Google+ manifests new approach to Google interface design

The net is abuzz with the news about Google+, Google’s newest attempt to counter Facebook’s dominance in the realm of social networks. Besides India and Brasil, where Google’s Orkut seems popular, the search engine giant has so far failed to successfully enter the social network ground.

"On one hand, you'll never be able to convince your parents to switch. On the other hand, you'll never be able to convince your parents to switch!" (by xkcd)

Currently, Google+ is invite-only, so no hands-on testing. But what can be said already from one of the teaser videos is that the visual design of the newest Google product deviates somewhat from what we are acquainted with out of the Googleplex. Engadget has collected numerous trailers highlighting Google+ features, the one in question is The Google+ project: A quick look, embedded below:

(focus on frames 0:10-0:15, 0:20-0:40 and 1:15-1:40)

Leading the user using salience: Colour-highlighting caused by mouse-over on buttons

Easy and intuitive drag-and-drop grouping of friends using circles. In my opinion, the circle works well as a visual metaphor (think 'circle of friends').

As the video and above stills show, Google+ features some visual niceties which I think offer good usability.

The first one is an approach towards visual design which to me seems rather different to, for example, the interfaces of Google Calendar or Google Reader (two of my most-used Google products). I find both Calendar and Reader visually not very appealing (though quite some things have improved a lot over the years). And for both there were Greasemonkey scripts like Helvetical or Helvetireader to make them look visually more pleasing (in this case, a.k.a. ‘less cluttered’) and thus more user-friendly.

Secondly, Google+ lets you group your friends using circles as containers. Judging from above teaser, the grouping is implemented in a simple drag-and-drop action (in the same way you can drag-and-drop e-mail attachments to GMail). The circles (‘of friends’) also work well as a visual metaphor, in my opinion.

Wired features an exhaustive article about Google+. There, Google’s hope is stated to be that the circles help solve the sharing problem that Facebook has failed to crack:

“With Facebook I have 500 friends — my mom’s my friend, my boss is my friend,” says Shimrit Ben-Yair, the product manager in charge of the social graph. “So when I share on Facebook, I overshare. On Twitter, I undershare, because it’s public. If Google hits that spot in the middle, we can revolutionize social interaction.”

Still according to Wired, the key interface designer of Google+ was Andy Hertzfeld, former Macintosh designer. He was given an open playing field in this project. Page 7 in the Wired piece states that

Larry Page has been a blood foe of “swooshy” designs and animations geared to delight users. He feels that it such frills slow things down. But Page has signed off on the pleasing-pixel innovations in Circles, including a delightful animation when you delete a circle: It drops to the bottom of the screen, bounces and sinks to oblivion. That animation adds a few hundred milliseconds to the task; in the speed-obsessed Google world that’s like dropping “War and Peace” on a reading list.

Well, I know about Google’s love for scalable products and processes. Still I suspect they have done well letting Mr. Hertzfeld have his way.

Summing it up, I think the newest Google product promises some nice visual design features. If they are as intuitive as one may suspect from the videos one can only hope that the new design approach is somewhat contagious within Google. About the social networking functionality of Google+ and whether the thing will be a successful Facebook competitor? – We’ll see.

(via Engadget)

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