The New Google is All Business

So Google’s gone Pro. It seems an odd thing to be saying of a multizillion corporate entity, but you’ve always had the feeling with Google that the various teams on their various products were let loose to do more or less what they pleased. And so when you looked at any Google product in isolation, it came with its own distinctive flavour. Analytics didn’t look like Calendar, which didn’t look like Gmail and so on. And nothing looked like Orkut (which didn’t matter, as no-one outside La Paz actually used it).

Sure, some of that was down to acquisitions and legacy issues, but you always got the sense that without boring corporate guidelines the engineers could play around with things to their hearts content.

This week, buried under the torrent of coverage about Google+, Google also launched a new look SERPs, a new look Gmail, a new look Calendar, made the new look for Analytics more or less a permanent feature. It’s not hard to guess that there’s a new gun in town – and it turns out to be ex-Apple designer Andy Hertzfield.

Where others failed to have an impact against the ingrained ethos of Google, Hertzfield has seemingly managed to stamp a corporate sensibility on the search giant. In the argot of design, Google now seemingly has a recognisable visual flavour.

But is it any good?

Well, it’s taking some getting used to, personally. The last few years for almost everyone across the board has been towards big, cartoony, glossy visuals. The influence of the first wave of 2.0 sites is still with us in the main and I’ve grown accustomed to loving big chunky buttons with drop shadows and all the visual hoo-ha that CSS has unleased on the world.

So finding yourself amid swathes of white, with barely-there grey borders is a bit of shock to the system. So much so, in fact, that to me the whole set of Google products suddenly feels like a early-2000s corporate intranet or – more pertinently – a suite of applications.

Superficial stuff? Sure: but it tells us something about Google’s psychology and self-image in 2011. The idealistic 60s vibe of the whole project has been something of a myth for years now, but it lived on in little projects like Google Health, Google Power Meter and the “Wonder Wheel” – all of which have been quietly sent to the knackers yard this week.

The new, lean, Spartan Google is all business.

Given the amount of time I used Google products, and on the basis of past experience, this culture shock will fade. One day, I will look back on the clunky old logos and tasteless blue underline and chortle ruefully.

Today, I just feel a little bit chillier.


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