The vision would turn out to focus on on refinement, white space, cleanliness, elasticity, usefulness, and most of all simplicity. “At Google we want to move fast, so a lot of these various products grew up on their own,” says Wiley, and so before Kennedy they didn’t abide by one design standard across the board. “We had a lot of simple and useful products,” Wiley says, “so we turned our focus towards making these products more beautiful, but also more consistent as a suite of products.”
Creating a design vision is the first step, but the product designers had to distill and implement it. “We sat down, locked ourselves in rooms, and we just refined on this design as quickly as we could,” Wiley said in 2011, “[we] created these reference set of designs and then set those onto the world through the ‘productionizing’ of that with the engineering teams.”
At the end of June 2011, just under three months after Page took over as CEO, Google shipped fresh new versions of Google Search, Google Maps, and Gmail, and Calendar. In the next year and a half, Google moved swiftly, launching Google Now, a fresh mobile take on Kennedy ideals, and a host of stunning new iOS apps like Google+, YouTube Capture, Chrome, and Maps that followed much of the original vision, albeit with some variations between the different product teams. What was once Brownian Motion, as Wiley describes it, was now a flowing stream of design ideals with forks along the way, but all heading in the same general direction.
Matias Duarte, senior director, Android user experience, put it this way: “Google is going through a design revolution, for lack of a better word.”
Google’s process is quintessentially Google and happened in a quintessentially Google way. Larry Page mandated that there be a new design focus to get the ball rolling, but instead of micromanaging at every step he let his employees to do the rest — guided by an empowered, core team of designers. They organized themselves in a typically Google structure: cross-discipline, informal, but driven to achieve a goal.
While the Eric Schmidt era was perhaps best known for “don’t be evil,” Page’s Google might soon be defined by “don’t be ugly.”