This article was written by Silvana Churruca between 2011-2014. Silvana is a UX Designer & Researcher with a strong multidisciplinary background: starting with Graphic Design, Arts and Communications, and later specializing in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media, Product and Project Design Management and Communication Design Theory.  Follow Silvana on her LinkedIn.

In the last Google iO 2013, Alex Faaborg made a presentation on Cognitive Science and Design. Besides a great introduction on human factors, his talk was full of powerful examples on how to translate research insights into design solutions. At the same events Rachel Garb and Helena Roeber made another amazing presentation on Android Design Principles.

In the last years I have been checking Google’s research material and it is fascinating to see how one paper you read before is shaping google’s product experience. Now I will like to share with you just three inspiring examples on how Google goes from Research to Design. I selected these 3 because they go from particular to general, starting with Interface design, through functionality and finishing at Strategy.  I hope these 3 lessons inspires you as much as it has inspired me!

1. “Pictures are faster than words”

Face recognition occurs in a special dedicated part of the brain (the Fusiform Face Area) and is known humans are particularly good on this process, so good that we even see faces where there are none, this made face-recognition a fast and effective process. We can most of the time recognize a familiar face even so we can’t recall the person name  (by the way is really fascinating to know that the same brain areas of face-recognition activate when you read a handwritten text).

The first example, used for Alex in his presentation, is not coming from Google’s research, but from an extensive research in the field of neuroscience around visual perception and cognition, however Google makes a great point turning this concept into an interface design solution where scanning emails recipients result faster and effective.

The solution is simple and effective: If face recognition is faster than reading, why not simply use pictures to identify contacts much faster? Adding the contact picture next to each email at the inbox and next to the contact when you are selecting recipients to your emails, Google’s designers gets what he seeks, put your face recognition system to work. I bet you also, like me jump directly from pic to pic confirm that this is the person you want to send the message. Include contacts pics is not merely an aesthetic appeal, but before all a cognitive solution that is undeniably faster and simpler than reading.

Google's lessons: Images are faster than words


If you are interested in learn more about this and other human factors, check out Susan Weinschenk’s books, also recommended by Alex Faaborg in his presentation.

2. In a cross-devices world, the most common link between them is ‘web search’ functionality.

The most common link between devices (screens) is the search activity, people tend to move between devices searching again on the second device either for activities like ‘searching for Info’, ‘Browsing the Internet’ or ‘Shopping online’. In second place people tend to directly navigate to the destination site.

The second example, is about using Google’s contextual research (Ethnographic, surveys, diary) to make design solutions. In this case not an interface design but a functionality. if we observe users tend to use web search to jump from one device to another when perform related activities (sequential and complementary), so why not facilitate these connections, keeping users recent searches across all devices?

Using chrome history for devices Google gives users easy access to a website they visit earlier at work PC from his home tablet without need to save anything. Thanks to search recent history google now allows jumping from one device recent search to another without even need to browse into device-history. Even more with his new ‘cross-devices tracking service’, Google is not just improving users’ multi-screener experience but satisfying a market need to track conversions that we know now almost never start and finish at the same time and with the same device.




3. It takes 3 positive emotions to outweigh each negative one

We need at least three heartfelt positive emotions to open us up and lift us up for every heart wrenching negative emotion (Dr. Fredrickson)

The last example is probably my favorite because of its originality and potential. Was also presented in the last Google iO 2013 for Rachel Garb, lead of Interaction design team and Helena Roeber, head of UX Research team both for Android.

In this case we have as I said a curious and creative use of research. Google Android’s Design Team, were building their Design Principles but rather than simply rely to a list of good practices they build their principles on the foundations  of John Gottman’s research on successful marital relationships predicted by a positive vs negative emotions ratio.

If people spend sometime even more time interacting with technology than with people, why not apply same research around human relationships and emotions to the relationship we have with our most close tech devices? If they do it, and finally come out with a system that allows them to apply design principles in a 3 (positive) to 1 (negative) ratio that Marcial Losada and Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found to be the ratio that describes either more productive work teams (Losada) or people who have more successful life outcomes (Fredrickson).

Google’s Jars of Marbles, turn out to be (besides some controversial around the positivity ratio) the perfect way to ensure a positive user experience equilibrium in Android design.





Hungry for more? Don’t miss Alex Faaborg, Rachel Garb and Helena Roeber's presentations!…

Alex presentation is full of others examples on how to translate science/research insights into design solutions, going from physiological conditions as visual perception to cognitive functions as attention, memory or emotion.

Rachel Garb and Helena Roeber is also plenty of examples on design solutions that came from research, as the Android’s Design Principles themselves that came from an extensive UX research named ‘Android baseline study’ combining several techniques (diaries, in-home, interviews and observations).

Other recommended research resources from Google

Google made public a bunch of them, just to start check some of this links: