Google is many things: the ubiquitous search engine for the entire world, an insanely popular e-mail client, the most popular mobile platform of the future, on and on. One thing Google is not, however, is very artistic. Little Google logo doodles aside, their products are plotted, drafted, and executed by waves of engineers and their utilitarian – or worse, inconsistent – interfaces are hardly anything to fawn over. But 2011 is a new year and the internet is being shown the new face of Google, but are they finally getting it down?
Google’s new interface language isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it’s their first new brush with a unified visual identity in years. I’ve been using Gmail since 2004 and while it’s never been as pretty as its web mail competitors, that wasn’t the point: it was offering a gigabyte of storage before everyone else. That’s Google’s legacy: doing crazy stuff and not necessarily caring that they just wore that turtleneck. While Gmail’s list view looked cramped at a time, like most of the examples we’ll see, it looks like they just cranked up the padding around every line of text everywhere. The addition of some bold, colorful buttons is cute, but most of it looks like a disproportionate mutant hamster with the twitchy little legs. It doesn’t feel right yet but I’m sure I’ll come to enjoy it.
Unlike Metro however, none of this new experience feels like a grand use of real estate, it just feels like a less-constricted version. If you use iTunes for any amount of time, you somehow begin to hate their dense, phone book-style listings less, but Google takes information and throws it in the opposite direction: you need to search more of your screen to find a similar amount of data. To an extent, they needed it (like iTunes does), but the sparsity really hurts when you have something like Google+, which looks like a gutted, featureless Facebook simply because of their bizarre use of real estate.
Sure, it’s a step forward for the company known for the iconic “logo above a single search bar and two buttons” search page. There’s something ingenious around the corners of this new wave of Google sites, but the core is just as vanilla as ever.