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Google Is Really Good At Design 186

Joshua Topolsky, writing for The Outline: The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens. You could imagine them in your living room, your den, your bedroom. Your teleportation chamber. A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with. A VR headset in stunning pink. A phone with playful pops of color and an interface that seems to presage what you want, when you want it. It's weird. It's subtle. It's... good. It's Google? It's Google.

It was only a few years ago that Google was actually something of a laughing stock when it came to design. As an aggressively engineer-led company, the Mountain View behemoth's early efforts, particularly with its mobile software and devices, focused not on beauty, elegance, or simplicity, but rather concentrated on flexibility, iteration, and scale. These are useful priorities for a utilitarian search engine, but didn't translate well to many of the company's other products. Design -- the mysterious intersection of art and communication -- was a second-class citizen at Google, subordinate to The Data. That much was clear from the top down.

Enter Matias Duarte, the design impresario who was responsible for the Sidekick's UI (a wacky, yet strangely prescient mobile-everything concept) and later, the revolutionary (though ill-fated) webOS -- the striking mobile operating system and design language that would be Palm's final, valiant attempt at reclaiming the mobile market. Duarte was hired by Google in 2013 (initially as Android's User Experience Director, though he is now VP of design at the company), and spearheaded a complete reset of the company's visual and functional instincts. But even Duarte was aware of the design challenges his new role presented. "I never thought I'd work for Google," he told Surface Magazine in August. "I had zero ambition to work for Google. Everybody knew Google was a terrible place for design." Duarte went to work on a system that would ultimately be dubbed Material Design -- a set of principles that not only began to dictate how Android should look and work as a mobile operating system, but also triggered the march toward a unified system of design that slowly but surely pulled Google's disparate network of services into something that much more closely resembled a singular vision. A school of thought. A family.

Google Is Really Good At Design

Comments Filter:
  • Those who cannot read or wish to further glorify the stupid.

  • And they all looked pretty ugly to me, bar possibly the VR/AR headset.

    • Not to mention that one of the products he is wanking over has a button that doesn’t even work properly so it had to be disabled with software. Maybe the nerds should have focused more on the engineering rather than then aesthetic design?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's just the "minimalism is always good design" crowd. I've never understood them. Form should follow function and good design is defined by interactions not appearance.

  • The new Pixelbook is sadly bad.

    Step 1: Convert the keyboard into an easel by hyper-opening the device

    Step 2: Place the "easel" part keys-down on the table

    Step 3: ?

    Step 4: Spill your tea on the table and have capillary action wick it up into the Pixelbook keyboard

    Step 5: !@#$*!@!

    ...That's me, propheting...

    • I have experiences capillary action wick milk up in to the vent holes on the bottom of my laptop while it was sitting on the table. At least keyboards are designed to be moisture resistant these days.

  • by lorien420 ( 473393 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:01PM (#55360227)

    Is Material Design the thing where I can't tell which part of the screen is a button and which part isn't? I loved webOS, but the whole "everything is a uniform color with no way to tell what is what or how to interact with it" is one of the dumber design ideas for computers.

    • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:34PM (#55360311)

      I couldn't agree more. This so called material Design is what is responsible for the horrible interface GMail has?

      In almost all Google products, they have adopted light colors for the font. These things aren't easily seen!!

      YouTube is even worse! The whole thing is from the 90s.

      Why, you may ask: For the desktop version, the whole page scrolls away if one is to read comments. Why not let the video remain visible as I peruse comments?

      If you are interested in video on the right, clicking to play subsequent video gets rid of that selection. I just don't get it!!

      Photos: No logical sorting exists. Google relies on AI for this! It's insane!

      Calendar: Huge bars as if one sent Google to Maximize screen real estate. Copying an event from one time frame to another is still not possible!

      One conclusion: It's sad that a [rich company like ]Google is horrible at design.

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Google like your typical psychopath, is only really good at designing one thing, their public image and as for the typical psychopath, right up until the private, manipulate, deceitful, controlling, invasive, exploitative reality is exposed. They have real skill and creating that warm, fuzzy, safe and helpful image but make no mistake it is only a carefully crafted public image, hiding the most disgusting behaviour. Manipulation of elections, mass political censorship, rabid racism.

        Specifically white male

        • "For the SJWs never forget the KKK and also SJWs and a prime example of what you will become, not only to gain power but just like them, when you are finally rejected into oblivion and that means you ANTIFA left my ass, you are self serving far right idiots pretending to be from the left."

          time for your meds, grandpa.

      • Remember what Microsoft attempted 15+ years ago with .Net: a single codebase and programming paradigm for multiple devices and media?

        That's how countless ASP.net web developers have no idea about what happens client-side versus server-side, since they are used to simply double-click on the control and write C# or VB.Net code in the event method; the widgets themselves take care of those details like ajax or win32 api. We've seen this horrible approach leak in the NodeJS world, with things like MeteorJS wher

      • If you are on the new yt, get tampermonkey and iridium for yt or when on old, search on greasyfork for youtube + or equivalent, they have that feature
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Gmail uses black text on a white background by default. Hard to get more contrast than that. In general material design is high contrast, the basic tenet being to use black+white and a high contrast accent colour.

        Photos sorts by date by default, that's pretty logical. The AI is used for automatic photoshopping and to make natural language search work ("show me photos of my cat").

        The Calendar UI on desktop is quite annoying, mostly because clicking anything tries to create new events or change something.

        • Gmail uses black text on a white background by default.

          It does?

          I'm looking at it right now, and it's using gray on white for the left-side column, and gray on lighter gray for the email list. I haven't changed any color settings.

          Note: I'm not complaining -- I prefer this to black-on-white -- but still, it's not black-on-white anywhere on the page that I can see.

      • I've got to agree - but if you want truly horrific design from a rich company, look no further than ebay.

        • eBay isn't pretty -- but is is entirely usable and easily understandable. That's more than you can say about "material design" anything.

      • Yeah but.. if the video isn't visible and you're looking at comments, it won't switch on you to the next video. That's something right?
      • Why not let the video remain visible as I peruse comments?

        Below, user CSS to accomplish a fixed video player when not in theater mode. It is for the newest YT design and is still a little rough around the edges. I use it for my main desktop which has a UHD screen. Use a User CSS extension/addon/plugin of choice.

        ytd-watch[theater] #top #player.ytd-watch {
        position: relative;
        }

        ytd-watch[theater] #top #info-contents.style-scope.ytd-watch {
        margin-top: 0;
        }

        ytd-watch[theater] #top #playlist.style-scope.ytd-watch {
        top: 0;
        }

        ytd-wat

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @11:39PM (#55360445)

      Is Material Design the thing where I can't tell which part of the screen is a button and which part isn't?

      Exactly.

      And your befuddlement is not unique [slashdot.org].

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Friday October 13, 2017 @07:03AM (#55361235) Homepage Journal

      Guidelines for Material buttons here: https://material.io/guidelines... [material.io]

      As you can see, when there is any confusion about things being buttons you use a box to make it clear. If apps fail to do that and you are confused, they are doing Material design wrong.

      Unfortunately, there are some poor imitations out there.

      • Google doesn't do that, though.

        Well, maybe they do for actual button controls, I don't know, but their pages are littered with things that you can interact with that provide no visual cue that you can interact with them.

        This is annoying but tolerable if you're using a mouse, but it's actively bad if you're using a touch screen.

    • by w3woody ( 44457 )

      Well, remember: in today's world, "design" is "what looks pretty and promotes the brand"--and today that's pastels and abstract shapes and cute little black and white animations which show off the horsepower of the GPU in the device.

      And it has absolutely fuck-all to do with computer-human interfaces or usability--as if we just dumped every SigCHI paper from the ACM from the 1970's to the 1990's on a great big bonfire.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:10PM (#55360241)

    Apparently you haven't used the docs.google.com interface; it's a real piece of shit, somehow they managed to do worse than Apple & Canonical.

    • by awyeah ( 70462 ) *

      I find it to be *okay* - not great, but okay. What is better? (This is a serious, non-trolling question).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Has anyone involved in this puff piece article looked at Gmail in the past several years?

  • by Parker Lewis ( 999165 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:16PM (#55360263)

    They call "Material", but it's the same unicolor as other companies. I.e, icons with no meaning (triangle for back, square for home... or circle for home?), no color, no underline to indicate clickable text (nor buttons), no border or shadow to help you to identify a window, no text to help and lack of shortcuts for the advanced users, extensive use of light text color in white background, no way to customize a thing. Appears that the cool in modern design is just ignore every HCI rule that was build in the last 40 years.

    • Material design calls for a colorful experience, has very clearly defined buttons, and an "elevation"-based shadow system to communicate depth in the apps. I don't know which apps use light color text on a white background... I can't imagine that's something that material design calls for. The reality is, given any design language, you can make apps look bad. But material design makes it pretty easy to make an app look decent. What's more important, though, is that these days most all of the apps on my Andr
      • Material design calls for a means to permanently opt out of it.

        FTFY

      • But material design makes it pretty easy to make an app look decent.

        Then why is there so few examples of material design-based stuff both looking decent and being usable?

    • by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Friday October 13, 2017 @02:31AM (#55360767) Journal

      I've been chanting what this guy has been saying for YEARS.

      Every point of his post is correct, FLAT colour, NO borders, NO defining lines, NO text labels, not even colour coded icons anymore, all one colour, it's a god damn sloppy disgusting joke that's HUGELY DIS-intuitive to me, I STILL double check what I'm clicking because I don't know what it is, BECAUSE IT'S NOT LABELLED!

      Colour coded, labelled, borders make a massive difference.
      Modern design is awful. but hey, some moron gets to call it 'clean'

      • I've been chanting what this guy has been saying for YEARS.

        Every point of his post is correct, FLAT colour, NO borders, NO defining lines, NO text labels, not even colour coded icons anymore, all one colour, it's a god damn sloppy disgusting joke that's HUGELY DIS-intuitive to me, I STILL double check what I'm clicking because I don't know what it is, BECAUSE IT'S NOT LABELLED!

        Colour coded, labelled, borders make a massive difference. Modern design is awful. but hey, some moron gets to call it 'clean'

        You just don't get it man ... shave your head, put on the funny little glasses, grow the mandatory facial hair, and it will all start to become clear :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      They use a left triangle for back, the same as your web browser and your VCR and your tape deck.

      One of the core parts of Material design is an accent colour and/or border to highlight things you can interact with. This is similar to web browsers that colour links, although browsers are worse because you can have clickable images and the like with no indication.

      High contrast is another staple of Material design.

      Maybe you are mixing it up with other flat designs, like Apple's (which does use a lot of low cont

    • Appears that the cool in modern design is just ignore every HCI rule that was build in the last 40 years.

      Every generation has to figure things out for themselves, which is why everything that was old is eventually new again. I've already seen articles describing how the older Millennials are starting to tire of city renting life and desire to move to the suburbs .

      citation:

      http://www.bentley.edu/prepare... [bentley.edu]

  • The point of the /. front page is that it presents summaries of other stories. This is a three paragraph opinion piece on the front page that Iâ(TM)ve now skipped over. I come to /. because it gives a quick glimpse into interesting tech news, not to read some guyâ(TM)s full opinion about googleâ(TM)s design capabilities.

    I really hope this was accidental and editors just werenâ(TM)t paying atttention.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are 4 articles of shovelled Google crap on the front page in just the most recent 8 articles here.

      The site was more enjoyable to read 10 years ago when the stories were about independent advancements ...

      Not wall-to-wall Google, Apple, Amazon, electric cars, driverless cars articles mixed with the occasional Slashdot-inappropriate political article.

      • by lucm ( 889690 )

        You know what I miss the most from 10 years ago? The discussion about the year of the Linux desktop.

        Think I'm kidding?

        With phenomenal new distros, swelling international support, and a little extra momentum from Dell, we think Linux is poised to exploit the current atmosphere of doubt surrounding Vista and pick up serious traction in '08. 'For end users here in North America, Linux poses a low barrier to entry. While many still balk at an upgrade to Vista (typically centered around cost and restrictive licensing terms), those who are curious about the open-source alternative will find few of these obstacles. And an increasingly rich array of ready-to-run software (not to mention surprisingly effective utilities that let you run many Windows apps) makes it easy switch.

        https://linux.slashdot.org/sto... [slashdot.org]

        which reminds me of a quote from Bill Gates: "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten."

  • Google Is Really Good At Design

    That's good, because I am not so sure about search.

    Google "Is the Earth flat?" and you still mostly get flat Earth cranks on the first page - it's telling that the answers in Genesis article is actually one of the more sane articles returned.

  • Is this a joke? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Whatsisname ( 891214 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:23PM (#55360281) Homepage

    Is this a joke?

    I know this may just sound like old-man-curmudgeon speak, but many of their products were much better in the earlier days. Maps is the most dramatic example. The new maps, once MBA-types took over it, runs considerably slower and has a worse UI than the original maps.

    The earlier android versions were also much better looking, much better looking than the recent flat-ui idiocy.

    • Re:Is this a joke? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:38PM (#55360325)

      Seriously. Their admin UIs in particular are as bad as anything. Incoherent, rambling things that hide entire new regions beneath unassuming controls. And each region with its own original layout and interaction model.

      My favorite fails are the easy-to-miss dropdown in Gmail beneath the Gmail icon, which houses two whole options (that have nothing in common with each other), one of which—contacts—should be integrated with mail in a much more sophisticated, zero-nav way. And the Gmail refresh button that gives absolutely no feedback when pushed: not that you pushed it, not that it's doing what you asked, not when it's done. So... F5 it is. These ridiculous things have persisted for several years each.

    • Google hasn't created a compelling/popular new product in-house since the original Google Maps. That was... 2004?

      They still have a good search engine. Even that is probably on the decline, as they start to manipulate results for political and/or anti-competitive purposes.

      What I really want to know it's how much of Google's "advertising revenue" really comes from selling ads. And how much comes from selling political surveillance services to fedgov and other repressive regimes?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Google didn't create "Google Maps" either. it was developed by "Where 2 Technologies"(started by some Australians) which Google bought.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Maps

        They also bought YouTube. Some people don't even know YouTube is Google's property. It is a separate brand like Microsoft does with XBox.

        And they bought Android too, which was going to be a palm-like device with keyboard:

        https://m.androidcentral.com/look-back-google-sooner-first-android-phone

        That was until the iPhone was debuted and

      • With countries there's something called the Resource Curse

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources (like fossil fuels and certain minerals), tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. There are many theories and much academic debate about the reasons for and exceptions to these adverse outcomes. Most

    • Re:Is this a joke? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @02:02AM (#55360735) Homepage
      The MBA-types didn't take over Google Maps. Google hired designers from Apple to redesign it. The story was on Slashdot at the time, and everyone groaned because we all knew what was coming. Sure enough, the first update from the new designers removed tons of options. I kept the last version as long as I could, and then one fateful day decided Google Maps was a waste of space on my phone. Haven't looked back since. Don't miss it at all, either.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The only major issue I have with maps is that it's too easy to rotate when trying to zoom. Otherwise I find the UI clean and quick to navigate, with clear instructions when I'm driving or glancing at the screen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and their new Youtube beta, you would think otherwise. The UX experts.. sigh..

  • Ell no (Score:4, Funny)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:26PM (#55360293) Journal

    The stuff Google showed off on October 4 was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens.

    Cautionary tale: if you get righteously drunk with aliens, you richly deserve the soft, colorful, delightful anal probe you will not remember completely, save for the faint reckoning that your drinking is perhaps getting out of hand.

    • Technically, if you take a bus with friends from the USA down to a Tijuana bar, are yall getting drunk with aliens?
      • Technically, if you take a bus with friends from the USA down to a Tijuana bar, are yall getting drunk with aliens?

        No, but the Mexicans are.

  • "The stuff Google showed off was brazenly designed and strangely, invitingly touchable. These gadgets were soft, colorful... delightful? They looked human, but like something future humans had made; people who'd gotten righteously drunk with aliens."
    I'm speechless...
    • by sd4f ( 1891894 )

      These tech writers are not technical people. They write about this sort of subjective stuff because they have no clue about what actually happens underneath, nor do they care. Their goal is to look hipster, put on black horn rimmed glasses when they don't need them.

      What we have now is an industry that just shills for google.

  • by Gussington ( 4512999 ) on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:34PM (#55360309)
    Enough of modding comments, I want to be able to mod this fucking awful summary and article out of existence...
    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      Enough of modding comments, I want to be able to mod this fucking awful summary and article out of existence...

      The very top of the page by the Slashdot logo. Firehose -> All
      https://slashdot.org/recent [slashdot.org]
      .
      It's pretty sad seeing technical articles with 50 or less comments assuming they even get modded up and out of the firehose to the main page, yet many political articles per day with multiple hundreds of comments so damn consistently on a tech website, I wish more technical people would help mod the articles.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    this guy [slapthebaldy.com]

  • Yep, so great at design that they can’t design a non-malfunctioning button. [slashdot.org]

  • Are you high? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 12, 2017 @10:44PM (#55360331)

    No. Google is HORRID at design.

    We have 4 different chat apps (voice, hangouts, allo, duo), 2 different map apps (waze and google maps), two different forms of email (gmail and inbox) and so on and so on. And it doesn't always integrate cleanly. I want to use hangouts as my dialer all the time, but by default it opens up my system dialer on android. I can use sms via hangouts, or google voice, or its own messaging app.

    It's a fucking mix mash of well designed widgets.

  • It was one thing to unify, but turning everything to paper was a step backwards.
    • It was one thing to unify, but turning everything to paper was a step backwards.

      Material Design works well on mobile, and it was clearly created as mobile first. Does not do so well on desktop and larger screens.

      • Material Design works well on mobile

        I don't really think so. It's too ambiguous and unclear, and lacks discovery. You can't tell how to do what you want to do by looking at it.

        • Material Design works well on mobile

          I don't really think so. It's too ambiguous and unclear, and lacks discovery. You can't tell how to do what you want to do by looking at it.

          Poor discovery is definitely the common criticism. But discovery is only one element of a UI, there are tradeoffs, but overall I subjectively think it works well.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Samsung is the worlds biggest seller of phones, Google isn't even in the top ten. Even if you consider just the market segment their Pixel phones are released into, they don't sell well compared to the competition. Honestly they're ugly half plastic things, and the "clean" "pure" interface lacks functionality. User buy other peoples stuff not Googles.

    Their tablets? They sold practically none. They need multi-window support, Google simply copied Windows without even thinking if its the best solution for touc

    • Take Google maps, the Android one on a device without touch.... how do you zoom out? There isn't a way. You can zoom in, but you cannot zoom out, it's only supported by pinch touch interface and without touch it cannot be done.

      Can't you just double-tap, hold the second tap and move your finger up and down? Up zooms out, down zooms in. Am I missing something or does that not work on all devices?

  • Why is a fluff piece about appearances on a site "for nerds?"
    • Why is a fluff piece about appearances on a site "for nerds?"

      Not sure what a nerd is anymore. Tech is now mainstream. It's not enough to understand the tech anymore, you have to understand how it's used.

    • Joshua Topolsky? I wonder if that's his real name, or whether he's trying to be Joel Spolsky.

  • Everything google touches gets harder to use the more they touch it, and they ignore completely absolutely all feedback from users. Otherwise explain G+ whitespace.

  • What the fuck is this garbage? google haven't gotten better with design they have gotten a 1000 times worse. Android is not an example of google design, it is a success despite the horrid design and inconsistent user experience.
  • I'm not sure I trust any commentary on design from a website that's so utterly fucking shit in its presentation of its content.

    That's a horrific web page!

    Anyway, the original Google.com was beautifully designed - "All the while, they've stubbornly kept the Google homepage concise and pristine." --https://www.wired.com/2003/01/google-10/

    • And there's so many similar websites out there. I blame CMS templates and idiot designers. Content needs to be separated in sections, not thrown at the browser as one long single page. And what's with those damn animated wavy separator lines? DO NOT MAKING ANYTHING MOVE ON THE PAGE BY ITSELF. That's anti-user design, some of us can't read when things move around on their own.

  • by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Friday October 13, 2017 @11:16AM (#55362413) Homepage Journal

    I followed the link and skimmed quickly, just to look at pictures. After the initial image of the upcoming products, there is a sweet ass picture of a phone that looks like it wipes the floor with all competitors. Unlike a lot of crap out there, it appears they left enough space in the case to fit in a real battery, and it has physical buttons too! Win/win. Finally, there's going to be be good phone hardware on the market! I was getting excited.

    Then the caption explains that it's the G1, the first Android phone. The best-looking product on the page is the one the author hates the most, and apparently Google too since you can't buy anything like that anymore.

    Fuuuuuuuuck....

    (To be clear, I was just judging the book by its cover. I'm not saying the G1 has a great processor or enough storage or anything like that. I'm just saying that it looks like an outstanding case compared to anything you can get from Google, Apple, Samsung, etc.)

  • excuse me? good at design? Have you actually SEEN what they presented? none of that actually looked any good, just like their chromecast which looks awful.
    Sorry but if there's one thing google's bad at, it's design.

  • I emphatically disagree. The products Google introduced are uniformly ugly (particularly the Pixels). That follows with the hideousness that is "material design".

    From where I sit, Google is terrible at design.

  • Duarte was right: Google is really bad at design. And design at Google got much worse once Duarte took the helm. Material design is a major step backwards for user interfaces: gratuitous animation is freaking annoying, and adds pointless latency, which incurs cognitive cost.
  • "A fuzzy little donut you can have a conversation with." Where I come from, donuts are for eating. Unless they're fuzzy, in which case it's time to throw them in the trash. And I would much rather have a conversation with my wife, or my children, or any other human.

    I agree with virtually everyone else here; Google is Terrible at design.

    And for the record, the author flunked Topology 101; that thing is not homeomorphic with a donut.

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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