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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12 thoughts on “The new Google design: nothing between me and my search bar

  1. Great review Peter! The left column for filtering is an important (and overdue) addition. I’ve been finding the time-based filters (e.g., Past 24 Hours, Past Year) particularly useful. Seems like the faceted navigation model from e-commerce is influencing web search. Often, innovation flows in the other direction.

  2. Looks like they’re trying to pick up on the filtering options that have been available at clusty.com and exalead.com for a number of years now. It’s the kind of feature that I might use from time to time, but it will confuse my Dad (who I consider to be an average computer user).

  3. Hmm, I’m not getting the new layout yet.
    But I’ve got those bigger, still-white, but non-standard buttons. There’s something about those buttons that makes me want to click them, versus just hitting “enter.” Maybe that’s why they’re in the search drop down – because now that they have our attention, it overrides tendencies to just hit “enter,” and we want to click them. But I’ll be excited about being able to search by blogs, video, images etc. so easily like that.

  4. Hi Peter… Thanks for the heads-up on Google’s experimentation with their search. Boy, these guys are long overdue for deploying significant enhancements! And what they propose is not significant IMHO. Your review also points out something that I’ve always felt must drive design of their search UI: That someone other than a designer is responsible for its design (a founder, perhaps? ;)

    Don’t get me wrong: I love simplicity and speed, but Google has always seemed clunky to me, right from the very beginning back in 1999! Meanwhile, ten years later, users, devices and interfaces have grown much more varied and capable. Google seems to eschew using advanced technology on the front end, despite whether its inclusion would better serve its users. For instance, adding a simple function to expose a few additional lines of preview content in the results Snippet, upon mouseover. Google could have saved me many wasted clicks and minutes during the past decade, if they had made that extra bit of info available :) At this point, Google’s number one thing from its “Ten Things” philosophy, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” seems entirely compromised by its rigid adherence to old design standards.

    And I agree with dc’s comment above, about his dad. I’ll bet my mom would be yet more confused. And so for users like my mom and dc’s dad, who have yet to demonstrate through their usage that they are ready for more controls (filters, etc.), they could continue to see an overly simplified interface to the very sophisticated machine underneath Google’s hood. For this group of users, once they perform a “search within a specific website,” change a Search Setting or click Advanced Search, or otherwise indicate that they’re looking for more control over search/results, more controls could be introduced (exposed). Cheers!

  5. I’ve always liked the way Clusty.com “clusters” search results. Google’s new implementation is very similar. I am personally not a fan of the Google aesthetic — although I use the site virtually all day long. To me, their visual design language is soft and puffy like the shiny cheap plastic buttons you might find on a mid-90’s American-made minivan center console. It seems a bit cartoonish at times and sharply contrasts with their occasional cheeky snark in some of their products (that shows up in copy mostly).

    I think the new direction is refreshing, but to me it still doesn’t go far enough. I think of Tufte telling us to eliminate chartjunk, and I think Google could capitalize on a more minimalist design, using color and a carefully designed icon (idiogram) set to further enhance usability and create a clearer information hierarchy. You pointed out the “Reset Tools” is a link and looks just like another tool. There is an opportunity to design a system of actionable controls that is easily distinguishable from other hyperlinks.

    I like the access to the “power tools”, but the labels aren’t clear to me. Standard Results? Standard View? I’m right there with you: keep the functionality, but please make the labels more clear.

    Thanks for the great post!

  6. One of the menu choices should be to eliminate referrer sites from the list, versus destination sites. But that would hit revenue.

  7. I agree with your comments about the iconography – it’s horrendous. I totally appreciate Google’s experimentation and think that the tool benefits from what’s become search engine table stakes – filtered results. And I also like the “everything” label.

  8. Interesting post! Completely agree, it’s refreshing to see google finally start trusting its designers, after the stuck-up design policies they put Doug Bowman through. And yeah, the icons look retarded.

  9. Thanks for the warning. I like the old design and found that the new one is on my wife’s computer. Some people like to spend their time playing with new formats and others would like things to remain as they are. If I wanted a change, I’d switch to a different search engine, Yahoo or Bing. I wouldn’t mind if the option is left to go back to the previous version as was done in Yahoo mail. Do you know how to get rid of the new version? or are we stuck?

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