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March 21, 2008

Google's Design Guidelines

Jon Wiley, User Experience Designer for Google Apps, outlined some of the most important principles for designing interfaces at Google. In his presentation at the WritersUA conference, Jon listed the following guidelines:

1. Useful: focus on people - their lives, their work, their dreams.
2. Fast: every millisecond counts.
3. Simple: simplicity is powerful.
4. Engaging: engage beginners and attract experts.
5. Innovative: dare to be innovative.
6. Universal: design for the world.
7. Profitable: plan for today's and tomorrow's business.
8. Beautiful: delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Trustworthy: be worthy of people's trust.
10. Personable: add a human touch.

Let's see if Google's homepage respects these guidelines. It loads fast and it's pretty useful for those go to The design is very simple and has little distractions, so it's not intimidating. You don't need a manual to use Google search, but you can learn some tricks that may help you get better results. I'm not sure if Google's homepage is innovative, but many other sites copied its simplicity. Google's homepage is instantly recognizable, so it crossed the cultural barriers, even if Google had to adapt it in Korea and Japan. The profitability is a consequence of Google's focus on delivering useful ads that are contextually adequate: placing ads on the homepage would probably alienate the users. Google's homepage is spacious, elegant and has some sense of humor: "I'm feeling lucky" and the doodles add a human touch. As for trustworthiness, the straightforward design should reinforce users' perception that Google doesn't have a hidden agenda and tries to offer the best answers.

User experience at Google (video)

{ via Functioning Form }

Update: Google explains these design guidelines in a new page from its corporate site. "The Google User Experience team aims to create designs that are useful, fast, simple, engaging, innovative, universal, profitable, beautiful, trustworthy, and personable. Achieving a harmonious balance of these ten principles is a constant challenge. A product that gets the balance right is Googley – and will satisfy and delight people all over the world."


  1. The number six, "Universal: design for the world." is not true.

    I just post a few minutes ago a review to Google Docs. In fact, I am reviewing google services in this week. And Google Docs isnt fully compatible with 800x600, GMail have small diferentes between FireFox and Internet Explorer, and so on.

    So, instead of lieing, they can try to fix the small part of the broken bones and then come up with a real "universal" version of things.


  2. @rui cruz: Google is not lying. Firefox and Internet Explorer are two completely different browsers made by two very different organizations, and neither of them supports the exact same feature set in either CSS or JavaScript. Cross-browser differences are a fact of the Internet.

    What's wrong with Docs in 800x600? If it's crowded or has things going off the screen, it's because there's not enough room in the browser window. End of story. Nobody can make sure a site works 100% perfectly on 100% of browsers at 100% of screen resolutions on 100% of operating systems. Differences are expected.

  3. I'm Feeling Lucky doesn't really amuse many people; they are confused by it.

  4. It's rather laughable that one of Google's execs is espousing good Web design tenets when Google's own sites have some of the ugliest design on the Web...

    And agreed with Justin about "I'm feeling lucky." It's just dumb.

  5. I agree with Justin about "Lucky".

    I disagree with anonymous about design - I think Google has the BEST desinged web interfaces on the web.

    Voyagerfan is spot on. A small 800x600 screen is the "fault" of the screen, not google's. Same goes for IE vs FF vs Opera vs Safari.

    Google really is doing a great job with design.

  6. It's all about statistics. 800x600 used to be the standard resolution for the web, but not too many use that resolution anymore. Most use 1024x768 and up. If you still have 800x600.. it's time for an upgrade.

  7. @Second anonymous: And that's the truth. I don't see much 800x600 in my site stats any more. Mostly 1024x768, though some days see stuff like 12--x768 or some weird res hit the top spot. (Stupid widescreen...)

    @First anonymous: I also disagree. I, too, think Google has some of the best UI designs around.

  8. Oh, how grand it could be if Google actually followed more of its design guidelines. Geeze, Google. (Drinking your own coolaide a bit too much?)

    Jeremy Horn
    The Product Guy

  9. I am a bit of topic, but do not see a place for general questions or comments, so here goes.

    How many readers does it take on average, to start getting in on really good conversations and start reaching the "right" audience?

    I have a very short (3 question) survey on my blog and I am trying to find successful bloggers who are willing to give some feedback.

    Will you help?

  10. "placing ads on the homepage would probably alienate the users" it would probably be impossible too - as you have no context in which to serve them until a search has been submitted- DOH !

  11. I agree that Google's design principles are dominating today and for most web applications they are excellent, when they are focused on straight forward functions (not simple). As more advanced functions are included the interface tends to get cluttered, eg compare the google homepage with gmail.

    As for the resolution discussion. I claim that it is still necessary to cater for low resolutions. In some cases it is necessary to have all the resolution, but when screen real state is used for blank space it really annoys me. I may have lots of resolution, but usually don't surf at full screen, but rather in a small window in order to see other things too.

  12. A homepage with just a logo and a text field? Innovative in my book...

    Not serving adverts on the most visited homepage on the internet? Takes balls...

    Google Docs not optimised for 800x600? Design for (the vast majority of) the world.

    Oh and did we talk about the wonder that is Gmail yet? :)

  13. Just a short thought about the screen resolution: it's true, 800x600 used to be a common screen size back in the early days, but today it's not used widely anymore. On the other side: the small laptops like the EEE pc, the Cloudbook and many others of that kind gain much popularity and are equiped with a native screen of 800x480 (and other small resolutions), and - for example - the EEE encourages users on the "Web" tab to use GoogleDocs, so we'll probably need to adjust the applications to fit within lower resolution than originally expected.

    Just my 2c

  14. I think that "I'm feeling lucky" is a pretty neat idea. I use it a lot and so do my friends. At times it is amusing when you go to a site you weren't expecting. C'mon people where is your sense of humor?

  15. I like the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. It's funny and by experimenting I understood fast that it means I might get lucky with the first search result. You don't have to press buttons you are scared of and Google does explain it for example here:

  16. This is a very solid list. The challenge comes when the definition or meaning of the 10 items listed differ from person to person. What might seem incredibly useful, simple, innovative for one person could be the opposite for another. Key items one must consider are asking as many people as possible for their opinion, having good taste and common sense. As you know "good taste" and "common sense" are intangibles, therefore you need to have the "right" talent in the right positions and keep your fingers crossed. =)

  17. I'm a fan of plain, notebook and docs. But I find gmail UI very annoying (note that I never used hotmail). Gmail UI is good for computer geeks but not for general users.

    Also I agree that "I'm feeling lucky" is rubbish. But I read some where that button has contributed lot to gain popularity during google early days. Anyway I dont think that I believe it!!!


  18. Guess google should apply these principles to Google Sky.. the site looks total crap and reminds one of old crappy geocities pages

  19. I think even that lacks on design. Google frontend code maybe be "some kind compatible" but their tag soup is huge than a mansion.

  20. I agree with what Anon said about the 800x600 resolution with respect to the EEE PC and other ultralight mobile computers. In that resolution, the Edit toolbar in Google Docs takes two rows. That extra row is enough for two more lines of text. As much as we want to increase the resolution, we can't as that is as high as it goes for a 7-inch screen.

    Designing for the vast majority of the world? Following that logic, webmasters should cater to IE users only and forget about Firefox. In my opinion, even though you cannot reach perfection, you should still design to be mostly compatible with everyone, and that includes those who have screens much smaller than yours.

  21. As the geek population ages and the majority of monitors still in use are 17 inch monitors. 1024x768 is still a decent resolution for ones failing sight. BUT the problem is when websites are "best viewed at 1024x768"; this forces the user to go full screen and reduces the ability to multitask in the UI. A site that is developed for 800x600 is much more preferable as it can be run in a window allowing more of the desktop to be free for other apps. But who cares about the average user right? As long as we developers can afford our greater than 20 inch monitors, 1024x768 is no big deal.

  22. @Anonymous (most recent): I object to your implication that all developers have 20" widescreen, high-resolution monitors. My own computer is a laptop with a maximum resolution of 1024x768. It has been that way for five years, through two computers. Sometimes I wish I had a bigger screen, but I have what I have and browsing full-screen is what I always do. I have yet to see someone, geek or not, intentionally make the browser into a window. Power users are the ones who run multiple programs at once, not average users.

  23. Beautiful? The Google logo is crap.

  24. Like all it is normal. How many people are so much and opinions.

  25. I think that "I'm feeling lucky" is a pretty neat idea. I use it a lot and so do my friends. At times it is amusing when you go to a site you weren't expectin Beautiful? The Google logo is crap.

  26. I stumbled on this post looking for a solution to gmail at 800x600, I use 800x600 for remote desktop and having recently migrated my email over to gmail. I'm finding it a royal pain to keep having a horizontal scroll bar.

    They also use a lot of images as backgrounds, which don't show up (for one reason or another). Facebook has a similar issue, I can't tell if someone is online or idle on Facebook chat unless I load it locally.

    It may be a minority of us who use 800x600, and if you don't want us on your site don't design for us and we will stop coming. Plus, with mobile and ultra-portable devices on the rise we're seeing a (albeit temporary) rise in low res machines. In the end, it all depends on the visitors you want to attract and keep.

    Unless I find a neater solution to viewing gmail, I'll be leaving for a hosted email provider who lets me use whatever screen res (and window size) I fancy.

  27. I think the aesthetic of Google's simple and functional design is very much the drawcard for users such as I who want good relevant results not pretty icandy browsers that serve up rubbish.

  28. It's 2011 but this post could not be more well appreciated because the same still holds true now, and will continue to do so. User experience is paramount. With so much emphasis on local searches and optimization, the reality is if a website lacks or lags in providing an authentic, interactive interface with the end user, it's at a complete loss. As always, well appreciated Alex, keep up the great work


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