Today started with a talk by Marissa Mayer, Google VP of Search and User Experience. It was again very well done, and she’s an engaging speaker.
We heard some interesting things about how Google designs their pages. For instance, they added the copyright notice at the bottom of the page not for legal reasons, but because in early user tests people kept waiting after the page was displayed before they’d enter a query. Why? They were waiting for the “rest of it”; the page couldn’t be loaded, it was too sparse. So the copyright notice was added “as punctuation” to signal folks that the page was loaded and ready.
They do a lot of A/B (or A/B/C…) testing, where different users get slightly different pages from Google, and Google gathers and analyzes data about user behavior as a result. They often find that very tiny changes changes can have a big effect. The amount of white space between the Google logo and the separator bar on a results page? The small amount they use results in greater user satisfaction and more Google searches than larger gaps. Text ads with yellow backgrounds instead of blue? Measurably better results.
What I took away from this was that you should listen to, or observe, what your users do, not what they say. Mayer referenced a Henry Ford quote I hadn’t heard before:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”