Fading Navigation on the Google Homepage

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Since a few weeks now (correct me if I’m wrong) search engine Google changed the navigation on Google homepage. When you visit the Google homepage you’ll see the logo, the search box, the search button and the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button, nothing else.

The navigation on top of the page and below the searchbox is made invisible and will only appear (by fading in) when you move the mouse cursor or hit the return key when you start a new search.
A brilliant move or just messing around trying to improve the usability?

Who will benefit from these changes?

The majority of the people who navigate to Google use the search engine, not the mail application or the news-provider. Especially to this group, the changes mean a better usability and an improvement of the search experience because the searchbox and buttons are much more emphasized. No more cluttered links on top and bottom to distract them from the searchbox, the most important object on Google.

The other group contains regular users who work intensively with the other features of Google, which are not available at first sight. I can imagine that it could work on their nerves and they possibly need some time to adjust, but the learning process doesn’t take that much time and effort. It looks like Google altered the page tremendously, but the information is still available and need only one mouse movement to activate it. You can compare this with something Google did several months ago, a bigger text field and font size. It was a rather huge deal back then but we got over it in the end.

Google homepage

Some points to consider

A small amount of people mentioned the possible increase of loading time because of this new script. Personally I think it’s not that big of a deal because the script is cashed right after the first visit anyway. Unfortunatly the javascript is compressed so it was difficult for a non-techie like me to find out the total weight.

Another issue I’d like to point out is that some users might overlook the search for images, Gmail or Google maps because they didn’t move the mouse cursor. This is even stimulated by another trick, putting the focus on the textfield. Visitors don’t need to move the cursor to the textfield and left-click any longer, nor do they need to submit the query by clicking the search button (they can just hit the return key). The consequence is that the navigation becomes visible only when the search results appear, but by then it’s already too late because the results require all our attention.

To me this looks like a small matter because I assume most users are still clicking the search button instead of hitting the return key. If someone has the numbers on this one, please let me know.

The last thing I would like to mention is that Google doesn’t give the us the option to enable or disable this. In fact, we don’t have any control over it, whether we like it or not. A simple checkbox under ‘preferences’ would be nice.


Personally I think Google did a nice job of cleaning the page without disturbing the functionality, users still know what to do when they arrived at the page.
They’ve created a very simple and intuitive search experience, going back to the very basic principles of a search engine. The interface looks a lot cleaner because the clutter of  blue links is gone. The textbox and buttons, the only two necessary objects to start a new search, are more emphasized.
Due to this minimalistic approach the logo stand out more, which enhances the brand as well.
Although these changes are for the better, Google needs to understand that not everyone is as pleased with the results as I am. As mentioned before, give the users the ability to make the navigation visible by default.

Paul Olyslager

Paul is the creator, editor and most regular writer of paulolyslager.com. He's also working as UX Lead for Home24, a leading online shop for furniture and home accessories, based in Berlin, Germany. Read all about Paul or find him on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

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No responses yet to “Fading Navigation on the Google Homepage”

  1. Hal Brown says

    Thanks for the info Paul. I hardly ever go directly to the Google homepage – I use the search bar in FF. I did notice the sliding Twitter feeds when I did a search a few days ago.

    Google makes changes with hardly any notification to users. Personally, I like that. No big buildup to buy a product.

    I like informative posts like this.

  2. Melroy Antoine van den Berg says

    Agh! Finally I’m not the only one that noticed it. I don’t like it at all, I even though it was a bug or something. I just go to click fast on “Images”, “Video’s” or something else, but that is inpossible now because the delay :(

    Please set it back if somebody here me? I love Google because it’s fast, quick & easy, don’t **&^^9@$&**& ^^ .

  3. Tom says

    nice read. simplicity is always worth thinking about. and i support every attempt to make an interface lighter in terms of content. so, i’d agree with most of your points except one: in my opinion the moment navigation fades in it get’s more attention than the other elements by the animation and distracts from the searchfield. i think this is not a big deal for most of the user won’t see it because of the new set focus. but there may be fewer keyboard-only users than we might think.

    either way it will be interesting to see if google will stick to that.

  4. @Hal Brown:Happy you liked it Hal. Google does notify the people of ongoing changes on their blog but the big public is not aware of that I guess. Maybe for the better because that way they automatically adapt to the changes unbeknownst to them.

  5. @Melroy Antoine van den Berg: Sorry to hear you don’t like it. Earlier this morning I saw someone navigating to the Google homepage and wanted to use the advanced search. I have to say, he was clicking on the page like a madman. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he was slightly irritated with the “fading-thing”. The reason was that it took too much time to appear. I didn’t think about this when I was writing the article but I hope Google is testing the duration of the effect itself as well.

  6. Ryan says

    There is no point to the fading. The page is extremely uncluttered as it is, and how often does one stay on the page without moving the mouse? Everything fades in anyways, so why the extra moving parts. This is entirely ungoogle to favor flash over substance.

  7. @Ryan: Maybe the wording “cluttered” was a bit heavy indeed but I think you can agree that the pre-fading fase looks cleaner. The first impression of a website is formed within 50 milliseconds on opening a page and I think Google is trying to use these few milliseconds to highlight what Google search is all about.
    For me this is not about Google favoring flash over substance, this is Google favoring substance by using flash.

    I would love to see some eye-tracking studies of the changes, but for now I could only find them for the SERP’s.

  8. Melroy van den Berg says

    @Paul Olyslager:
    Thanks for your reply, its right I post it also on the other blog, so the disscusion would be bigger. Haha

  9. DubCat says

    @Melroy Antoine van den Berg:
    I also heartily dislike it. I frequenty use search for pictures or maps, and this constant fading is terribly irritating.

  10. Nitzan says

    Here’s another view of this change.
    Since animation (fading, blinking, whatever) tends to grab the user’s attention, maybe Google just wanted to make people more aware of the other options (???)

    Any thoughts?

  11. @Nitzan: Thanks for the comment Nitzan. If you read the Google Blog you’ll find that this wasn’t Google’s intention. But you do bring up a interesting point though, the fade-in could have the opposite effect of what they wanted to achieve. The only way to find out is by conducting eye-tracking studies. My guess would be that the fade-in is rather easy on the eye (in comparison with blinking) and therefore the attention is reduced to a minimum. I would love to see some results of this.

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  13. Barbara says

    I hate the fading menu bar. It’s animation for aninmation sake and adds no value. For workaday websites, make the functionality visible, for heaven sake. It’s not a game, and just wastes my time.

  14. @Barbara: Hi Barbara, thanks for the reply. It seems that your opinion is shared with a lots of other users. A while ago Google made the navigation static again, so no more animations.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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