Google’s Next Big Conference Is About Design

Google plans to focus on design at Google I/O, the developers' conference that draws thousands of software engineers each year.

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."

Read more here.

[Illustration by Plasticbionic]

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  • Brad Arnold

    Let me add that the GUI is very difficult for nerds (you know, the people who write the code that runs the programs) to optimize. Mixing the artsy-fartsy with the nerds is like mixing oil and water.

  • Brad Arnold

    Wake up: GUI (Graphical User Interface) has been the metric most people use primarily evaluate software. People everywhere judge a book by it's cover.

  • Love them or hate them, Google was born functionally brilliant, but aesthetically challenged. So I can't express just how happy it makes me to see Google focusing on design and elevating to a new level in the eyes of developers and the world. Design has been an unsung hero in the success of many, many products. We want things because they work or fulfill a need, but we love them because they are beautiful and beauty makes us happy. Closing this gap will be a huge asset for Google and drive alignment of their brand with many new (and old) audiences. - Colin Lange, Monaco Lange

  • How is design unsung? If a product is difficult to use or difficult to understand, majority won't use it unless they're forced to through business relationships that'll lead them to dread the product.