The “Plusification” of Google’s various products is evident in the subtle user interface tweaks that get rolled out without any fanfare such as this little tweak to the contact info dropdown, which appears when you hover your cursor over a sender’s name in Gmail.
Iterative redesigns such as many of Google’s recent efforts, which deploy more as successive evolutions rather than giant switches that are flipped, have shown to reduce user shock and frustration versus all-at-once deployments. Bits and pieces of an interface can be refined, tested and deployed much more quickly with overall design goals reached more efficiently. Something to think about when faced with a mammoth redesign challenge.
I recently completed the redesigned of NoRelevance.com over the course of several months treating minuscule parts, such as the meta info of a blog post, as separate design problems to solve. I had overall design goals, but no clear design in mind, per se. Rather than start from scratch and try to fit several years of existing content into a new layout, I decided to create a layout that was the sum of its well-designed parts.
There were certainly tired looking parts of the site, but also some bits and pieces whose structure I liked—such as the date badge—that I felt simply needed a refresh. In addition, the site was last redesigned before the proliferation of quality web fonts and I wanted to take advantage of some subtle uses of non-standard typography here and there. And, so, without so much as a plan as mere ambition to improve the display, readability and findability of the site’s content, I proceeded.
Where I ended up is here—regardless of when you managed to stumble upon this article and follow that link. Because I’ve taken an iterative redesign approach versus an all-at-once flick of a switch, users will only ever see a more improved design than what came before. This redesign project will never be finished, just hopefully better as time goes on.
One recent thunder-stormy night in Austin, I attended a panel discussion consisting of Eric Meyer, Aarron Walter and Jared Spool and hosted by the Austin chapter of IxDA. Much of the discussion centered around usability and readability issues and how to manage various design challenges such as mobile and responsive layouts. I was able to pose a question to the panel, which was answered in full just seconds before lightening struck and the power went out. I don’t remember my exact words, but my question was essentially this: With all its complexity—not to mention increased costs—how does one approach a responsive redesign project in an incremental or agile-like way?
The answer, which Jared Spool eloquently provided, was simpler than I thought. He suggested modifying individual portions of the site or layout—bits and pieces, if you will—and testing and deploying them piecemeal. The users won’t likely notice the change unless they hit an entire page whose container has been made responsive, which would hopefully be a pleasant experience. But, by approaching a responsive redesign this way, it allows the site developer to control the overall experience while still rolling out necessary code upgrades. So long as the page container remains fixed, the layout won’t completely reflow until you’re ready to open the flood gates.