Minimalist Google (now with hideaway menus!)

UX Magazine has an interesting note on the changes Google has made to their main search page.

Essentially, they’ve turned back the clock — showing only their logo, text box and a couple of buttons — until you move the mouse, and the now-standard options and links fade in (hover your mouse below to see it in action).

My (and other’s!) gut reaction is that it’s pretty gimmicky and its usefulness feels pretty limited. Even the smallest mouse movement fades the menu out of hiding, and I have to believe there are more “mousers” than “keyboarders” out there. Plus, the menus were hardly obtrusive in the first place.

Google’s core business is connecting users with information — some free and some paid. The faster they can bring users through the search process, the more searches they can run, and the more chances Google has for revenue. As Google VP Marissa Mayer says “users really respond to speed.”

I have no reliable way to test, but I’d guess this new page loads and renders slower than it’s less-fancy ancestor. If microseconds count — a half-second increase in page load time translates to a 20% decrease in traffic — wouldn’t it benefit the big G to stay away from “needless” styling?

The user path of a basic search would look something like this:

In this scenario, the visit (typing and the page load (receiving data and rendering the page) have little room for improvement. My personal load time for the Google homepage is a little over a third of a second.

Even if there are enhancements that can cut into this number, these are diminishing returns measured in hundredths of seconds. Similarly, clicking “submit” (or pressing enter) and the speed of the results page have little, if any, improvement.

Far and away the greatest amount of time is spent on the user acclimating the the environment (Focus) and formulating the query. These can probably be measured in seconds, not microseconds, and hold the best potential to speed the overall process.

We’ve already seen attempts at this. The “suggest-as-you-search” feature, similar to the hide-away menus, added some amount of time to the page load and render. That time was made up by faster query entry (for a large portion of the audience) and, in many cases, better results.

Reducing the visual clutter of the page on first entry focuses the user directly on the search box without distraction. The faster they are aware and in control of the tool, the faster they are able to complete their query and get results.

Google, as evidenced by their hosted A/B testing tools, does their homework with regards to how changes affect the overall experience of the site. It’s impossible to say what the driving force behind any of Google’s decisions, but we do know that speed is an important metric for them.

Even after all these words, I’m still not 100% sure I “get” the changes — its just too hard to not see the menus fade in (which distracts me) — but I’m willing to admit I don’t know Google’s users like they do.

In any case, it’s exciting to see what could be deemed a “technology” problem tackled with a user-experience focus. I expect this feature will be with us until they figure out another, better, faster way to do it.

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