Thoughts / What the new iGoogle could have showed me / October 18, 2008

Lately (and perhaps constantly since they opened their Google Labs), Google has been coming with more and more new ideas integrated with their products. recently they deployed a new interface for iGoogle, their personalised widgetised front page.

According to Lifehack, seems that opinions are divided but uniformly: 45% liking it against 55% that don’t agree with new changes completely.

The first time I saw it, I honestly did not like it, as it takes a rather wide left bar of space on my homepage, a bar that right now (in a default state) looks empty.

I also did not have ideas on what to add, as my homepage has been slimmed down to the bare minimum through time, containing the following gadgets: a translator, a google reader, a quotes of the day, an I Ching reader and the very inspiring ‘places to see” gadget (widget).

I don’t know if I need more, mostly because I don’t know what’s out there. On spite of not feeling the need to use that new tabbed space, I decided to explore it for the knowledge’s sake. Interestingly, Google offers a “I feel lucky we’ll fill in the tab according to the name” create a tab option that, to tell the truth, might be good or bad, but it gives you a starting point.

Now I have some tabs that I know I won’t use until I start using them, I guess, and an idea of what was wrong with the moment I got to see google’s new addition.

The problem was google changed an interface I was used to without giving me anything else to leverage my knowledge or start using the new features. Moreover, the new features were hidden until I clicked on the new buttons. Explorative can be interesting, but it might not be a good strategy al the time and with every audience.

I imagine that if they took the time to explain the new features, the advantages and the potential, and at least give you a starting point, it would have been easier to assimilate and probably like from the beginning, instead of pissing off more than half their users.

A good example is what 37 signals does in their backpack product: once you create a page, they let you know what you can do, and what is the starting point, the next step, the thing to do.

So you get enough to start: either start clicking around, get to the tutorial or, if you’re feeling lucky, get some ‘inspiration’ whatever that means.

Another usual problem when designing interfaces is when the designer draws it as it is full of items, like in the typical screenshot they have shared since around July

But more like what I saw when I opened my homepage to the new interface

You can notice a lot of empty space to the right, and pushing all my content to the right, making it more prone to go out of the viewframe.

Perhaps the web designers at Google did not realise most of us will have only one tab, and that by having it closed by default as they decided, it will look like they stole all that space from us. It can happen that by designing for fully adopted states we forget to design for the first (and usually empty) state, thus missing the fact that people will see what your wireframes/sketches/designs don’t show: a lot of empty space stolen form my homepage.

Perhaps users are also difficult to satisfy when their known interfaces are changed from one day to another. So why not give some information and ideas on how to use those awesome new features the google team has been designing for almost a year?

Change is good, mostly if it goes forward and makes our lives easier, but guidance and explanations are not that démodé yet.