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Revenue and mergers and lawsuits, oh my god. But this Friday morning we're flipping the lens and looking at Big Tech from a more personal, everyday perspective.
When the pandemic and remote collaboration became critical, Google was well positioned. It had the leading email service, popular productivity software with real-time collaboration built in, and a variety of text, audio, and video communication apps (some would say too much variety). But Google didn't take the big spotlight. It was mostly newer players like Zoom, Slack, Asana, and even Microsoft Teams.
Back at the Googleplex, however, big changes were underway. Javier Soltero, who was hired by Microsoft last year, oversaw a redesign of Google's productivity and communications suite. Soltero's efforts to modernize and better integrate all apps were presented a few weeks ago, but not fully implemented yet. They are known as Google Workspace. Finally, you can start a new document in the chat app or, conversely, start a chat or video conference while you are writing a document. Soltero shouldn't be underestimated: he was one of the brains behind the brilliant Acompli app that Microsoft bought and integrated into Outlook.
However, some of Soltero's recent endeavors have sparked some controversy. That was the decision to rename all of Google's mobile apps with new multi-colored icons. I nodded in agreement with some of the Twitter outrage over the confusing and similar looking new icons. The somewhat satirical account Killed By Google had possibly the most succinct summary of what was wrong:
Ars Technica reporter Ron Amadeo offered a simple solution: just use the icons from Android 6 Marshmallow, circa 2015. “Every single icon here is an improvement on the current icon. We have to go back. "
There were some fans too. The Stockholm designer Daniele Tottle was enthusiastic about the consistency and visual linkage of all apps. Brand consultant Jennifer Volmer praised how the similarity of the new icons indicates the possibilities for collaboration between the apps. According to Google, the new designs were developed using a “strict process” that included tests “specifically for findability and contrast ratios”.
I've also reached out to some top design and usability experts. Former Twitter chief designer Josh Brewer, who now creates the Abstract design app, pretty much described what my brain was feeling. The new icons are "so nuanced that I now need to pay more attention to make sure I'm launching the app that I think I am – aka increasing cognitive load," he says, adding that the changes throw away years of piling up brand loyalty.
But Jared Spool, co-founder of the Center Center's design school, predicted it would all be over. “Designers want to have opinions and change symbols to get them to exchange opinions,” he says. "But in the long run it won't make any difference in the actual use of the products."
Maybe my weekend project should figure out how to change icons on iPhone in iOS 14 in new ways? We'll all adjust sooner or later, Jared and Josh predict. In the meantime, reduce the cognitive load on your brain and wish you a good weekend.