After attending yesterday’s “A Brief History of the Complete Redesign of Google,” which gave an in-depth look at the process of the Google User Interface (UI) design and redesign over the year, at the South by Southwest Interactive 2012 Conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the redesign process at Google translates over to those of us who also have day jobs taking care of major website brands. A lot of the things that we complain about in our corporate work were discussed in the Google panel discussion, with examples of how they were overcome in this process.
The following things stood out to me as necessary for a complete Brand redesign to be successfully completed. Hopefully, none of the terms that the panel of Googlers used were proprietary or trademarked.
- Executive Buy-In
- Take the Design Temperature
- Unique Concept Presentation
- Do the Initial Design in a Vacuum
- Ask for Help – Bring Everyone In
- Create a Bullet-Proof Prototype & Style Guide
- Test – Do the Research
- Eat Your Own Dog Food
The first thing that really stood out to me was that both the 2007 redesign attempt and the 2011 redesign has strong executive buy-in. The lesson that we learn from Kanna is that executive buy-in doesn’t guarantee results, but a lesson learned from Strawman is that the 2011 redesign would not been possible without complete buy-in from the top and restructuring of all current priorities so that the project can be completed.
Take the Design Temperature
Instead of doing massive meetings and surveys with the product/business owners (in this case the CEO), the design team created a lot of design snippets on individual cards. The product owners were then instructed to create two stacks: “like” and “don’t like”. This was their initial design research. This obviously wasn’t the only research that was done, but this was all they needed for their quick iteration of the initial design. Once the initial design was approved, they could move the design on to the next design steps.
Unique Concept Presentation
Here’s a really crazy idea. Use something other than a PowerPoint (or in Google’s case, Google Presentations!) to show the business owners what the change will look like. Executives what projected presentations filled with data all day long every day. It’s amazing to think that the new, different presentation is the one that uses paper, but that’s where we are. The Google design team used 80lb weight 11×17 paper to display the current design and the proposed design. No data. No talking points. Just the designs. What better way to show how users will react to the new concepts than to let the product owners have that same reaction.
Do the Initial Design in a Vacuum
How many times do we start on a redesign of even one page and never get past the initial stages because so many different teams have ownership of the real estate? Even on minor changes, like changing a button or adding a data field to a form, I’ve run into groups I didn’t even know existed in the company that had to approve the change. If the initiative comes from the top and the design is truly great (from a user perspective) all of the one-off issues can be handled later. The main thing is to get a design that meets the initial requirements, while taking into account possible issues, but not bowing to them. The Google design team was at an advantage, because none of the individual property owners were on the design team. In their case, ignorance was truly bliss, as they didn’t have to take into account legacy items or hot topics, because the team didn’t know such problems existed.
Ask for Help – Bring Everyone In
Once the design is approved and the project is a “go”, the most important task is to bring everyone on board. Instead of alienating the brand design groups because the Creative Lab team had been chosen to do the overall design, the design team asked for help from every brand and property, because there was a nearly impossible deadline to meet. There’s nothing like an impossible deadline that comes straight from the top to bring a team or multiple teams together to pull hard in the same direction.
Create a Bullet-Proof Prototype & Style Guide
I was really impressed with the combination prototype / style guide that was created for the Kennedy project. Because the prototype code was used to create the style guide, the code was readily available in the style guide itself for the engineers to implement as they coded the design changes. Creating the application must have been quite an undertaking in itself. I would love to be able to play with it.
Test – Do the Research
Once the redesign was in progress, testing was top priority. Fortunately, Google has enough traffic to siphon off a little here and there and show them test versions of new designs. According to the Google panel, Google is running about 200 design tests at any given time. Make sure when you’re testing you get a good sample and are patient enough to make sure you get past any plateau that may occur during testing or backward spike due to change aversion.
Eat Your Own Dog Food
Every company, large or small, has to be able to use their own product. Even if the product you make is a niche product that doesn’t apply to an online media company, you have to know and use your own product. If you don’t have a product like gmail or Google Reader that your employees use every day, find a group of trusted product users and roll out iterative changes to them. They’ll give you your best feedback and help make your product better.
Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think.
- How Google’s Designers Got the Company on the Same Page (allthingsd.com)