Leading by Design

AIGA recognizes Google’s commitment to design excellence

Google’s mission—to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”—suggests that in an increasingly complex world, our ultimate goal as a technology company should be simply to make life easier. We believe that design provides the language and framework for making this possible, and we're honored that AIGA—the largest and oldest professional design association in the US—recently recognized our commitment to design excellence with its 2018 Corporate Leadership Award. T**oday, we're sharing the short film and essay we created in conjunction with this honor, to highlight how we're using design—from search to VR, maps, and hardware—to give form to the future of technology.

Have you ever wondered what designers do at Google? Learn about the process and practice of design at Google, in this short film we created for the AIGA Awards Gala.

Design is for everyone

At Google, we’re using design to give form to the future of technology. In shaping the way people experience new ideas, we hope to make those experiences more human. This aim could be described as making people feel “at home” with technology—whether it’s the connection they feel in touching (or talking to) their device, or in trusting their camera to capture a moment on its own—we believe design has the unique ability to make the strange more familiar and the new more approachable and usable. It’s our goal to bring new ideas and experiences into the everyday—whether embodied in the shape, weight, and interface of our devices, our ability to connect with people we love who are far away (or that we’ve yet to meet), or to the virtual worlds we’ve yet to explore.

Google, of course, started as a search engine, transforming the topography of the internet by making it easy for people to discover new things. As this tool became more powerful, however, our design approach evolved to become more relatable and human. “Search itself is designed to be a dialogue,” explains Jon Wiley, a former designer on Google’s Search team who is now the Director of Immersive Design for Daydream. “It takes you through a back-and-forth so that you ask the right questions and get the most relevant answers—just like a normal, human conversation. Our design process isn’t monolithic or absolute—it’s an ever-evolving conversation with users and with technology.”

Doodles reflect Google’s culture and celebrate the innovation and artistry of everyday experience. “Celebrating Dolores del Rio” by Sophie Diao, August 3, 2017.

Design considers everything

Over the years, the search page has embraced its role in our everyday lives, extending the idea of a blank canvas, or daily resource, with Doodles that mark the passage of time and celebrate the innovation and artistry of everyday experience—from the legacy of Mexican actress and advocate Dolores del Río, to the anniversary of Pi Day on March 14th. The evolution of search signals our constant attention to the whole picture, in designing for multiple dimensions, rich interactions, and flexible systems. “As designers, it’s our duty to speak truth to power, to break down the silos of company organization and divisions between our products,” explains VP of Material Design, Matias Duarte. “The only authority we’re accountable to are the people on the other side of the screen.”

At its core, our design process is about discovering the best way to dissolve borders between people, places, ideas—even our own products. “The problems we’re solving—at the scale at which we’re solving for—can’t be done with a single vision,” explains Bobby Nath, Director of User Experience for Search, Maps, and Assistant. “It takes many people across a diverse range of knowledge.” To make a product like Google Maps more seamless and natural for the user, for example, it must marry the depth and complexity of travel (including everything from topography and time of day, to business hours and traffic delays) with a clear, straightforward UI—making it not only easy to get where you need to go, but also ensuring that you have a relatable, human experience along the way. This emphasis on the experience calls to mind what we mean when we say “focus on the user and all else will follow.” With Google Earth, that idea extends to the extraterrestrial and virtual realms, giving users the ability to transform their device into a vehicle for exploration. These rich experiences don’t require lavish materials. Google Cardboard—a simple, affordable cardboard VR viewer—allows anyone with a smartphone to experience mobile virtual reality. With its open-source design, Google Cardboard softens the barriers between creators and users and prides itself on being humble—another important Google tenet—without belying its ability to do extraordinary things.

Using conversation as a primary interface, the voice-controlled Google Assistant helps more people find information and control their devices, 2016.

Design is emotive

As a company built by makers, we take our hands-on approach to design very seriously. We have a strong culture of prototyping, researching, and refining to improve effectiveness and push past the obvious or superficial to consider a product from end-to-end, whether it’s helping people understand new languages more easily, or making a universal language like emoji more inclusive and representative of the people who use it. We’re also not above trying and failing—and trying again (see the Android hamburger emoji). As Duarte puts it, “Design is not art. It needs to be humble. Your users on the other end of your application, are not here to ‘experience’ your design, they’re just trying to get through their day, and any time they get tripped up by something—that’s your responsibility [as a designer].”

This attention to detail, and commitment to making our work more human means making it usable and accessible. The Google Assistant was designed to use the power of conversation—arguably our most fundamental and human interface—to help more people find information and control their devices. “How people feel about a product or piece of technology is just as important as that technology’s utility,” explains Robert Wong, VP of Creative Lab. “We look at things from the human, emotional perspective.”

Our suite of hardware products, for example, were built with the human hand in mind—designed to be emotionally and physically appealing with rounded corners and soft fabrics. As Ivy Ross, Google’s VP of Design for Hardware explains, “When we were designing the hardware—we kept coming back to Google’s design DNA—it’s human, optimistic, emotional. Those words were things the designers and I kept in mind. We’d often refer back to them. ‘Where’s the optimism in this prototype?’ ‘Is it daring enough?’” These devices offer a welcome sense of tactility and domesticity. Google Home was made to look and feel, well, homey.

A limited edition printed takeaway, created for the launch of Material Design at Google I/O 2014

Design gives form to the future

Intuitiveness, technological sophistication, and beauty are all core qualities of Material—a design system that brings best-in-class techniques into the digital realm, making it easier for product teams to build confidently within a well-designed framework. Inspired by the look of layered sheets of paper, Material injects a sense of physicality into digital interfaces, using the visual cues of shadow and light as affordances that are both beautiful and eminently usable. Material has continued to grow and evolve over the years, and is now used in millions of applications and digital products around the globe.

At the end of the day, everything we create at Google is about helping people do more—whether it’s finding what they’re looking for more easily, building more beautiful and performant products, or creating the right conditions and opportunities for inspiration to strike. Design is what ultimately connects us to these opportunities and shapes our experience of them. If we cannot relate to the form or the interaction, the moment has been lost. Or, as Catherine Courage, VP of Design for Ads, puts it, “As a designer, our focus on the user gives us free license to deliver great experiences—if you’ve got a great idea that will benefit them, you try it.”

To make a product like Google Maps more seamless and natural for the user, it must marry the depth and complexity of travel with a clear, straightforward UI.

Design is never done

Design is the common thread—from search to VR, maps, and hardware—tying together hundreds of projects under our quirky and colorful logo. In the decades since the search bar first appeared, Google’s brand has evolved and changed—expanding to encompass this varied constellation of apps, services, and technologies with an unmistakable Google style. “We often talk about how technology shapes the future, but design is what shapes the experience of that technology,” says Wong. “Our job is to make the tech experience as easy, joyful, meaningful, and relevant as possible.”

As a company, our focus is to look for that moment, that tool, that experience just around the corner; this requires that our design solutions never be anything less than of their time. Or as Margaret Lee, Director of User Experience for UX Community and Culture, sees it, “Great design connects the brilliance of great technology to the actual lives and experiences of the people who use it.” We’re negotiating new paradigms of connectivity, platform, device, and experience—trying to find new ways to mold them into relatable forms. And one thing’s certain, we’ll never stop searching.