Google to developers: We're sick of ugly design

Google readies its developer army for the upcoming I/O conference with new marching orders to make their apps and services look better.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
2 min read

Is there a secret Frank Lloyd Wright hiding in your head? Google hopes so, as it begins to push its developers toward a better-designed world. Screenshot by Josh Miller/CNET

Google I/O is fast approaching, but before the massive confab of around 6,000 people hits San Francisco in June, the Internet giant wants its acolytes to think hard about design.

"When Google launched, it was a crisp white page with a simple search box," Google staff designer and evangelist Nadya Direkova said in a recent blog post. "You might not have thought there was much in the way of design, but its appearance underscored two of our most important principles: simplicity and usefulness."

Direkova made the comments as part of a new Google campaign, before the conference on June 25 and 26 at the Moscone Center West, to get independent developers to make design a priority.

With developer registration for the event closing on Friday, Google wants its coding militia to emphasize design as they consider how best to develop and distribute their apps and services, Billy Rutledge, director of developer relations, wrote in a blog post.

The goal, he said, is to help developers "build and prove your app from start to finish."

The high-level push to make its services and products simple and aesthetically pleasing is a relatively new one at the Googleplex, but one that's gained traction in recent years. Driven by the stripped-down design of Google Now's "cards" display, many of Google's existing services -- including YouTube, Gmail, Google+, Hangouts, Google Drive, and Google Maps -- have begun to refresh their look with bigger fonts and less cluttered displays of data.

But the company also has focused on making its presentation of hardware more appealing. Love it or hate it, Google Glass is inarguably simple in its look, as is the Chromecast streaming-media stick, the Nexus 5 family of phones, and the second edition of the Nexus 7 from last year's Google I/O. Google's recent purchase of Nest reflects those concerns over design as well, as the Internet-connected thermostat company received many accolades for its attention to detail and design.

"At Google I/O this year, we will have sessions and workshops focused on design, geared for designers and developers who are interested in design," said Direkova.

While it's true that the Google Search page always has been minimalist, that can't be said for the original versions of many other Google services. That's changed. Google's efforts to make design aesthetics part of the developers' workflow reflect its own efforts to adopt good design practices, a sign that the 800-pound gorillas of the Internet are forcing their developers to mature along with them.