“What’s that icon?”

A UX critique of Google’s new icons

Melissa Velazquez
Nov 27, 2020 · 4 min read
An abstract painting of red, blue, green, and yellow.
An abstract painting of red, blue, green, and yellow.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

All I see is a mess of red, green, yellow, and blue. By now, you probably know exactly what I am speaking of — Google’s new set of icons. When I first received the update for Gmail on my iPhone back in October, I was looking at my phone for quite awhile trying to understand what happened to my app. Finally, I discovered that the icon design had changed. Not long after that, my other Google icons changed to the new design. A jumbled mess of primary and a lonely secondary color was all my eyes could see.

Google’s new icons vs Google’s old icons
Google’s new icons vs Google’s old icons

I wasn’t such as fan of the new design. And after a quick look across the internet, I wasn’t alone. From a user’s perspective, the new design is confusing. The different icons are not easily distinguishable.

Google’s new icons on top with square boxes beneath them to depict that all icons look basically the same now
Google’s new icons on top with square boxes beneath them to depict that all icons look basically the same now
Reddit

Although the consensus was obvious from from the various comments across the interwebs, I conducted a survey to validate my assumptions. I posted the survey to social media and received 135 responses in just a few days. According to the survey, 80.7% of people do, in fact, prefer the old icons over the new ones.

Graph showing that 80.7% of those surveyed like Google’s old icons better
Graph showing that 80.7% of those surveyed like Google’s old icons better

In the survey, I asked how easy it was to recognize the meaning of the new vs the old icons. 63.7% of those surveyed said the new icons were difficult to recognize, whereas 88.9% of people said that it was easy to recognize the meaning behind the old icons.

Graphs showing that a bigger percentage of people think the old icons are recognizable, whereas the new ones are not
Graphs showing that a bigger percentage of people think the old icons are recognizable, whereas the new ones are not

I asked users a couple short answer questions as well to get a better idea about what they specifically liked or disliked about the designs. For those that preferred the new design, the main reason was due to colorfulness and consistency. They felt like the icons seemed like more of a family now. For those that liked the old icons better, they felt like the new icons were too similar to each other and that they were hard to tell apart.

Senior Experience Designer at AKQA Josh Munn came up with a very good solution to the new icon frustrations. Using different shades of one single color for most of the icons makes them more recognizable. I will admit to not being a UI person, but in my opinion, Josh did a very nice job with this redesign concept.

A designer, Josh Munn’s, concept for how Google could better design their icons.
A designer, Josh Munn’s, concept for how Google could better design their icons.
Photo credit: Josh Munn via LinkedIn

Until we wait for an actual update from Google, there is a partial fix in the meantime. Restore old Google icons is a Chrome extension that promises to restore the old Google icons on Meet, Calendar and Gmail so that your browser tabs are once again more recognizable. (I have not used it so I cannot verify its effectiveness).

Image for post
Image for post
Photo credit: Chrome web store

So, there you have it folks, my rundown of the new Google icons. I think it was big fail on Goggle’s part, and as you can clearly see, I’m not alone in that thought. And what about you? What do you think about the new vs old icons? Let me know your thoughts in comments.

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Melissa Velazquez

Written by

Domestic Engineer and UX Researcher striving to make a positive impact on the world. I’m passionate about travel and other cultures. I love learning languages.

Bootcamp

Bootcamp

The best resources for designers starting in Design, UX, and UI. Bootcamp is a new product publication from the team behind the UX Collective (http://uxdesign.cc). To submit your story: hello@uxdesign.cc

Melissa Velazquez

Written by

Domestic Engineer and UX Researcher striving to make a positive impact on the world. I’m passionate about travel and other cultures. I love learning languages.

Bootcamp

Bootcamp

The best resources for designers starting in Design, UX, and UI. Bootcamp is a new product publication from the team behind the UX Collective (http://uxdesign.cc). To submit your story: hello@uxdesign.cc

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