Google – Another step backward for UI design?

It really doesn’t feel like much time has passed since Google launched the “black bar” to navigate around Docs/Calendars/other services.  And over time, many of us have come to rely on it being there.

Roll on another (wow, it’s been a couple of years already?) couple of years, and now we get this:


Yup. That’s a grid, buried among a couple other things that rarely get used.  Click on it, and a list of icons appears to help take you to your chosen service. All well and good, except you have to click again to go there.

Those of us relying on pattern or muscle-memory to get things done intuitively will balk at this for a few reasons:

  1. We now need to click twice to get a simple thing done.  Surely activation by hovering over the grid should bring up the menu?
  2. The grid is in no way intuitive – looking at the icon doesn’t tell me anything meaningful about what it’s going to do if I click on it.
  3. The grid is in a completely different place on the page from where the old navigation bar was

A little car analogy:  I need to know that when I take my car for its annual service, it comes back with key consumables replaced under the hood, but with key controls (gas and brakes for example) in the same place as when I took it there, each retaining the same function as when I left the car at the garage.  I don’t want to have to relearn where the pedals are, and what each does, every time I head off on a new journey.  Likewise with software.  Changes and improvements are a good thing.  But only when managed in a way that allows the majority to keep up, or to operate the machinery safely in the way they were first trained to when taking on the machine.

It’s the small things like this (and Ars Technica has an interesting article listing similar things here) which are turning many of my tech-embracing friends and relatives back away from the tech they purchased, because they don’t yet use it enough to learn how to relearn pretty much every task they ever set out to achieve.  Many of them might only perform a task once every year or two, yet every time they do, enough little things have changed that mean they’re relearning the process as a new user.

I think that’s a clear example of technology creating more stress, and more hassle – far from the technology enabling things through reducing effort and overheads.

Am I the only one thinking this way?

2 thoughts on “Google – Another step backward for UI design?

  1. I was beginning to think it was only me noticing this….

    I’m a veteran of DOS (towards the end) then all the Windows stuff right from the start, so I’m used to fettling this stuff and coaxing it to do what I want. So I’m pretty sure this isn’t just me being a technophobe.

    I noticed it first around 5 years back when, having just bought my first Apple product – an Ipod Touch – was trying to buy an app from the mobile store. I could see the description and the price but no “purchase” button. I gave it to my 14 year old who found it by jabbing everything on the screen – he eventually found the price tag was in fact also the “buy” button (not helpfully shaded like a button though so there was no way of knowing). This was my first experience of the trend towards less intuitive software.

    I think the combination of the increase in touch devices, plus the developer tendency to do interface meddling when something already just works, just because they have to do something to justify their salary perhaps, plus a trend to clear (de-clutter) the screen of anything at all (including useful instructions, buttons and tools) has led to where we are now. It’s now about form over substance.

    Windows 8 has variations of all these problems (though is not necessarily typical of the problem we are actually talking about here, but is worthy of mention). Having got Win7 to be almost perfect, they have meddled with it so much as to make it almost unusable to a non-touch device like a regular laptop. You can imagine there is a bunch of old school developers at MS thinking that this is crazy, but all the youngsters saying it has to be new and different looking to keep up with Android and iOS. Horrible fail, and such a shame.

    I think the kids are also struggling with this. My daughter rues the day she upgraded to the latest version of iTunes for the same reason – all different and difficult to use. All the pedals have been changed around and she can’t drive it – I love your analogy!

  2. I’m with you. As a google apps customer, I’ve complained profusely to google support. Predictably I just got fobbed off. Just surprised google didn’t even create an chrome extension to allow customers to recreate the effect. Extremely poor effort from google.

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