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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 5, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Google unveils big redesign with new tools, logo refresh

Get ready for a new look the next time you use Google’s search engine. The company’s rolling out a major redesign today that freshens the look of its logo and cleans up the “footer” information displayed at the bottom of the page.

The biggest change is a new column on the left side of the search results that displays additional options to expand a search. For instance, when searching for “space needle” the left column will include a link to images, news and other categorized search results.

Newsy search terms will appear with the option to sift results by time, to find the latest results on a topic, and searches for products will present the option to see more or fewer shopping sites.

Microsoft’s Bing search service has used the left column this way since it debuted last summer.

But a Google designer on the project said the competition isn’t what drove the changes. He said it more influenced by Google users, and noted that Google’s dabbled with left column features since 2006.

“We definitely pay attention to what our competitors are doing but we’ve been working with our users and listening to our users,” said Jon Wiley, senior user experience designer.

Some of the changes tidy up some of the clutter that crept into the design as Google added new features and business initiatives in recent years. It also refines the “universal search” approach that debuted in 2007, incorporating images, news and other specialized search results into the main search results.

“What we’re really aiming to do is unify the search experience across all the modes,” Wiley said.

The left-column links (shown in this screenshot) also add new icons such as a camera for the images search, a film clapper for videos and a little book for books.

Next Steps in Google Search (screenshot).JPG

They tend to duplicate the options presented with text links on the top left of the search results page, running counter to the goal of simplifying the experience. But Google’s trying not to jar users, Wiley explained.

“Design is all about tradeoffs,” he said. “Because those links at the top have been there for several years, our users have formed muscle memory about navigating those things.”

But Google’s going to monitor whether the upper left links are used less, in which case they could be pared back in the future.

Also new in the left column are suggestions to broaden a search to related categories. A search for a rock band suggests similar bands, for instance.

Wiley said the links in the left column are generated algorithmically based on an analysis of the search query and won’t include paid placements.

As for the Google logo, Wiley said the company’s “taking what we think are the best parts of the Google logo and turning it up a notch” to increase “the playfulness, the colors.”

Bevels and gradients are smoother, the shadow is tighter and colors are brighter, he said.



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