Fast Company - - Innovation By Design -

WWe all re­mem­ber the face-plant that was Google Glass. Or the time when, in an in­fa­mous fit of ov­erengi­neer­ing, Google tested 41 shades of the color blue on ad links to find the most prof­itable hue. Since then, how­ever, the com­pany has been steadily refin­ing its de­sign strat­egy to get out of the way and put users first. Last year, Google’s Allo mes­sag­ing app was an hon­oree in Fast Com­pany’s In­no­va­tion by De­sign Awards. This year, the com­pany has pre­sented a slate of so­phis­ti­cated new prod­ucts—in­clud­ing a range of smart speak­ers, a globe-trotting vir­tual ex­pe­ri­ence, and a new in­ter­face for com­mu­ni­cat­ing via Morse code on smart­phones—sig­nal­ing a de­sign-first sen­si­bil­ity that has earned Google our first-ever De­sign Com­pany of the Year Award, honor­ing high-qual­ity, am­bi­tious de­sign work across an or­ga­ni­za­tion. CEO Sun­dar Pichai sat down with Fast Com­pany’s Co.de­sign editor, Suzanne Labarre, for an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view about how de­sign fits into Google’s over­all mis­sion. Ten years ago, I would not have iden­ti­fied Google as an iconic de­sign com­pany. Was there a mo­ment when you said, “We need to in­vest in de­sign”? If you go back to Google Search and the Google home page, de­sign was a big fo­cus—this no­tion of do­ing some­thing sim­ple for users that’s ac­ces­si­ble to everyone. All those el­e­ments were there. But not all prod­ucts [groups] were think­ing through the core tenets of de­sign. As com­put­ing started shift­ing with mo­bile, that gave us a good op­por­tu­nity to give a deeper frame­work for this phi­los­o­phy across all our prod­ucts. One thing that was im­por­tant for me was: Users don’t use one Google prod­uct. They may be in­ter­act­ing with many Google prod­ucts mul­ti­ple times per day. Tech­nol­ogy should be in the back­ground and should adapt to you. Maps is a good ex­am­ple. You open Maps, it’s very in­tu­itive. You un­der­stand this is what it should look like. When we built Chrome, we wanted it to be sim­ple. We al­ways had this mantra on the team: “It’s the con­tent, not the Chrome, that mat­ters.” We needed to more sys­tem­at­i­cally do this across Google. How would you de­scribe the com­pany’s de­sign strat­egy to­day? One el­e­ment is a fo­cus on the

user—not try­ing to call at­ten­tion to a prod­uct. It’s ap­proach­able, you feel com­fort­able in­ter­act­ing with it. If you go back to the clas­sic Google home page, you could be a No­bel lau­re­ate us­ing it or you could be in an emerg­ing mar­ket getting in­ter­net ac­cess for the first time. We want things to be in­tu­itive. What is the struc­ture of de­sign at Google? Ap­ple has a very top-down struc­ture, with Jony Ive, the vi­sion­ary, run­ning his de­sign group. Google has in­cred­i­ble de­sign­ers—ivy Ross, Matías Duarte, and more—but it doesn’t strike me as be­ing hi­er­ar­chi­cal. Google has more of a dis­trib­uted ap­proach. We have world-class de­sign­ers across key ar­eas, and the de­sign com­mu­nity is very strong. There’s align­ment around shared val­ues and ap­proaches but di­ver­sity of thought and opin­ion. Ap­ple is great at what they do. But we found this works well for us. Be­cause we are build­ing many dif­fer­ent prod­ucts glob­ally, di­ver­sity is an as­set for us. We have all kinds of peo­ple from all parts of the world, and that con­trib­utes to the strength here. A big con­ver­sa­tion in the de­sign pro­fes­sion th­ese days is around whether de­sign re­ally has a seat at the table. How does Google en­sure that de­sign­ers are em­pow­ered through­out the or­ga­ni­za­tion? When I look at our prod­ucts that I feel have been de­signed well, I can name who the key de­signer is. There is a strong voice for th­ese peo­ple. When­ever I do a re­view on any of her hard­ware prod­ucts, [head of hard­ware de­sign] Ivy Ross is in the room, and it’s clear to me that the role she’s play­ing is to make sure [there’s con­sis­tency] across a fam­ily of prod­ucts [and to show] how we’re think­ing about de­sign, what our phi­los­o­phy is. How does Google rec­on­cile the ten­sion be­tween build­ing seam­less prod­ucts that help users ac­com­plish their goals eas­ily and en­sur­ing their pri­vacy? I ac­tu­ally think they are not nec­es­sar­ily at odds with each other. Great de­sign can help af­fect pri­vacy and en­sure well-be­ing. For ex­am­ple, hush mode in An­droid—be­ing able to place your phone down [for] “do not dis­turb”—is a good ex­am­ple of that. If you go to our “My Ac­count” page, we’ve done a lot around pri­vacy set­tings for our users. Over time we can do more and more. I think things like voice give you new af­for­dances for bet­ter con­trol. Look­ing ahead, what do you think is the com­pany’s big­gest de­sign op­por­tu­nity? Com­put­ing is in the mid­dle of an ex­cit­ing trans­for­ma­tion. To­day you use a sin­glepur­pose com­puter, your lap­top, or your phone. Over time, com­put­ing will be there am­bi­ently for you, when you need it, in the con­text of your life, and in­creas­ingly it will help you with more things. What do you see as Google’s big­gest de­sign chal­lenge? Users still feel [that] getting tech­nol­ogy in their lives, set­ting it up, con­fig­ur­ing it—all of that is a has­sle. [We want] tech­nol­ogy that is su­per easy to use and is per­son­al­ized and thought­ful in a pri­va­cy­sen­si­tive way. When we built Chrome­books, a big fo­cus for us was [to al­low users to] set it up in less than a minute. There’s no time for it to boot up. Things just work. And if you give a Chrome­book to some­one else, they can just pick it up and use it. Those are hard de­sign chal­lenges that we are con­stantly work­ing on to make bet­ter. What, ul­ti­mately, do you see as Google’s de­sign legacy? That we make great de­sign more com­mon in the world. We care about the tools we pro­vide other de­vel­op­ers. For me, it’s a per­sonal pas­sion that tech­nol­ogy works for everyone— glob­ally. That not just Google, but a small devel­oper build­ing a new prod­uct, solv­ing a prob­lem for some­one, also can cre­ate great de­sign. That’s a big goal of ours. An­droid plays a big role in that. Pro­vid­ing plat­forms and tools that help peo­ple do bet­ter de­sign. I want a $100 smart­phone, or a $50 smart­phone, which we are getting ex­cited about in­creas­ingly. When we build An­droid Go phones, we want those to have the same great de­sign. De­sign shouldn’t be con­flated with higher-end.

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