If you’re having trouble distinguishing between your Google tabs, you’re not the only one. Google reimagined its G Suite — which includes Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Gmail — as Google Workspace in early October. A month later, users have been complaining about the new, nearly identical icons.
The new set of lookalike logos is part of a larger rebrand that includes more integration between apps and some new features, including link previews and the ability to make video calls while editing documents. But the features haven't stopped tech blogs, Twitter users, and UX designers alike from vilifying the tech giant for the confusion. JD Vogt, the vice president of UX at Salesforce, said in a tweet that the new icons are “what happens when you prioritize consistency over clarity.”
We spoke to Vogt about Google’s branding choices and what makes for successful UX design.
What problems do you see with Google’s G Suite redesign?
I wonder where the working intention was for the redesign that they did. It seems like they had their brand mark, which is a stroked G with different primary colors and angles on it. And it seems like that was the mantra, like, “Everything needs to look like this going forward.” I wasn't in those conversations, so I don't really know. I’m just reading between the lines. They seemed to be like, “We want to make sure all of our stuff looks like Google, and Google looks like this.” I think that it left a lot of users, as I see in the comments [of the tweet], feeling like, “All my stuff looks the same. I can't tell what these things are anymore. And some of these don't even make that much sense.”
I don't really know if the idea was consistency. That’s not necessarily bad. You want to have brand consistency among your products. [The problem] seems to be more in the execution of it.
“I think it was a very tough assignment for whoever had to do this. But they also painted themselves into a corner by making things so constrained” - Vogt
Are there any specific logos here that you find especially problematic?
Whoever drew the short straw to redesign the docs [logo]...that's a tough one. Because they just didn't have much to work with. When you make your constraints, like “it's this different stroke with a bunch of primary colors,” there are only so many directions you can go. One of my friends thought that the camera one looked like a fish.
That tail! Let's say you were tasked with this redesign, what would you do differently?
That's really tough. I am not a logo designer or an icon designer. But I would try to think of this as, how can I be empathic to our users? I would’ve asked, “What is the rationale for why we're doing this? Is it just to provide consistency?” I think I would have tried to expand the palette of things that people could have done, of ways to drive that consistency versus where they ended up. So I think it was a very tough assignment for whoever had to do this. But they also painted themselves into a corner by making things so constrained.
So they prioritize consistency over clarity. Why is clarity more important?
As a set of design principles, we centered on those at Salesforce, because they made the most sense for our users. And I think for any sort of product that you're making, you want to come up with your own set of principles and your own priorities, depending on your user set. So if I was designing for Netflix, maybe engagement or fluidity is going to be high on that list.
Clarity in itself, if you're doing things that are productivity based, which a lot of the Google products are, I think clarity is really important because you want to give people a good sense of, “Hey, here's this thing, here's what you can do with it.” If you tilt away from that, it just gets more ambiguous and invites some confusion.
We all know what each of these logos do in the end. We all know that this is the version of Excel or Google's version of Microsoft Word. It's that extra couple of seconds of deciding as a user. That's what you're trying to eliminate, right?
Yes. There's the thing in UX of recognition over recall. So, recognizing something is faster than trying to remember what something is. If I show you a picture of a famous actor and I say, “What is this person's name?'' You might have to think about it a little bit. If you can have their name underneath the photo, you can recognize that and be like, “Oh yeah, this is who that famous actor is.” If you're making people try to remember things, it just slows down the [recognition] process.
Do you feel like people get fatigued by this sort of constant change?
I think people do get fatigued by that. Some of that is the “Who moved my cheese?” kind of thing. So whenever there's change, somebody is going to be upset about it. [People know] a pathway to get something done, and now you've gone and disrupted that pathway, so they have to learn something else.
When we're designing products, I'm always aiming to make it 10 times better than what it was before, so that we can overcome that change fatigue. If we just changed things for the sake of change, people would get frustrated.
“I think clarity is really important...If you tilt away from that, [icon design] just gets more ambiguous and invites some confusion” - Vogt
Could you talk more about Salesforce’s core design principles?
Salesforce’s core design principles came from when we did a real overhaul of the Salesforce product. We called that new interface Lightning. And as we were developing it, we bumped into a lot of these consistency sort of arguments. “Why are you changing this?” and “This thing isn't consistent with this thing.” We found ourselves as designers getting really beat up about that, and we wanted to make improvements to things. So, we found that consistency is important, but it wasn't really the most important thing. We wanted a way to have better discussions with folks about the direction we were going.
What was that process like? How can businesses decide on and prioritize their own design principles?
My coworker and I co-authored the design principles by looking for all the things that we felt were important [to our company.] We aligned on four of them and then we stack ranked those. Those principles for us were clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty. That seems to encapsulate the sort of experience that we wanted to create for our customers.
When we stack ranked them, it was an interesting thought exercise because at Salesforce, you were asked to prioritize your lists all the time, no matter what list it is. But it actually proved to be really valuable when we would go into discussions about why something was better, because we could say, “Hey, this design is really beautiful, but it's not really clear. It's not very efficient. Maybe we should take a look at this.” By stack ranking them in that order, it gave us a great way to both evaluate that design as we were coming up with it, and then to critique it as we saw it in the wild.