Removing features

About removing features that don’t prove super succesful: “While developing Gmail, we implemented a lot of features that were either not released, or not released until much later. Some of the most interesting ideas (such as automatic email prioritization) never made it out because we couldn’t find simple enough interfaces. Other ideas sounded good, but in practice weren’t useful enough to justify the added complexity (such as multiple stars).”

The new Google design: nothing between me and my search bar

Google is playing with perhaps the biggest redesign they ever did. There are a lot of little changes, and some really big ones too, mainly: a new right-hand column in the search results page.

Most people won’t see this new redesign yet, they’re rolling it out for some users only. And it’ll be interesting to see what they change before the complete rollout. Here are some instructions on how to try it out. Compare with older versions of the Google homepage on archive.org.

First big difference: the buttons! Big and white-on-blue, instead of the old default look. Nicely color-coordinated with the logo. It seems Google is finally moving towards a button style all of their own after years of using the standard browser button look. Perhaps the designers are finally getting some power within Google? I remember Douglas Bowman complaining about the lack of respect designers get at Google, this seems like a step forward for “design” though. Buttons! Then again, that might not be enough for a designer who likes to flex his design muscles.

In any case, the homepage looks more distinctive now, with these big blue buttons.

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Compare with an older screenshot from Jan 2005 (even today the buttons look like this):

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The search suggestions are prominent, as they were before. Particularly interesting are the buttons embedded in the dropdown, I can’t immediately imagine why they’re there. Thoughts welcome. The only reason that I can think of is that some people still just want to search on their original term and click the search button.

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The buttons weren’t there before, as you can see in this screenshot of the current view. Also notice how they simplified the list (removed the results count), and made the words you haven’t typed yet more prominent. It’s better, I like it. Who cares about result counts anyway, those take way too long to parse and think about, I’m sure Steve Krug will be happy with this change, much better than the old design:

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But the meaty part of the new design is of course the new results page. It now shows filtering options on the left.

Holy shit, a whole new column!

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Woooow!

I wonder how that affects clickthroughs on the right column. The whole page now looks much more busy. Let’s have a closer look:

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First thoughts:

  • The “Everything” default selection is awesome. Good choice of words, and that’s what you’ll want most of the time.
  • The icons suck. First of all, Google isn’t known for using icons (they usually don’t), and second, they’re really bad icons. I mean, look at this: image ! You couldn’t find a better icon for photos? Search for it! I predict they’ll drop those. Don’t want to give those designers too much power either, Google! The only icon that’s useful is the “+” sign. And if they don’t drop them, please make them nicer.
  • The “See also” section kind of clutters up this design. Especially because it’s mixed in between the filters (Time filter is below, other filters are above).

The options that are visible (not hidden behind “more”) depend on your search – smart, as I’d expect from Google. I assume they show the ones with the most relevant results, or something.

Here’s a screenshot for a different query (Colombia), showing more filtering options by default:

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Man, you gotta work on those icons though! News and blogs look identical. And they all just look real dodgy.

When you open more, the animation is smooth and the close button is called “Less”. Again, excellent labeling. This shows the “More” button open, turning into “Less”:

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Once you select an option, it’s highlighted like this. Below the main option, what I think of as the “poweruser” filters are shown: filter by time, sort by relevance, results display method.

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If I were to design this off the top of my head, I’d place the results display method (“standard results, …”, ie. not changing the results list but changing how it’s shown) at the top of the page using icons (that tends to be the standard way of doing it).

The “reset tools” (I guess “tools” is how they refer to these powerfilters) button makes sense, I found myself wanting to do this while using it, but I didn’t actually find the link until I started writing this blogpost. It seems to go back to the default “Everything” view. I don’t like the label – “reset tools” sounds way to geeky, and I don’t like the way it looks like just another filter, visually.

And finally, a big advantage of adding this left column is that they can now make the main column even cleaner. The new design has nothing between the search bar and the first result. They were clearly hot for this; they even moved the results count (“About … results”) to the right of the search bar, a rather akward position. (I also wonder why they haven’t dropped the 0.35 seconds indicator, I mean, really!)

New design:

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Old design:

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So what are your thoughts? Will they go through with this fairly radical redesign and roll it out for everyone? Will they make any changes?

For comparison, here’s the old design:

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More details on the effect of speed

Google research: “the cost of slower performance increases over time and persists. In other words, if your website is a little slower, users will use it less (we knew that), but they’ll also use it less and less over time, and when it speeds up again, they’ll still use it less than before the slowdown.

And an interesting insight into how Google thinks about speed: “Because the cost of slower performance increases over time and persists, we encourage site designers to think twice about adding a feature that hurts performance if the benefit of the feature is unproven.”