Fugly Google

I really don’t understand why it is that all Google applications are soo bloody fugly. I mean seriously. Joen recently blogged about being a Google boy and I was thinking the same thing, that I do actually use a lot of Google products. I’m using Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps, Sketchup (at work), Google Docs (not the spreadsheets part, although I’m not using it all that much recently) and I don’t know how many times I go to the Google home page on a daily basis. The thing that I’m definitely starting to get annoyed with however is the bloody ugly interface that they insist on presenting for all their applications.

Making these things nicer to look at will most definitely make them more enjoyable to use. What’s mind boggling to me is that not enough people are talking about this. Some people have even taken matters into their own hands and actually tweaked the design interface using greasemonkey and Firefox. It does the job for sure, but you’ve got to wonder what is actually holding these guys back from actually employing 15 Jon Hickes for like 6 months and making them work full time on revamping the interfaces so they’re actually properly designed.

You actually want to take on the big boys like all these people are hinting that you are left right and centre, you’ve got to be dressed for the part. What’s even more interesting to me is the fact that Google has got the money, they’ve got the bloody resource, they’ve got the knowledge. I’m not talking complicated code restructuring here (after all they’ve got the functionality down to a bloody art form); I’m talking about the CSS and the little jpgs, you know simple, basic, shit.

So what is it they’re afraid of I wonder? Every once in a while they’ll change something (like the recent Google images) and then change it back again, so it’s not like they’re afraid of rocking the boat. The thing is though I’m talking about rocking the boat significantly.

The more I write the more I start thinking about this, they’re not changing things because they feel they’re doing well with the ugly interface as it is. That can be seen (although I might be jumping the gun here) as a sign of complacency. Something that an IT company should NEVER, EVER do, is sit on their laurels and pat themselves on the back for a job well done, because guess what, someone else is trying to be one step ahead of them.

Case in point, Facebook. Now here’s a website that is designed VERY well. It’s simple and it’s friendly and is updated and new features are constantly added and the interface is tweaked and icons are designed. The site has a distinct look about it, that’s not in your face, much like Google. All of these ideas all definitely contribute to it’s increasing success.

So my request from Google is to listen to their designers, I know you have them, but at the same time I’m sure the ones that are employed have got their nuts neutered and have to design things to a stupid house style, with no clear reason why, which is a real shame for all of us.


  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When I’m evaluating web applications, the first thing that I grade is functionality. They have to be easy to learn and use. For the most part, I think that all of Google’s applications have been designed with the user in mind. For the most part, they work and they work well. In my opinion, style is important but secondary. Style is also problematic because it’s subjective. One man’s vanilla is another man’s vanilla.

    1 Scott Gunsaullus
    Quote | 25/4/2007
  2. I agree with Scott’s comment but also feel your pain. I think there are much better designed, yet equally functional sites out there. Like Flickr. Simple, functional, and much easier on the eyes. My guess is they’re afraid to stray from their branding to date, with it’s rather geeky overtone. If they get too slick looking they might be viewed as trendy or less serious, I suppose.

    2 mahalie
    Quote | 25/4/2007
  3. magnolia, newsvine, flickr, facebook, all excellent sites that are well designed. Hell even writely was better designed than the eventual google docs. I’m not talking about getting gradients and whatnot in there and making it follow the recent design trends. That’s rubbish. But getting some proper icons and a decent colour pallete will do wonders for furthering the enjoyment of the whole experience and the use of the programme.

    Scott we can all agree that things churned out of myspace are fucking ugly and stuff coming out of happy cogs generally isn’t. Design isn’t subjective when you know what’s going on. Granted not everyone knows what’s going on but if the designers behind say Facebook or newsvine were given google products to design, I think they’d come up with something more appealing in general.

    3 Khaled
    Quote | 25/4/2007
  4. This is an interesting discussion. Mostly because I think part of Googles success is their design!

    In this case we should discuss some semantics first. In my book, there’s functionality, and there’s pretty. The combination of these two make a design. In the case of your rant here, I’m guessing you’re criticizing the pretty aspect (or lack thereof).

    Well, Google’s homepage might not be pretty… well the beveled/drop shadowed logo has never been a favourite of mine either. Gmail may not be pretty either. So sure, things could probably be prettier.

    However, in my experience (which culminates in a rather sad realization a few years ago), the finest an interface designer can ever achieve is to be invisible. That means, the pretty aspect of a design should not only NOT get in the way, it should be so transparent that users immediately forget about it and jump right in! The previously mentioned sad realization is that my if I am ever to be a good interface designer, I should leave most of my aesthetic sensibilities at home.

    I actually wrote a whole article about this: Pretty is relative.

    Bottomline: While Googles product might not be pretty (they’re certainly not fugly, IMHO), they’re extremely usable. Attributing the entirety of Googles success on this usability might be a bit much, but even if it’s just a sliver — well you can’t argue with their results.

    4 Joen
    Quote | 26/4/2007
  5. Damn you Joen, you’re right, partly :).

    I was meaning the ‘pretty’ part of the design. Little things like colour, icons, typography, highlights etc. It’s just that not everything has to look so industrial and unpolished. I suppose part of the reason why I posted this is because I’m actually enjoying using Flickr and Facebook so much and those designs are not overpowering in any way and yet have a similar level of interactivity and usability as any google application.

    I don’t think you have to leave the aesthetic sensibilities out of the equatio, but I DEFINITELY agree that it is a lot harder to implement and keep it universal. The thing is it can be done and many have shown us how again and again.

    5 Khaled
    Quote | 26/4/2007

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