Since its inception, Google has always been an engineering-driven company. The first Google homepage,with its bare-bones logo and search field design, were created because neither Larry Page nor SergeyBrin knew much about HTML. Although Google has come a long way since then, they continue to beknown more for their algorithms and coding prowess rather than their aesthetic vision.
However, Google may be trying to change this. In a blog post titled "Toward a simpler, more beautifulGoogle", Vic Gundotra, Senior VP at Google, describes how changes to the Google+ social platformrepresent a foundational change to the way Google looks at UI and design.
Over the past few years, there have been green shoots of progress being made toward a company-wideGoogle aesthetic, most notably with the continuing improvements of the Android mobile operatingsystem. The latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich, is widely considered to be the best of the bunch whenit comes to design detail, incorporating various system-wide standards to create a unified experience.Google may now be trying to bring these same standards to the rest of its product portfolio.
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Starting with Google+, Google is now demonstrating that it has design chops in addition to engineeringchops. Much ink has already been spilled in articulating the business reasons that Google+ will fail asa competitor to Facebook, there is no need for us to rehash those arguments here. However, withthe latest design changes, it can be argued that Google has in some ways a better UI and design than Facebook has.
The first major change is in the personalized navigation. The static icons at the top of the page havebeen moved to a dynamic ribbon-style icon set that runs along the left side of the page. Icons appearin a row, neatly representing the major features that users will want to access. This menu is also moredynamic because users can drag app icons up and down in the ribbon, they can hover over the icon toreview a menu of actions, and they can also hide apps by moving them in and out of "more".
The second major change is centered on improving the way that you connect with your contacts.Google+ has introduced full-bleed photos that make you proud to post your photos, a stream ofconversation "cards" that makes it easier to scan and join discussions, and also an activity drawer thathighlights the community around your content.
The third major change comes in a new way for you to hang out with your friends, literally, with asection called Google+ hangouts. This is one of the most visually impressive features of Google+,allowing you to connect with friends with similar interests via live video, and as the name implies, simplyhang out. If getting together in person for coffee with a few friends is impossible, Google+ hangouts mayjust be the next best thing.
Vic Gundotra does a great job explaining the design vision that is guiding the Google design team at themoment. He describes the new Google+ as "a more functional and flexible version of Google+", implyingthat a simpler UI and giving users more powerful tools despite the simpler interface is driving theirdesign choices. Excitingly, Vic goes on to explain that "we're going to continue upgrading all the features
you already know and love-from Search and Maps to Gmail and YouTube. With today's foundationalchanges we can move even faster-toward a simpler, more beautiful Google."
For a company that already dominates the tech landscape by the sheer strength of engineering brains atits disposal, if they are able to combine that talent with smart UI and wonderful design that is easy-to-use and beautiful, then Google is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.