Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Smallest Change

It’s the weekend, so we get to relax from more serious subjects.

When you use something every day — and when collectively we use it millions of times per day — you notice small changes. So have people noticed that Google changed its fonts? Type something into the search box. The font is bigger. I think it happened on Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Google’s webpage has remained remarkably similar over the years of its meteoric rise. It turns its logo into a creative doodle on holidays and other special occasions, but basically the page still consists of a search box, two buttons, and a whole lot of white space. New services appear discreetly in the upper left. As other websites are constantly reinventing themselves with new looks, Google stays the same. Even the original, cheeky “I’m feeling lucky” button, which one might have exepected to change or disappear as the site grew into a mature company, is still grinning at users every day.

That makes it all the more noticeable when the site does change. A few months ago it started offering suggestions as you type in your search terms. That was a little creepy at first, but I’ve gotten used to it, and it does actually save a few seconds sometimes. (And I’m pleased to observe that if you type in “law prof ” (note the space at the end), then ”law prof on the loose” is the second suggestion.)

And now there’s a font change. Everything is bigger and they may have dropped the serifs (although I can’t remember whether they had serifs before).

Obviously it’s no big deal, but it’s like seeing an old friend with a new hairstyle, or discovering that the city has cut down a tree in your favorite park. It takes a little getting used to. I’m reminded of August, 2007, when the New York Times got smaller. It was still the Times, but it wasn’t quite what you expected.

Of course, now when I pick up the Times I can’t remember that it was ever bigger. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about Google’s font in a month or two. But it is interesting to think that each tiny change will be seen by hundreds of millions, or perhaps billions, of users.

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