Home > Project Rethink > The Circle of Google and User Experience

The Circle of Google and User Experience

December 14th, 2009

Google has evolved beyond a single web application. Google has capitalized on establishing a consistent user experience across the web. One of the key factors to Google’s success, besides their dedication to innovative solutions, is found in their application workflows.  Recently I clicked through the links in the top left corner of every major Google web app and was surprised to find “The Circle of Google”.

I don’t know if Google planned their application workflow this way, but the apps are cyclical. This circle is broken into two primary groups: Search and GTD. These two groups are the focus of the “Google Experience”.

The Circle of Google
[Search]

The Circle of Google
[Getting Things Done]

This is a key element of design that is often missed; design a user experience.

Apple learned this early on with the first iPod. They created a user experience which they then applied to iLife, and finally to their entire OS X workflow. Apple realized that they could not focus on an individual application or a piece of hardware. It became increasingly important to address the user experience and how the applications work together.

Too much emphasis is placed on individual aspects of a program, not enough time is spent on the transitions between them. To often we forget that:

User experience design is just as important as user interface design.

These services are cleverly designed to work with each other, giving the user [you] a unified experience. Lets look at the “Circle of Google”:

The Circle of Google

Taking this diagram one step further, I think there is something we can learn from how the “Google Experience” is structured. Consider this second diagram illustrating how the circle is cross connected.

The Circle of Google Connections

Google Web Search and Gmail are the primary entry points for “The Circle of Google”. They are the bridge applications between Search and GTD.

Search

First, the things Google did well. You’ll notice that Google Web Search is strongly connected to the other search applications. Google Web Search is smart enough to return results from web sites, images, maps, news, or shopping–depending on your search criteria. This is a great lesson in usability, and one of the primary reasons why these applications are used. Google does the work for you. Google doesn’t make you retype your query or prompt you to “Click Here to check for shopping results”. If you search for “sony tv” in Google Web Search it will return both web sites and shopping results. To the users, these apps feel as one; they contribute to the “Google Experience”.

GTD

Now the things Google did not do well, or rather the areas in which Google can improve. Gmail is a great web app, I use it every day, but its integration with the other GTD apps is not as strong as Google Web Search. For example, if someone emails me an event, Gmail is smart enough to give me links to put that event in my Calendar. The same thing is true for Google Docs. If someone emails me an attachment I can choose to download it or open it in Google Docs. However, there is not a connection to PicasaWeb (Google Photos) or Google Reader.

To improve this workflow Google should do two things. First, if someone emails me a photo Gmail should give me the option to open it in PicasaWeb. Second, If someone sends me an email with a link, and that web page contains an RSS feed, Gmail should show me a preview of that feed and “Add to Google Reader” buttons.

They are simple workflow changes, but these changes would solidify Gmail as an entry point to the GTD side of Google.

So you should ask yourself,

  • Are you giving your users an experience?
  • Is it the experience you intended?
  • Are your users going to talk about the experience?

I often hear the question asked, “How can I make my product go viral?”

The answer is frustrating but simple.  Social media works because people talk; it’s social.  If you want your product to work in a social marketing environment your product must be remarkable.  By remarkable I don’t mean the buzzword; I mean your product must be “worthy of being remarked or noticed”.

If your product is good, people will talk about it. Make it good by providing a user experience worthy of talking about.

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