Google Design

Oct 8th, 2014 by Max Tokman

We recently had a chance to review Google Design.  Without beating around the bush with verbose SEO-driven preface, here’s our quick take on it.

Pros - what you get from reviewing and following Google Design guidelines:

- Access to comprehensive design guide, developed by a major software company at significant expense

- Exposure to principles of software- and hardware-driven usability, where design is used to skin functionality instead of defining it

Cons - why you might not want to follow those guidelines on every project:

- Rigidly following Google Design will make your websites and apps look like Google products, which is not necessarily what your clients are paying for

- Best used with Google’s own applications, which are not suited for every project

- Sticking to standards is not necessarily great when you’re tasked with differentiating your product

Now, let’s expound on these bullet points.

Google is being very civic minded in releasing their design guidelines to developers and general public, even if they do aim at setting visual standards for website and app development and therefore exercising an even greater control over digital space as the standards authority.  Whoever sets the rules controls the game and in the absence of independently developed and strictly followed visual standards for website and app development, it is inevitable that a major browser maker, especially one with its own hardware line, would come up with a set of guidelines for others to follow.  So, this guide is a great opportunity to take advantage of Google’s quest for world domination and learn an efficient way of handling digital design.

As a technology company Google understands the need to put software and hardware requirements driven by user experience before visuals and their document clearly reflects it.  To a large extent, it is a unified presentation of standard practices such as web safe colors and typography approach, but they also elaborate on specifics based on download speeds, screen resolutions and user interaction with standard screen sizes.  Again, it is usability tied to technology with resulting standards impacting design, as opposed to design defining usability and technology - which in itself is a very useful concept to absorb.  

Obviously following Google’s design rules to a tee creates one small problem of resulting artwork looking like something designed by Google.  I can imagine quite a few situations when clients might want to preserve their branding at the expense of conforming to these standards and that’s where the real challenge of balancing business needs and best practices will take place.  On projects with existing branding you might want to draw inspiration from these standards rather than blindly following them, whereas smaller start up websites might actually gain greater visibility by riding the coat tails of recognized technology brand.  Google’s visual approach is most likely to be applied to projects created using their own website builder and Android apps, establishing consistent yet somewhat boring experience.  As much as we like standards and appreciate folks in Menlo Park for sharing their work, this is certainly not the defining work on website design.  

To sum it up - Google Design is good stuff; read it, try it, use it in your work.  Just remember that this is a freebie put out by a large company that wants to be an even bigger company with a help of more technology evangelists - Website Design Bible it is not.



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