Everyone has a bad day. It's possible for even the most successful companies or individuals to miss the mark. Someday, Pixar will make a movie that is merely average instead of great. Some time in the future we might see Lebron James brick a ton of shots in one night. And it's even hypothetically possible that Google might tinker with their product a little too much.
Heck… might have happened already.
Exactly what are they smoking over at Google? Screenshots are starting to pop up here and there of the new Google UI (User Interface). Now, they've been testing this since at least November, when Danny Sullivan wrote about it. But now there are rumors that it's out there in the wild for some users. Here's a look at a screenshot of the new UI this morning (followed by a shot of the current live result of the same query for comparison):
Now, I understand the drive to improve your product and user experience. Heck, if Google wasn't trying to improve and just kept the status quo we'd be ripping them for inaction and they might even start to suffer market share loss.
But there's a thin line between "improving the UI" and "mucking it all up with flashy things.”
Maybe I'm going a bit overboard with the negativity-tinged sarcasm… I've been known to do that.
So let's break down the new UI a tiny bit and see what's different or new:
1. The search button is blue.
Why? Were users confused by the former (grey) button? Were users showing behavior indicating they needed the button to stand out more or be more patriotic? A button color change just feels silly—like something a more immature, less established engine might do. If people don't know how to find and click the buttons on Google, I humbly submit they aren't worthy of using the engine in the first place.
But hey, I'm sure they have research and data that suggests a blue button is better. Someone probably got paid a lot of money to pump out a 40-page document on the effectiveness of button color changes.
The "Google Search" and "I'm Feelin' Lucky" buttons on the home page are also blue with white text.
2. The search options on the left are now permanently open.
This is the part that everyone's saying makes the new UI a bit of a Bing clone. And guess what… it feels like Bing.
And why do we need all the search type options twice? Look down the left sidebar, and you'll see some familiar faces: videos, news, images, books, blogs, etc. Yes, those same options you've always had up at the top of the screen—hey look… they're still up there too! Twice the chance you'll find them. (The new ones on the left have bright colors, though, and nifty little icons to help them stand out).
We now have a three column layout for Google results. One for options, one for ads, and… oh yeah… that one in the center for actual results. The whole thing feels cluttered. Like Robert Yang implied over at e-storm, it feels like Bing and Yahoo mashed together with the old Google.
3. The outline of the search box is now a blue line instead of a grey one.
I wonder if they got some focus group data that showed them that blue is the new grey?
4. There is no longer a space between the search field and the search button.
Phew. I've been wondering for years when they were going to remove that nagging space. It was really bothering me. Glad they finally did that. The three millimeters of real estate will come in handy. (sarcasm, for those not picking up on it)
5. The Google logo is now larger.
Not sure I have any feeling about this either way, other than the general rule I have that you never make the logo bigger just for the heck of it.
There are a bunch of other tiny changes that probably aren't worth mentioning (the total number of results and the time it took the search to complete are now directly to the right of the search field instead of slightly below it on the right side… that kind of thing). But all in all, I see them fixing a lot of little things that didn't appear to be broken, with the end result being something that feels… almost un-Google-like. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Change is good, in general. But it seems to be their biggest step yet outside of the classic look and feel of the results. As with all UI changes, time will tell if these were good or bad, and the users will be the ones to determine that. I'll try and remember to check back in on this down the line for a follow-up story.
The sad fact, though, is that I'm completely biased. I have spent and will continue to spend much more time on Google's results pages than the average user. It's part of what I do for a living. So maybe I'm not objective when it comes to the blue button or the three-panel layout. Perhaps the general population finds these things more useful and helpful than I do. I'm certainly not an engineer. I have no experience whatsoever in tweaking the UI of the world's largest website. It's entirely possible that these changes will result in more users or happier users (or both). I'm alright with that.
At the very least, you have to applaud Google's willingness to try new things (even if those new things are slightly borrowed from competitors). A less-driven company would simply rest on the laurels of what's already proven to work. But from my position, they've gone a tad bit overboard with this round of changes. Anything that makes Google feel more like a Microsoft product is possibly a step too far. But what do I know?