Blog Post

What do good shoes, Google+ and Facebook have in common?

James Russell, a London based designer, took issue with my post Wednesday about the new Google+ (s GOOG) design and how its aesthetic is different from Facebook (s FB). He argued that, well, the new Google+ still looks like Facebook and went on to make his case using visuals from both services. Basically, he thinks it is business as usual. I accept his criticism for his reasoning makes sense, but I just don’t agree.

Photo courtesy: Leffot

I don’t know James, but my sense from reading his post is that he approaches design through a visual lens. Unlike him, I am not a designer and so my way of thinking about design is influenced by not mere visual aspects, but also how things are constructed. I don’t just love the shoes because of how they look — though that matters — but I also look at where the leather comes from, how it is stitched together and what kind of craftsmanship has gone into it. From shoe trees to little patterns on the toe to the packaging to the font on the label, all of those little things add up to the design aesthetic.

And that way of thinking about the design aesthetic extends to other things, including website design. Yes, fonts matter, and the layouts matter, but so does the relative relationship to the kind of content, the speed of the web service and even the screen size and how it all correlates to me.

So, using that lens, when I looked at Google+ and its new design, what I saw was that it was less social in the “Facebook sort of a way.” And by that I mean: it’s less about people, likes and shares being the primary action drivers on the page. Instead, I saw a design aesthetic defined by data and machines inferring relationships, the importance of content and the relative weight of all the elements on the page. The new super hashtag is a good example of what I am talking about — it surfaces a lot more information on those specific topics — with very little to do with social relationships.

As I pointed out in my post (and also on my post about Google Maps’ redesign,) we have moved into the world of data-informed applications and design too has to adapt to this reality. So, while there might be elements on the page might overlap on few occasions, the departure in the core philosophies that is reflected in the overall aesthetic is pretty clear to my eye. And as far as I can tell, that aesthetic is all about a philosophy and how it relates to senses.

Google has always been about inferring and serving up information. Facebook is about implicit actions. The new Google+ design is an extension of that thinking. And as Vic Gundotra, Google’s Senior Vice President of Google+ said: “We have put Google in Google+.”


8 Responses to “What do good shoes, Google+ and Facebook have in common?”

  1. Wow. That’s a level of precision and subltety we’re not used to in the days of programmatic buying, billions of search results, millions of engaged users. Quality?

  2. global1981

    Om, both yourself & Russell make excellent points.

    I felt the defensiveness of this article was unfortunate; your useful observations on the topic were relegated further down the page to make way for self justification – which a respected thinker & writer like yourself does not require!

    Thank you both for your insightful articles and opinions.

  3. Richard

    “Unlike him, I am not a designer and so my way of thinking about design is influenced by not mere visual aspects, but also how things are constructed.” You really should bold the mere in there so people will understand how much more informed your opinion is because you see the bigger forest while some crass commoner only sees the trees.

  4. I’m flattered! :)

    The thing is, I totally agree that their philosophies have and are shifting. I think your original article was a great summary of the new direction…

    I merely took issue with the sentence:
    “Google has finally developed an aesthetic that is visually different from Facebook.”

    I don’t just approach design through a visual lens at all – but your comment was very specifically about the visual design and aesthetics, which is what I take issue with…

    I genuinely don’t think one can reasonably argue they are visually/aesthetically different at all… and that’s the only part of your original assessment that I can criticise…

    • James

      Yes, you and I are looking at the same thing, just differently. I could have used better words in the first place, but then I wouldn’t have had a chance to talk with you.

      Thanks for the engaging conversation.