It’s only been a short while since Google co-founder Larry Page assumed the role of CEO but it’s safe to say that we now have a sense of what his vision of Google looks like. Apparently design is a key part of it.
The search giant’s recently launched, high profile social networking bid Google+ debuted with an unexpectedly thoughtful (though admittedly derivative) design, and evinces an attention to the finer details of typography, spacing and visual hierarchy that was previously absent across the vast majority of Google’s products. Similarly, the company has made additional refinements to its iconic home page that reflect a newfound respect for the intangible — the changes have been minor, but they’ve felt less beholden to the brutally analytical decision-making that has guided Google product design and aesthetics in the past.
Gmail Gets Some Space
Not long after it rolled out Google+, the company also debuted a new look for its widely-used Gmail application. This is apparently the first of “a series of interface updates to help strip out unnecessary clutter and make Gmail as beautiful as it is powerful.”
I think it looks terrific, if only because among other improvements it finally heeds my advice that the Gmail interface could be dramatically improved with just a bit of extra spacing (this is a point I made three years ago in this blog post by gently modifying the then-current Gmail interface to reflect more careful spacing). The designers of this new theme have gone even further than I suggested by adding an extremely generous amount of spacing in the theme’s list view, but thankfully there’s a slightly denser option available that, in my opinion, strikes just the right balance.
Assessing the Design Moment
Earlier this year, when it was first announced that Page was going to be stepping forward and assuming the CEO title, I wrote in a blog post that “This could be Google’s design moment.”
“We tend to think that design is a function of good process, well-structured organizations, and copious time and budgetary resources. But design is just as much a function of leadership. Who’s in the top seat matters very much to whether a company can design well. If the leader cares passionately about producing amazingly well-designed products, then you can get a string of indelible successes that capture the popular imagination like we’ve seen at Apple for the past decade-plus. We haven’t seen that kind of result from Google during that same span of time, though. Beyond the iconic minimalism of the original Google home page, not one of their subsequent products has truly inspired us.”
I’m not sure that Page has fully seized the moment yet — these recent launches look better than what came before them, but they’re not terribly inspiring, and they’re certainly not iconic. But they do represent a promising step forward, and they could be setting the stage for much more exciting things. It’s early yet in Page’s tenure, so I hope that’s the case.