Back in October, we reported on a new design Google was testing out for its homepage. In short, the design takes Google’s minimalist approach to an extreme, removing everything from the homepage except for the Google logo, the search box, and the two buttons beneath it. Upon moving your mouse the rest of the site’s UI elements fade back into view. At the time I thought it was just one of Google’s many experiments that never get launched to the public, but it seems like they’re taking this one seriously: Google has just announced that they’re rolling out the fade-in design to everyone.
Google’s blog post details some of logic behind the decision to swap the design:
“For the vast majority of people who come to the Google homepage, they are coming in order to search, and this clean, minimalist approach gives them just what they are looking for first and foremost.”
More interesting is some of the data Google collected as it studied what impact this would have on users. Google writes that it tested out 10 different variations on the design, hiding different elements in each to see which performed best. Some of these included odd messages like “This space intentionally left blank”, which sort of killed the effect. Ultimately Google found that the optimal design actually slows users down at first. But as it turns out, they only get slower the first few times they see it — after getting used to it, users perform better than they used to.
At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster — how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change… and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed.
Of course, the company hasn’t studied how much time will be lost as tech-savvy people have to field calls from their friends about how they accidentally “broke Google”.