What is it Like to Hold Google in Your Hand? by Ivy Ross

BY James Gadsby Peet ON DECEMBER 14, 2018

Google’s aim is to organise the world’s information and make it universally useful. From this original mission it has moved to making hardware such as Google Home. In this #mtpcon London talk, Google’s VP Design for Hardware, Ivy Ross, describes the challenge for her team of working out what it felt like when you held Google in your hand.

Start With What’s Happened Before and Elsewhere

Google’s software products are colourful and fun – who else changes their logo every day of the year? It looked at the consumer electronics industry and decided how it wanted to stand out. This led to the development to its hardware mission:

Make radically better things to bring the best of Google to everyone

What’s our Personality?

Having settled on a mission, the team needed to come up with a personality which it could create a design aesthetic from. It settled on being human (which means being authentic, approachable, and humble), optimistic, and daring. Google’s eventual design established a style so that its products look like they belong together, look different from the competition, and and intrinsically feel “like Google”.

Ivy shared Google’s design pillars:

  • Technology should feel human, and it needs to be approachable, honest and humble
  • Simplicity of form and function – hide the interface until you need to engage with it
  • It should be optimistic, so it makes you smile
  • And daring, so it can do the unexpected

Smart Uses of Materials

Google’s combination of materials allows users to understand which parts of the device are for input and which give an output. The horizontal break in its products is an iconic piece of design.

How can you own Colour?

Ivy’s team took the view that you can’t always try to stand out when sitting in someone’s living room, and used this approach to inform Google’s use of colour in its hardware products. It looks at small details to which it can add stand-out colours.

What’s Next?

Google’s next stage of development will be to look at different forms for its home hardware products. Visual displays which can be placed in peoples’ living areas have to be carefully calibrated to not takeover. Screen brightnesses need to adjust and speakers need to sit behind the main display.

Google continues to try to own colour to surprise and delight its users. It tries to ensure that colour choices are context aware, fashionable outside the consumer electronics market, and brand-appropriate. It spends months looking at social trends and how these can be represented by new palettes. Consumers are shown them both individually and in family groups, so that the company can understand specific reactions and the overall impact of the group.

When designing the lights which sit across the Google product family, the company takes its cues from humans. For a hard stop it uses a solid light  – in the same way that we have a hard nod. A light that suggests a question slowly undulates to mimic someone listening to you.

The creatives at Google are used to building software and using creativity in particular ways. The hardware design team have had to earn the respect of the organisation by showing how they add value. They’ve designed their working environment to showcase this, with rotating exhibitions of materials that they use in their work. They have even included a physical library – a first for Google!

Intuition is the Highest Form of Intelligence

Your intuition is a muscle that you can flex and grow stronger. It allows you to make connections from disparate pieces of information to come to your own conclusions – even when working in the most abstract of situations with limited information.

If teams want to be successful then they need to design for how they want people to feel when using their products. This can’t just be gleaned from user research – it has to include designers’ own intuition, and that comes from their experiences.

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James Gadsby Peet

About

James Gadsby Peet

I've been in the digital industry for over 10 years and have worked across small and large charities, as well as my own freelance projects. I am now Director of Digital at the sector leading creative agency William Joseph. Having been at Cancer Research UK for the last four years, I have been able to work on high volume, high profile campaigns such as Race for Life, Dryathlon and the much-quoted #nomakeupselfie. In that time I helped drive forward the charity’s digital product and marketing capabilities to be some of the most respected and successful in the sector. I'm always excited to work with other organisations, share expertise and swap cat gifs. Give me a shout!