Google Calendar: design matters?

Design matters.  AG Lafley says so.  Debbie Millman says so.  Virginia Postrel says so.  Every creative profession and design industry says so (and have done so for years).  Is there anyone who has not got the news?Calendar_1_1

Google apparently has not got the news.  Yesterday it produced the Google calender.  This will prove a useful part of their " giant killer" strategy.

But did they maximize the opportunity?  Well, no.  For some reason Google decided to not to add value by adding design.  Here’s what they are showing on line at the moment.  It’s clean.  It’s also bland as can be.

What’s the issue here?  How does design add value?  Why does Google calendar disappoint?

1) we live our lives in the wind tunnel of contemporary culture.  Data howls past us.   We are Floridians in a data storm.

2) people need us to take information and make decisions.  Preferably by lunch time.  Certainly by the end of the business day. 

3) most of us are always 2 or 3 data points away from chaos.  ("That roof’s about to go.  Get in the basement!")

Good design serve us especially well these days when it cools the world down.  The iPod, for instance, takes many functions and makes them available in a very quiet package.  All that music in an elegant little container.  "Ah," we say, "that’s better."

Certainly, it’s about functionality.  How well does the calendar capture, organize and deliver temporality?   But a great calendar should make us feel areodynamic…as if we can stand in the wind tunnel of contemporary life with suffer undue damage to our senses or our wits.  Increasingly, clarity will be the value that brands make available to us.

I believe Google won the search engine war partly because it gave us such an elegant interface.  (Better than Alta Vista.  Way better than Yahoo which always looked like a dog’s breakfast.)  All those million and millions of pages out there on the net?  "Nevermind," said Google design.  "This is your gateway."  One simple, very cool frame.  "Ah," we said, "that’s better." 

But somehow this design sensibility did not find its way throughout the Google corporate culture, and now that we need it most, with the calendar that promises to bring order to our chaos, elegance has given way to a Protestant plainness that says effectively, "God but your life is a mess.  What is the matter with you?" 

I believe that engineers are perhaps the community most resistant to the design message that has transformed the world of P&G, Target, Chrysler, Motorola, Apple, Six Apart, Starbucks, W Hotels, JetBlue, and us all.  Finally, this is a community that in its heart, at its core, believes that design is something you add after the fact.  Build the functionality.  Hang the tinsel.  Done. 

I would have thought that Google understand that design matters.  Maybe not so much. 


McCracken, Grant. 2005.  Design and the corporation.  This blogs sits at the…  October 25, 2005.  here

Millman, Debbie.  Design Matters, broadcast Fridays between 3.4 EST on VoiceAmerica here

Today, Debbie is interviewing William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand are partners in Winterhouse (here).  Drenttel is president emeritus of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, a trustee of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU.  Jessica Helfand is Senior Critic at Yale School of Art.

Nussbaum, Bruce. 2005. Target is a great design innovator. here.

Reingold, Jennifer. The Interpreter [on design at P&G]. Fast Company. June. here.

14 thoughts on “Google Calendar: design matters?

  1. or

    Maybe it is just a matter of taste, the picture of Trumba looks awful to me – that set up would make it hard for me to keep up with my schedule. The google calendar simplicity actually makes things easy for me, and each calendar can be given its own color. Maybe you did not notice that you can set up multiple calendars with different colors. Plus, it does not seem from your picture that Trumba has a customizable view. Google has that which is great for me.

  2. aj

    I concur with “or” above. I tested Google Calendar today and while it may look simplistic, it’s full of rich interface features that you usually get in a desktop application. Being familiar with Apple’s iCal, I grasped how to use it intuitively. I was pleasantly surprised, even delighted. The design is where it should be – in the interface functionality, not in “looking” functional.

  3. Grant

    Or and AJ, It’s probably an unfair comparison. The Trumba calendar is loaded with entries. I do think Google Calendar is simple. And that’s good. I just wish it was elegant. Thanks, Grant

  4. Steve Portigal

    It’s almost as if you are talking about decoration, not design. Perhaps like the Scion tC, it’s just not designed for you?

    The first thing I read about the Google Calendar was and it really emphasized the feeling aspect of the interaction (one version of “design” in an interesting way)
    “This thing is gorgeous, easy, flawless during my initial poking, lubricated with Web 2.0 juice, and brain-dead simple to use.”
    “The site is clickalicious, springing to life with each mouse bite. In fact — perhaps the page’s responsiveness is somewhat oversensitive, but that’s Web 2.0 for ya.”

  5. Grant

    Steve, please tell me you are not confusing elegance and decoration. Elegance is built right in, no? Thanks, Grant

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  7. John Galvin

    I’m sorry, but I’ve looked and looked on this page and I can’t find any reference to Trumba except in the comments. Where is this picture of Trumba?

  8. Grant

    John, sorry, I had an image from Trumba (and a passage about Trumba) in the original post, but Pam, my wife, was not keen on having the former made public. So now I have a “trace” problem. Oh, well. Sorry. Best, Grant

  9. William T. Foxtrot

    I’ve tried out Google Calendar, and it seems just fine to me. I don’t think I’ll switch over from iCal, but I can see why people are so interested. What exactly would you have liked to see at Google Calendar to make it more elegant?

  10. Chas. Porter

    Your writing is so good that it makes me believe you’re right without my ever even looking at Google Calendar. That’s sort of scary (Ha!) What engineers need to learn is that design is functionality, but the best design is functionality jiggered with a whisper of vermouth and a twist of lemon: Ah, now that IS better.

  11. Shloky

    I’m also of the opinion GC is a clean simple elegant design. Goes well with the Google suite (Finance’s graphs are above par design).

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  13. Jon

    This is how Google Design disappoints? These things aren’t critiques. ‘Designers’ confuse me.

    1) we live our lives in the wind tunnel of contemporary culture. Data howls past us. We are Floridians in a data storm.

    2) people need us to take information and make decisions. Preferably by lunch time. Certainly by the end of the business day.

    3) most of us are always 2 or 3 data points away from chaos. (“That roof’s about to go. Get in the basement!”)

  14. Grant

    Jon, thanks for your comment, good design is not about prettifying software. It’s about making it easier to fathom, faster to use, and, ultimately, allowing it to make my life, especially the shifting temporal details thereof, more lucid. See Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style for more. Best, Grant

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