04/07/2011

A closer look at the Google+ UI


So Google+ is here, albeit on a beta trial. The launch of Google+ has been nicely timed to tie directly in with the rollout of Google's new design language.Creative Director Chris Wiggins has described the new design language as "elastic, focussed and effortless". At first glance the word "clarity" came to my mind. All extraneous details and any sense of depth has been stripped away. An interesting decision when you consider Apple's increasingly rich approach to UI design and also that the design lead on Google+ was former Apple designer Andy Hertzfeld.

Over the course of the launch week product teams at Google have been swiftly applying the new visual design to each webapp in their portfolio. Whatever you think of the new design approach you have to admit that the speed of the rollout is impressive, for an organisation of Google's size.

Google+
When mentioning Google+ it would be daft not to bring up Facebook comparisons. When looking at the page architecture, they seem almost identical. Facebook's vertical devices used to divide up content and their approach to function highlighting have been duplicated entirely. Column width ratios are a only very slightly different, but the location of search and navigation points are all the same. The only place Google has deviated from Facebook's design formula is in the space each page element is allowed, which has given Google+ a more spacious layout.

The UI details are so stripped back they have become microscopic. When a post is highlighted the only visual feedback is a 1 pixel blue line on the left side.
Perhaps as features are added and Google moves to introduce advertising (you know its coming) the pages will fill out a little more and details will be added. I'll be interested to see how the increased functions and content will affect Google's approach to multiple CTA styles.

Google+ Circles
Without doubt the real crowd pleasers in Google+ are Cirlces (the contact grouping service) and Hangouts (video chat programme). At this point I've no real interest in Hangouts because it requires a plugin installation and there seems to be nothing particularly different beyond Skype or Facetime. Circles on the other hand presents a whole new proposition.
On the surface it's a novel tool for organising friends and contacts, but beyond that it's a sophisticated way of taking all of the shared content and filtering it to your preferences. Notionally Circles could change the way in which all our social network activity is viewed. I'm not aware of anything out there in the mainstream that offers a new way of digesting content like this. Visually Circles is the only part of the new Google+ design palette that has any interface details. Interactions are drenched in silly rollovers and animations, which could get annoying, but as an introduction to Google's playful new environment work quite well. They have applied the "useless, but fun" theory of interaction design that makes people fall in love with a product.

WDYL
What Do You Love is everything good about Google in one product. With the new design language in full flow, this cheeky little project shows Google taking what it does well (that's search in case you forgot) and offering something new. The interface is detailed enough to appear rich, but simple enough not to intimdate new comers. It's not easy to see how this fits in with Google's other products, but I hope it's around for some time to come.


Overall Google's design strategy works very well for them and has been applied faultlessly across each of the products.Whilst I think the direct references to Facebook show blatant signs of Google's intention it's a relief to see Google finally giving some attention to its design approach.