new aesthetic -- the company's marquee products are almost unrecognizable in some ways.

Redesigns are hardly a new concept on the web, of course. Sometimes they are done to solve a problem, sometimes they are taken on to merely keep things fresh. Subtle, evolutionary change is the best, but an occasional revolutionary one is hard to resist.

Yet Google has, for a long time. Has something changed in Mountain View? I don't know; I'm just an end user. I'm loathe to attribute this to the return of Larry Page, but sometimes change begets more change. Whatever it is, I welcome it -- just as long as they do it as much as they talk about it.

Topic: Google

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

    Because the press does and by planting that seed in people's minds Google has to talk it up a lot.
    • At least Focus and Design were things that Jobs discussed with Page this ..

      @Peter Perry: ... year in their last farewell/legacy talk. Page asked for the meeting, and while initially Jobs declined due to his anger that Google stole core multi-touch UI concepts of iOS to use it in Android, he later changed his mind and they had talk. Jobs commented that he wanted to keep this connection between generations of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs -- from Noyce and Hewlett to himself and further to Page, Brin, Zuckerberg.

      So Page got to clean the mess of many half-dead projects to accumulate focus and slowly move the focus more and more to design of usability.

      If this means that Google will be able to present better, cleaner, more convenient products, then it is very good.
    • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

      @Peter Perry

      Can I suggest they hire some designers and stop letting their programmers and engineers do it?
  • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

    I don't think it's about design at all; I think it's about integration, which has been a long time coming, but seems to have arrived (for good and ill!).<br><br>As the myriad parts came from diverse teams, ideas and companies, they have had to compromise on design, in order to keep the functionality right. So we've ended up with this awful drab NON-DESIGN - a minimalist spread of whites and pale greys that is very difficult for those of us over 40 with less than perfect eyesight.<br><br>Many companies routinely exclude older people by using too-small text (or stupid fonts), or by assuming that everyone has a huge screen (and uses every program at 100% width). Google is trying exclude the non-cool by pseudo-sophisticated blandness. Us older folk don't like bland. We like interesting and challenging.
  • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

    I'd agree about this being more about integration than user experience. Over the years Google has launched a lot of different products and now is a good time to ensure they all work together very well. The fact that taking the steps to integrate them all together involves discussion of UI and UX is no shocker. It should. I don't feel they're making anything more complicated, I just feel they're trying to tie it all together into a single Google experience instead of it being a ton of different products.
    • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

      Folks, making a more integrated suite of products is core to the user experience. Be it in their utility products or with the promotional sites that speak of it's value - Google has historically been all over the map. The fact of the matter is that integrating the navigational and functional paradigms goes a long way towards improving the user experience.
  • RE: Why is Google talking about design so much?

    I Agree somewhat with Heenan73. You see, many of Google products are bought and not homemade. I bet many people don't know that Blogger or Youtube is not a Google product. Redoing all their products so that they confirm to the same design standards makes their branding much more easier.
    I would say it is more about consistent branding for Google rather than ease of use, when it comes to their UX changes. Because I don't think any of their products are more usable than they were before.
  • Larry Page wants to be Steve Jobs II

    Good luck with that, Larry.
  • They talk design, because they can't talk usability or stability