Why New Google Icons Don’t Work: Incorrect Design Principles

The universal design might not work, and Google’s icons are a perfect example

Illustration by the author. Background by Pexels

Being a designer means using a lot of tools at the same time. You want to build the app and share the project with your team. Google has the best options for you to collaborate with other team members.

Google tools are excellent for file management or booking a call. You can use a spreadsheet for your data, and many more. It’s so convenient. You’re happy to use all this. It makes your life easier and more productive.

But Google did a big nasty surprise! They refreshed icon design, and your eyes feel pain now. What’s happened?

Image Credits: Google

Color Doesn’t Work Anymore

Ok, here is the drum sound. New icons are available in your G-Suite. It sounds interesting; you want to check them right away. But when you open your Google tools, you see the same crazy things. This is a new icon design.

I want to remind you how old icons worked.

If you see a white icon with red strokes, it’s an email icon. If you see blue, it’s a calendar or documents. Green stands for Google Hangouts. It’s so good if you pick the right tool within one second by color.

That’s was a distinguished difference for you before. Now it’s gone, and with this recent change, Google killed this visual difference.

Compare the first line of icons with the second one from the image above. What do you see in the first line? I see how icons vary. You can see it too. But let’s compare the old and new designs.

New icons look almost the same. And here is a big problem. You need over 2–3 seconds to understand what’s tool is in front of you. Did you have the same experience with the old icon design? No.

In the new design, Google lost the quickest way to differentiate tools with color variation.

This meme will blast your mind. Do you see the new design the same? I agree with this comparison.

Image from Reddit

With the recent change and small icon size, all designers will spend more time. Selecting the proper tool from this drop-down is not as fast as it was.

Image for post
Image for post
Image by Author

What’s your reaction to this mess? Where is the X tool I’m looking for? And you’ll be right. I see all the tools the same also.

Geometry Design Makes Icons Worse

Effect by Author. Image Credits: Google

Do you see these geometry parts? Well, color isn’t the only problem with new icons. Google wanted to make icons universal for all their tools. And now they have something in common. This is an overlapping effect for corners.

Geometry overlapping corners become such a solution. Yes, icons have something in common now. But all icons stopped work for users even more than with the color issues. Color isn’t the only problem now.

Now, all icons are similar. There is the same color mix plus overlaps. Design similarity comes with a shape solution.

The good news is the general icon shape stays as it was. This somehow helps to identify tools. The simplicity of design has holes inside of some icons. It’s a way to balance complicated shape overlaps. The white spacings also help somehow.

Overlaps aren’t solid. Google designers used it in different places of icon shapes. It means that not all corners have such an effect. It’s another proof for minimizing visual simplicity.

Viewing the whole icon picture doesn’t seem to look better from all these design attempts.

People With Disabilities Have More Problems Now

When you design an app or website, you think about contrast and how well colors combine. It also includes checking your product for standards for people with eye disabilities. It might be a contrast or color check. Or even both.

The new Google icon design can’t pass any usability test for icons. It’s impossible.

I have advice for Google designers. When you almost close your eyes, try to find the proper icon. You’ll see that it’s not possible.

If you can’t recognize the proper icon, so what about people with disabilities? They need no comments. Just look here.

Effect by Author. Image Credits: Google

In the first line, I can make a difference between the tools. But in the second row, I have doubts. And yes, I have standard eyes — I have no problems.

To not repeat Google’s design mistake, it’s worth checking your icons properly with all tests. And even 1–1 session. Icons are as important as an app or web design. They need testing.

And even more. We must validate every design concept. The more validation, the better.

The main takeaway here is that if you aren’t familiar with previous design icons, it’s hard to identify new tools. I have a good visual memory to combine my old icon knowledge with a new design and find the proper tool. And again, I will need over 2–3 seconds to think about it.

If you go further with the target audience and segmentation, you find that Gen Z will have new icon problems, and here is why. If I’m Gen Z, I don’t use Google’s tools every day — I better spend my time on social media.

And let’s assume that Gen Z starts to using Google’s tools every day. It’s inconvenient to read tool titles every time. But what to do if icon design is similar right now?

Millennials know old design. It’s much easier for them to make tool identification, but it’s not user-friendly. And the older the generation, the more problems they have. But it’s just another detail. Design is all about details.

Final Thoughts

As a designer, you’re using Google tools every day. It means you repeatedly click on icons. With the recent Google change, you’ll spend more time identifying the tool you need.

If I was a Google designer, I went over A/B testing to clarify if this new design works or not. I read a lot of bad feedback about Google’s recent change. All designers need to be aware of similarities that can kill your workflow.

Google’s example perfectly shows how old design works better than new. It’s worth including visual differentiation in your own design. Google’s example is an outstanding example of a designer’s mistake. Don’t repeat them.

Written by

Designer, Startupper & Tech Woman. She/her. I write about Design, Technology & Business. 🇺🇦 🇺🇸 Join my publication https://medium.com/ux-designers-club

Sign up for The Better Marketing Newsletter

By Better Marketing

Our map to the marketing world. An occasional newsletter highlighting the best stories, tips, and tools to become a better marketer.  Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store