A lot has been written about how Google has changed the way we use the internet. From its iconic search engine to its widely popular Gmail, Google has regularly influenced how the internet works and what users expect from a service. I’m going to avoid the big-picture view and focus on Google’s equal impact in the field of user experience.
Google’s variety of products has influenced user experiences across the internet. Whether you’re shopping for products or visiting a freshly redesigned site for the first time, you can bet Google had a hand in what you’re seeing on the screen.
Here are a few of the ways Google has changed the user experience on websites across the internet.
You could make a living trying to crack the formulas used by Google’s search engine. Most of the attention is focused on how and why pages are ordered the way they are, but an important albeit less scrutinized feature of the search engine is the predictive text that pops up when you’re typing out your search. By leveraging search history and endless amounts of data, Google suggests things we might be interested in looking for.
This is both useful and amusing. Typing “How to get …” brings up suggestions ranging from “how to get away with murder” to “how to get rid of ants.” It’s fascinating to see what’s popular with other users, but also as a way to save time when looking for information. Predictive search has become so influential and widely used by Google that the company has even been accused of changing suggested searches to influence elections.
Predictive search is much more benign – yet just as useful – for online retailers. In e-commerce, predictive search is a way to increase sales and give customers what they want. Sites ranging from Amazon to smaller, specialized retailers harness the power of predictive search in order to improve the shopping experience.
The web used to be pretty cluttered. Back in the early days, sites were overwhelmingly busy. Take a peek at what Yahoo – once the world’s most popular website – used to look like. The most polite thing to say about the design is that there’s a lot going on.
From its inception, Google has always taken a sleeker, sharper approach to design and its interfaces. The main Google page is legendary for its simplicity – but don’t be fooled into thinking that simplicity is easy. The company has been incredibly fussy at times. It once conducted A/B testing to compare 41 slightly different shades of blue on links.
While Google wasn’t alone in pushing for a simpler, cleaner design on the internet, it’s arguably one of the biggest influencers in making this change. Its style is inspiring many other designers.
Easing Users Into Changes
Users hate change. When they’re used to the way something looks, they’re frustrated when things are changed. Don’t bother explaining that the changes to the website, app or whatever make for vast improvements and that they’ll soon appreciate the update – they just want it to look like it did before. Of course, people eventually adapt to the changes and often forget what the old site even looked like. Despite that likely result, conducting an update is like walking on thin ice. One step in the wrong direction and your customers can abandon you.
Many of the big sites have undergone mini-revolts when updating their pages. Facebook caused quite a stir a few years ago with a major update, and even Google hasn’t been immune. A big overhaul of Gmail at around the same time bothered a lot of customers.
Google isn’t perfect, yet it’s been better than most at rolling out big updates to how its products or pages look. It’s been especially good in the past few years, as it has admitted that it really sweated the details when it came to Gmail. This type of meticulous and extensively tested approach is what made Instagram’s widely publicized May 2016 redesign a success.
A Sense of Playfulness
Google, along with its parent company Alphabet, is worth more than $500 billion. Despite the massive size – and incredible power – that comes from being in such a position, the company does a good job of integrating the ideal amount of humor that you’d want to see from a massive corporation.
Google Doodles, which change on the homepage daily, offer a mixture of fun interaction and interesting information. Smaller features, like the dinosaur video that comes up on Google Chrome when a page is dead, are also a nice touch.
Companies either take themselves way too seriously or go too hard in trying to be personable. Google does it just right, and that mixture has influenced how other companies behave. Companies ranging from Tesco to Converse have implemented that kind of playfulness as well.
A Changing Experience
Google has changed the way we use the web in a variety of ways, but its work on user experience shouldn’t be overlooked. Look close enough and you can see how Google’s approach to user experience has affected all corners of the web.
Lexie Lu is a UX designer and blogger. She actively contributes to the world of design and usually has a cup of coffee in close proximity. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.