Google has always been good at minimalism, but as they expand into more complex apps (UI-wise), there seems to be a move towards getting “designers” involved. Google calendar got help from Douglas Bowman, Google got Jeffrey Veen to join them with their purchase of measuremap from Adaptive Path.
The challenge will be to: a) create a somewhat consistent feel in all their new ajax apps (which is somewhat happening), and b) instill a culture among engineers that values “design” enough for their products to be usable.
They seem to be well on their way. The word on the street about Google is that they’re actually getting very advanced at doing usability testing and measuring results. I have the feeling they’ll be like Amazon: no apparent focus on design and such, but a very deep, measuring, “engineer”-like way of doing usability and design. So far, some of their apps have been horrendous to use (RSS reader), others I quite like (the new calendar).