When you live with someone for a while and all of a sudden, one day they come home with a different haircut and a new set of trendy clothes, it takes you by surprise. You realise it's a change for the better, but it's usually a bit of a double-take moment as your once nerdy friend has suddenly scrubbed up rather nicely. Well our good friend and ever-reliable colleague Google has had a wardrobe change, not to mention a bit of a trim.
Being a designer at heart, not to mention self-confessed internet addict, it came as a pleasant surprise to see Google giving their pages a bit of a design update. From the official blog, comes a notice about “Evolving the Google design and experience” which sounds like designer-speak for “we made it look and feel better”.
We've been told to expect a number of changes over the next few months, and “Even our classic homepage is getting a bit of a makeover”.
Currently it looks like the changes have been rolled out on the .com homepage, but the UK based .co.uk top level domain still uses the older interface (at the time of writing) [Ed: it looks like both TLDs now use the new design.]. So without going in to too much detail, let's take a look at some of the changes for Joe Average.
First off there's the rather obvious imposing dark grey bar along the top, hovering over your search results like a know-it-all uncle who stands behind you when you're using your computer, stifling his desire to point out your spelling mistakes. That seems to be consistent for everyone however, old and new it's been rolled out across all the google sites, and to be honest it's not altogether that offensive.
There's a nice simple highlight on the current option and a clear hover effect. No real change on the typeface front, Google opting to stick with Arial, and a sans-serif fall-back. Presumably the smaller font stack saving vital bytes on overall loading times.
Moving to the main area, the Google logo has been reduced in size, where there was once an considerably larger logo, they have presumably realised that there's no need to have it quite so large, and reduced it somewhat.
The search bar its self has lost the raised, drop shadow effect in favour of a slightly darker top border to give it more of an inset look. Not only that, but it's lost the “Advanced search” and “Language tools” links to the right of the search bar, in favour of hiding them up in the top bar, under the cog icon, presumably deemed a well enough recognised symbol for settings of some sort. That said, it wasn't immediately obvious where this stuff had gone.
The buttons below the search bar have also been “flattened” and reduced in size slightly, however now boast a hover effect making them feel somewhat more responsive. I'm wondering whether people's habits of just mashing the enter button instead of clicking “Google Search” is forcing Google to re-think the importance of that button? It certainly feels less important with the lighter, less invasive text colour, and greater distance from the search box.
The other main change on this page is that the “footer” links such as “Advertising Programmes”, “Business Solutions”, “About Google” and so forth have been demoted to the bottom of the page. Unfortunately replaced by an odd “A Google A Day” feature. I suggest placing your bets now on how long that particular feature will last. Aside from being an ideal place to sell some advertising (a question on say, Nike's latest innovation?), I don't see the point. Especially after Google talk on their blog about focus:
“the only thing you should be concerned about is getting what you want. Our job is to provide the tools and features that will get you there quickly and easily.”
So where does “A Google A Day” fit in to that? [Ed: it also looks like this has been subsequently removed]
On to the search results page, and there's a clear change here. For a start, the page has been left aligned. Where the older SERP hovered towards the left, but refused to quite touch the side, the new page is comfortably left aligned.
In presumably an attempt to focus the page on the actual results, the bar to the left has opted to knock the link colour back to grey, with a terracotta title or highlight colour, matching the small highlight on the top grey bar. For the main left hand links there's a light grey background on hover, and the icons have been knocked back to single colour grey. This definitely helps the main search results jump a little further out the page.
The search filters have a similar treatment, and hover highlight is underline as it was previously across all left-hand links.
The other clearly noticeable change here is that the header area containing search bar, google logo, and result number has been given a distinct separation from the main search results with a background colour and bottom border. This helps distinguish it from the main page, and there's something about this nice light grey (#F5F5F5 for any designers interested), combined with the terracotta title colour (#D14836) that works for me.
This top bar, boasting the search box also has a nice blue button for searching again, and right next to it is quick access to the SafeSearch settings – presumably something people use a lot, and didn't want to have to hunt through settings to find. A welcome change I feel.
In terms of the actual search results, the format seems to be more or less the same. The same blue links, green URLs and black text. Obviously there are other updates that have given us the Instant Preview magnifying glass, the +1 button, and other such things, but for the most part there seems to be minimal tinkering with this area.
Overall I'd say for me, the change is welcome – I think it's a tasteful alteration, that does enough to justify a change, and help their core goals in focus, elasticity and effortlessness while also not being overpowering or too much of a change as to confuse people.
I think one or two things could be a little clearer (hiding things in the settings dropdown for example) but at the same time, perhaps research shows that these things are hidden because they're no longer required or relevant to most people.
I for one look forward to seeing how many other changes we get, and how Google develops its look and feel in the future.