In case you missed it, Jon Wiley hosted an AMA session on Reddit yesterday. Wiley, as the principal designer for Google Search, had plenty of insight to share on topics from specific product features to what roles a tech company should play in its local community.
Sifting through the whole thread can take a while, so we thought it'd be helpful to pick out just a few of the most interesting responses for those who just want a quick taste.
First up: feature removal. If there's a question we tend to see a lot of with Google updates, it's "why did Google remove X feature?" To that end, Reddit user read_the_article asked why Google removed a search filter that allowed users to search only for results in forums. Wiley's response was not specific to the feature in question, but did give a great explanation as to why some features don't simply stick around, and what an important role cutting features actually plays in active product design.
One thing that’s almost always guaranteed with product design: when you add a feature, no one complains about it outright; if they don’t love it they mostly just ignore it. Whereas if you take something away, you’ll hear about it if people relied upon it… loudly and often. With something like Google Search, even if just a small fraction of people miss a feature and an even smaller fraction says so, that can still be tens of thousands of people. It can seem like a tidal wave of opposition to the removal: “look at all these people who want it back!”
So it would be much easier to leave in everything that’s ever launched. But then you end up with bloatware: an unwieldy array of ill-fitting modules that don’t work well with newer technologies (e.g., the shift to smartphones, or upgraded security, or touchscreens, etc.) and don’t really serve most of your users well either. And nothing comes for free – every feature must be maintained, supported in multiple languages, on multiple devices, and the additional complexity must be accounted for in testing so that the entire service remains reliable. And that cost gets balanced against the impact: is this feature solving an important problem for lots of people?
There are many, many such features that you always have to make tough choices about. We’ve actually cut features that I love. This is one of the toughest but most important parts of designing products – deciding what to trim as you move forward. Sometimes you over-trim – we work to measure the impact and aim to strike the right balance. Sometimes we get it wrong, so it is important that people speak up. We really do listen, and we prioritize according to what seems to satisfy the widest needs given our capabilities.
As for the future of Search, Wiley predicts (in response to theirfReddit) that specific information, facts, or even help with what you're doing will eventually become much more accessible, with the process for getting information from your technology (wherever you are) will be as unobtrusive as turning on a tap. The real work of the plumbing is going on behind the scenes, but the end user benefits from all that work being invisible - turn on the tap, and water comes out.
...really it means getting the info you need whenever you need it, for whatever you’re doing. But broadly: I expect obstacles to drop away. Devices will get cheaper, smaller, lighter, longer-lasting, etc. You’ll be able to connect anywhere, fast. And then WHAT you get will be much higher-quality info: not just plain facts, but specific help for what you’re doing at the moment. Also, in many ways I think the technology will become more invisible – it’ll fade into the background. Think of plumbing – you just turn on the tap, and voila, water! I think information technology will start feeling that way too: on-demand but unobtrusive otherwise. And it’ll be magnified for people in other parts of the world where access to information is tough today.
Reddit user robertcat also raised a question that's been on many minds throughout the years - is there a design department? And exactly how do teams coordinate design throughout Google?
Interestingly, Wiley points out that there "isn't a design department" at Google. There is instead a user experience group in each product team, comprised of interaction designers, researchers, visual designers, etc. which focuses on the specific problems that product faces. But, Wiley says, the teams do talk "a lot," with design leads sharing ideas all the time.
There isn't a design department. Each product team has a group of user experience folks (interaction designers, researchers, visual designers, prototypers, motion graphics designers, etc.) Each team focuses on the particular problems they are trying to solve and tries to solve it in the best way.
In terms of coordination, we talk a lot. All the design leads are routinely talking to, having lunch with, and sharing work with all the other design leads and the rest of the company. When someone solves a problem in a way that could be applied elsewhere, we try to adopt it.
That’s interesting – tell me more about is there any interest in google search passing a Turing type test?
Elsewhere in the AMA, Wiley addresses why Google's online results always indicate search speed, what it takes to become a designer at Google, and even hints that there is an Easter egg so well hidden (presumably in Search), that no one has found it yet. The whole thread is definitely worth a read, so when you get the time hit the source link below.