Updated: Jul 10, 2021
“It’s exciting, and a little terrifying how many people see what we work on here.”
-Paul Schlacter, Google UX team, and Visual Designer.
Google is pretty much the industry leader in several sectors: automation, workplace culture, UX design, hardware technology, happiness index, and so on.
Many people elect Google as the “pioneer” of UX design. You see, Google does something very unique with its UX: it experiments.
New ideas are always welcomed with gusto and implemented at the first possible chance.
If the public decides that it doesn't like the new feature, it is simply rolled back.
Cue Google’s disastrous logo change in 2018: it was so bad that they took it down in under an HOUR.
While there was no significant impact on web traffic because of that stunt, there was a visible shift in the number of users who started using the address bar instead of the search bar.
What Exactly IS Google’s UX Strategy?
For some time now, Google has been following the British Design Council’s “Double Diamond” format.
Google uses the same strategy for both new product innovations and new UX ideas.
In essence, it runs through these steps:
Parent UX team breaks up into mini teams to collectively understand the idea.
Mini teams re-converge into the parent team to state their interpretation of the idea.
Parent UX team splits into mini teams to work on solutions to/ for the idea. These mini teams can be the same as before or be reshuffled.
Mini teams converge to share their ideas and pick out the best points from each suggestion.
Each mini-team then chooses a small task to accomplish the greater goal.
Mini teams complete their tasks and then converge into the parent team for the last time.
As a parent team, members work together to work out any kinks in the final design/ product.
The final review and testing is done by another team with similar qualifications.
If you look at the above image, you will immediately understand why this process is called the “Double Diamond”.
Each of the red dots in the image represents the convergence of the parent team.
In the past, this strategy has proven surprisingly effective when it comes to UX -- and I see no reason why this should change, even in the future.
Google says, “The goal of UX is to help your user do what s/he came to your website to do.”
Therefore, the job of a UX expert would be to streamline that process and make it easy for the user to accomplish their tasks.
Take, for example, an e-commerce app/ website. The products can be fantastic, the pricing may be competitive, the loyalty program may be strong.
However, if the user experience is unsavory, the customer will simply close the application, resulting in lost sales.
Intechnic Analytics has researched this and concluded that 91% of customers who’ve had a bad UX simply leave, but a further 62% will tell other people about their bad experience.
This could result in possible sales loss due to bad word-of-mouth sales.
So far we’ve talked about Google’s implementation of new UX strategies, but what about the existing ones? What does Google do about those?
The answer: nothing. Yes, exactly that -- nothing. If Google management sees that a particular chain of UX strategies is doing well, they just leave it alone.
Some people choose to call this “lazy”, but I call it genius. After all, it is a fine line between being an idiot and a visionary -- but you have to be a visionary to see it.
This logic is similar to that of investments: if you want it to grow, the best thing to do is leave it alone.
And, just like with investments, if you leave it alone long enough, it’ll show a positive return (eventually).
This connection can be aptly summed up by the header on www.design.google: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”
After all, it is the consumer who makes (or breaks) a product -- and let’s not forget that Google is indeed a product.
Why Does This “Lazy” Approach Work So Damn Well?
There are lots of people who think that the whip is still the most effective tool to get work done, but there's a reason the whip is not used anymore.
We are now in modern times, and modern problems require modern solutions (yes, I used the meme).
My point is that, when you give people the run of the house to do whatever they want, people will try their best to show you that your trust is not misplaced.
After all, these aren't toddlers meandering about a daycare: they’re educated adults who’ve chosen (and fought!) for a place to work at your company.
Google recognizes and acknowledges this fact, and chooses to act upon it. Rather, it chooses not to act upon it, which is exactly the right thing to do.
Here are the reasons why I think the “lazy approach” to UX is the best:
Before we start, I'd like to point out that “lazy UX” does NOT mean that you simply slack off on your UX to begin with -- you still need a killer product to succeed.
“Lazy UX” means no changes to the plan once it has been implemented.
Limitation breeds creativity.
When you leave your team to talk amongst themselves, professional dialogue is encouraged.
This can often bring about new perspectives to old problems. This “breath of fresh air” is sometimes exactly what is needed to stop a team that has been stagnating.
There are no “walls”.
By “walls” I mean that there are no barriers to free speech: everyone is allowed to speak their mind.
A particularly lovely feature at Google is the ability to submit ideas anonymously.
That way, people can submit even controversial standpoints without fear of judgment or repercussions.
Everyone is equal.
Obviously, there are team leads, but their purpose is more geared towards being a moderator.
You’ll often notice that Google team leads are indeed experienced in their fields, but also have a LOT of people management or communication skills.
The most important outcome of this is that teams at Google have very little friction between them: everyone likes everyone else.
Nobody at Google wears suits. It's common to see people working at Google HQ in loungewear and slides: a home away from home.
In fact, Alphabet Inc. emulates this “second home” culture across all their ventures (of which Google is a part).
And, as the old saying goes, “Ain't no place like home”. Studies have consistently shown that when people are in a positive work environment, their joy shows in their work.
There are countless examples of how a happy workplace results in higher productivity- and Google is pretty much the benchmark.
At Google, UX is not a goal, it is a bespoke culture. I have, over the years come to respect it, after having first dismissed it as folly.
After a decade in the web industry, I’ve come to realize that Google has been playing the long game when it comes to design innovation and UX.
This has convinced me that Google is going to be one of the companies to usher the world into the next technology boom era.
I think that this is the secret ingredient to Google’s success (overall, not just in their UX leaps).