Every year, a few thousand software engineers head to Google I/O at San Francisco’s Moscone Center to eat Goldfish, listen to other geeks lecture, and learn how to tap Google’s intricate and endless code libraries to create the products of tomorrow.
This year promises to be different. Google is refocusing I/O to highlight a topic beyond software engineering: They want to talk design, and they’d like more designers to show up for that conversation.
"My hope is that developers get inspired to find ways to bring great design to their product," explains Jon Wiley, Lead Designer for Google Search. "Or they go and talk to some designers, and bring designers on board, to help them."
Is this really Google talking? The same Google that brought us the engineer-driven design behind 41 shades of blue? It is. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Google has prioritized design across their products, unifying its interface and winning two of our Innovation By Design Awards in the process.
"Google is very well known for its strong computer science, algorithms, and all the things we do in terms of solving really big hard-to-scale problems," Wiley says. "I don’t think quite as much attention has been paid to the other side of Google. We’re really focus on making simple and useful experiences—but also beautiful experiences."
The philosophies of "simple" and "useful" have both been at the core of Google since its original search box. But the "beautiful" part, Wiley admits, is fairly new for the company. Google played a "little bit of catch up" going into the touchscreen (aka iPhone) era, Wiley says, because consumer expectations for product design grew—they wanted a more "natural" experience.
"Humans have been using their hands for tools, like tables and hammers, for millions of years, and we have high expectations for the craft of the those things," Wiley says. "I think those expectations are starting to follow us into software on the device."
Google has yet to announce the actual sessions that they’ll be hosting at this year’s I/O, which takes place on June 25th and 26th, but even last year’s event had some excellent programming for designers. Perhaps the most notable moment was when the Android team shared their Two Jars of Marbles trick to iterate the design of their operating system. To get the ball rolling for 2014, several of Google’s lead designers have already posted Google Design Minutes—what are essentially three-minute peeks into how Google approaches design on its core products. We’ll be seeing more of these clips as press ramps up closer to the event.
But as for what we’ll be seeing in June at I/O itself—could Google present a deeper thesis about design than they have to date? Should we, for instance, anticipate the revelation of Google’s 10 Principles for Good Design?
"Dieter Rams’s 10 is a pretty good list," Wiley laughs. "I don’t know how to top that."
[Illustration by Plasticbionic]