Review

Review: The modernized, refreshed Google interface

Google has created a stir recently by changing a lot of their services’ interfaces to coincide with the announcement and private beta release of their Google+ social networking service. So today we’re sharing our opinions of the changes that Google has made, considering so many use their services, and giving our thoughts on what could be improved.

Search

First up is the big one: the most used search engine in the world. Google has changed the interface here greatly by introducing a new, less colourful colour scheme around the Search interface. Link colours remain largely unchanged; however the sidebar has received a nice shade of black with red/orange highlights to go with. The search bar has received a grey backing and the overall top bar has been changed from white to black.

We’ve heard complaints that the black top bar is too contrasting with the rest of the largely white interface. Yes, the black bar is definitely contrasting with the rest of the interface, but we’re inclined to say that could be a good thing. Having a largely single-contrast (white) interface is bland, and by adding the black bar and grey highlights to the top it serves as a more sophisticated and professional looking baseline to the rest of Google’s services and your own Google profile. Twitter did the same thing with the black top bar and it too worked well.

The top grey section with the Google logo and search area seems to be a common theme among the rest of the interface changes, as you’ll notice later. The search button has been separated and coloured which gives interest and, along with the new minimal icon set, makes the new look feel more modern. The results list has been spaced more, and while the immediate reaction may be that you need to scroll more, in actual practice this seems not to be the case as you usually refine your search rather than scrolling or going to the next page

Gmail

The new Gmail theme is not enabled by default, you actually have to change your theme; we recommend the use of the Dense theme as it saves space. Again, the issue of scrolling seems apparent with the new Gmail theme, as generally interface items are more spaced (especially lists). You fit fewer items on the screen and it appears as though buttons are optimized for touchscreen rather than a keyboard and mouse.

Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. The new interface with its upgraded colour scheme, contrasting red/orange in the sidebar with blue for search and links, looks fantastic and is a much needed refresh. However, the larger interface in general takes up more vertical space than necessary instead of expanding out into the large horizontal area that most modern widescreen monitors have. There are benefits to having larger buttons such as making them more obvious and easier to hit, but we can’t help feeling that the buttons are perhaps just a bit too big.

Despite this, we’re probably going to prefer the new theme. It looks great and fits in with the rest of the new set of Google themes, and seems to finally put together all the little updates Google has been making to Gmail in the one unified interface. The interface has also been squared off a lot more than in the previous theme, which seems to conform to changes we first saw with the Android Gingerbread update. The scrolling/vertical space issue we can likely overcome with more use of the search bar, and also more use in general.

Calendar

There have also been some changes to Calendar. Again, we’re seeing the overall theme change, the squaring off of interface items and a generally more modern and refreshed feel to the service. The improved interface in Calendar looks great and there really are no outstanding issues to speak of, only a few minor things that have yet to be updated, like when you click on an event for a preview and you get the dated looking rounded bubble and when you quick create an event you also get the dated bubble.

Maps

Again, there is not much to see here with the update to the Maps interface except for what we have already mentioned. The interface feels more modern and refreshed, and Google has added the handy feature of My Places, which lists all places you have saved and rated for easy re-access in case you feel like visiting the same place again. There have been no changes to the actual maps part of Google Maps, so it’ll feel familiar in that respect.

Conclusion

While the features across Google’s services have essentially stayed exactly the same, the new interfaces are extremely nice to use, more sophisticated, more modern, more professional, and ultimately look better as well. Good work, Google. It was about time that they received an update. There are some kinks where Google has decided to take up more space than necessary with their upgraded interface items (we’re looking at you, Gmail), but after some using by us and some tweaking by Google we believe that these issues can be ironed out before they fully roll out the changes to all users in the upcoming months.

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54 Comments

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I'm Feeling Lucky rarely takes me where I want to go, unless you're searching for something really obvious like Microsoft. I really wouldn't miss it if they removed it to be honest.

Google was always spartan, and colorful at the same time. Now they're going dark with square edges. Very Metro. I think it's not the right direction for them

These changes actually boosted the stock a few points.
And I have gotten frustrated over lack of the new HTML5 Bing. Maybe they will launch something better, because of this delay.
Or maybe it wasn't Metro enough, the changes some people were getting.
Or they were waiting to see what Google brings to table first.

Gmail's new looks is nice and modern-looking, but too white. The good news is that Google is working on updated themes, so I can't wait for the Tea House theme to be updated to the new Gmail look.

I'm all for changes that make sense, but I really don't like these new interface changes. The only reason I don't like it is that it shows a lot less data on the screen. Less emails, less calendar appointments in month view. I just hope that they don't force this new view and let us use the classic view like they do now.

I think it looks pretty nice overall. I just wish they would get rid of the stupid "I'm feeling lucky" button and move the search button over to the side on the main page.

brianshapiro said,
Where do you switch on the new Gmail theme.. I don't see it

settings > themes, there are two "preview" themes (dense and normal)

Why is the navigation bar colored black on the web search page and gray in Gmail? Ugly inconsistency has always been a Google tradition.

Nice write up! It would be great if you included some words about the google+ interface as well. Would make the article feel bit comple.

I was using Google search only because of extensive image filtering. Now, nothing prevents from using Yandex image search...

Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.


What are you talking about? You don't need to log on to do a search and if you go to google.com/.co.uk, they can't make it any plainer/cleaner than that. As for the results page they skinned it lightly; there is nothing disrupting the overall experience (which is my definition of clutter). The only thing I am not fond of is gmail, I get to scroll more when I access my labels (generally my inbox is pretty empty)

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

the search interface hasn't looked as clean as it is today IN YEARS

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

derp.

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

derp.

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

derp.

_dandy_ said,
Google is seriously on the way down for me with all this piled on crap. I want the plain, clean UI with a search box, a button and nothing else. They're cluttering their main search page with useless crap, and their insistence that I "log in" is annoying to no end.

I don't need, or want to log in (or create a Google account for some godforsaken reason). They can already track me pretty effectively. There is no benefit to me.

derp.

georgevella said,

What are you talking about? You don't need to log on to do a search

That's my point. I have no reason to want to log in. It's their constant push trying to get me to either log in or create an account, and staying in my face until I do so, that annoys me to no end.

Right now, I'm looking at a blue bar that says "Come here often? Make Google your homepage", with two buttons..."Sure" and "No thanks".

Just below that is a black bar containing Web, Images, Videos, [...] Sign In.

Below that is some nagware trying to get me to install Chrome.

When I close my browser and go back to the search page again, all that crap's still there. **** off already!

I think the update is good. Enough change to look different, but not ugly or tacky.

And ... the interface STILL doesn't have flashing ad-banners and crap ALL over it like the Hotmail/Yahoo interfaces have always had.

search and maps? yes. gmail and calendar, Im still not sold. there isnt enough contrast in gmail now (though I was using a darkish theme, anyway). and "all day" events in google calendar now look plain. I miss the 'rounded' corners.

seriously i dont like the whole black bar in a whole white page, they could make a black version of a page, or a dark blue version too in the past someone did a stylish of it

eilegz said,
seriously i dont like the whole black bar in a whole white page, they could make a black version of a page, or a dark blue version too in the past someone did a stylish of it

reminds me too much of Zune

Stewart Gilligan Griffin said,

reminds me too much of Zune

When did Zune get black bars and white pages?

The UI is very much a reflection of WP7 though, which is an evolution of Media Center which is an evolution of Microsoft UI testing projects that was used in products like MS Streets, MSN (The Application) back in the late 90s.

The whole idea behind the Microsoft Metro and UI changes were for simplicity, getting away from bad GUI constructs of clutter and adding usability for non-standard input devices like touch, pen, remote control, etc.

So Google apparently is finally paying attention. Microsoft's UI team worked on and spent millions upon millions in research and studies to find the easier to read and use UI constructs for users, so why not build from what Microsoft found out and has shared with the world.

(Microsoft releases information on their UI studies and testing and what works and what doesn't, and why they design what they do and why they avoid older GUI concepts and pitfalls in thinking that many UI designers get caught on.)

I was one of those who jumped on the "I hate the black bars" bandwagon, only to find out that it isn't that bad. Now add these updates and the black bar actually looks really good.

I like the refresh, must be said though, it's long overdue.
For some of their services, Gmail being an excellent example, the mobile UI has looked much better than the desktop versions for quite a while now(I'd argue the tablet version of the gmail website even functions better than the desktop one).

The new icons put at the top of the mobile pages are just stupid though, unnecessary waste of space... doesn't even really improve the look

Great UI, etc. but I find it disturbing that the "Web" and "Gmail" tabs at the top seem to switch positions randomly.

winaxter said,
very metro-esque. looks good

I wondered if I'm the only one that thinks that those solid color rectangular blocks are somewhat Metro-esque.
Well, maybe it's time for Microsoft to pull an Apple and sue Google for trying to their "look and feel"

cralias said,

I wondered if I'm the only one that thinks that those solid color rectangular blocks are somewhat Metro-esque.
Well, maybe it's time for Microsoft to pull an Apple and sue Google for trying to their "look and feel"

No, that is exactly the same thing I thought saw that button.

IMO does not work very well on the iphone 4, I go to hit the search box at the top of the page, and the stupid icon above (e.g. for images) loads just as I am about to hit the box, so loads a pic of my old search, very annoying!

I like the overhaul personally, everything feels more modern and smooth. Loving the new gmail interface as that was my main complaint about it (everything felt cluttered when using gmail). Glad to see them update all of this.

Ninja Grinch said,
I like the overhaul personally, everything feels more modern and smooth. Loving the new gmail interface as that was my main complaint about it (everything felt cluttered when using gmail). Glad to see them update all of this.

I hope they do something about iGoogle too, it would be lame to leave it behind