How Google designs with curiosity

4 min read
Will Fanguy
  •  Apr 4, 2018
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At Google, curiosity is pervasive. Googlers at all levels are always looking for new ideas, more streamlined processes, or ways to optimize their workflow and messaging. That curiosity drives the experiments and resulting changes that help Google align their products with their users’ needs.

It’s one thing to learn about your users through research — but Google takes it a step further by traveling around the world to visit areas and regions where their presence is still growing. This focus on real people in diverse places helps Google design with empathy and powers the team’s curiosity.

Related: Designing in the material style—without just copying Google

Material. Design. Sprints.

Few companies have figured out how to run an operation at scale as well as Google.Twitter Logo Their Material design system is perhaps the most widely used design system in the world. It helps them and those building on their platforms produce unified experiences with efficiency.

In addition, design sprints (a process pioneered by the Google Ventures team and now used worldwide by companies large and small) are used throughout the company to unite engineering, product, and design in an effort to help them arrive at refined design solutions quickly and cohesively.

The Design Sprint Process

  1. Understand: Research and learn about the business opportunity, the audience, the competition, and the value proposition. Define your metrics of success.
  2. Diverge: Explore and develop creative ways of solving the problem. No suggestion or idea is too “out there”.
  3. Converge: Identify ideas that fit the next product cycle and explore them in further detail through storyboarding.
  4. Prototype: Design and create prototype(s) that can be tested with people.
  5. Test: Conduct 1:1 user testing with a small amount of people from the product's primary target audience. Ask good questions.

Related: Irene Au on scaling design at Google and beyond

How to design like Google

We’d all love to be part of the next Google: a world-changing product that’s focused on the future. If you’re looking to add empathy and curiosity to your team’s design process, try out these tips:

  • Focus on the user. Easy to say, but hard to truly execute, right? To do this, people throughout the company immerse themselves in the cultures of their customers to build empathy and understanding. Designing for accessibility is a key part of this mindset, too. Teams conduct customer research up front in their process, defining their roadmap rather than validating it.
  • Balance the power. “I have walked into meetings and couldn’t tell who was a designer, an engineer, or product manager. We just pushed each other to do great work together,” said Vanessa Cho, a former UX Director for Google Apps. At Google, the relationship between disciplines is viewed as a partnership, and that’s a model that builds trust and rapport.
  • Aim for excellence. Google sets a high bar for what’s “good enough”. Do the same with your team. If you can make something better than an MVP, why not do it?

The Design Genome Project, which explores the DNA of the world’s best design teams, gives you concrete examples of what drives the success of the companies you admire and helps you build a body of evidence for investing in design. Check it out!

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