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r is for return

Yesterday, Google rolled out a new home page design. Or rather a new homepage design element, but it’s such a structural change that it could be considered a whole new design. (Their home page is so sparse, it doesn’t take much.) All Google.com shows now is their logo, the search box and the submit buttons…

Google home page before fade.

…until it detects mouse movement, then the rest of the GUI elements fade in.

Google home page after fade in.

I like it. It gives Google the sheen of the sophisticated tech company they really are, without screwing up their minimalist design; no rounded corners, “Apple Reflections” or web 2.0 gradients thank-you-very-much.

But wait, this looks familiar. Here’s a shot of the original Google home page in 1999, when they were still in beta:

Google's (Beta) Home Page in 1999

It looks like the big G is returning to its roots. And I for one, think it really works. Not that it matters what I think, just as you might suspect Google tested the hell of this thing before making it live:

…the variant of the homepage we are launching today was positive or neutral on all key metrics, except one: time to first action. At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster ”” how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change… and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed.

The fade-in happens quickly enough that by the time you get your mouse to where you’re going, the control you were seeking is there. And since the search input field is auto-focused when the page loads, you can just type your query and hit enter if you don’t need/aren’t interested in this other stuff.

I love this UI decision. It lets Google have its cake by un-encumbering search users; and eat it too, by still providing for the other subset of users that visit Google.com as a jumping off point for their secondary service offerings.

As Bing shows signs of actually mounting an effective assault on the behemoth, and the Newspapers threaten to take their ball and go home find a business model that works without Google, they make a stylish return to what made them great in the first place: search, and that’s all.

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