Adam Baker

Selected product design & product management work.

Google Suggest 2008

Deceptively simple search in small spaces

google.com

Google Suggest 2008

Deceptively simple search in small spaces

google.com

What it is

It’s that thing that reveals great insight into humanity. Just kidding. :) It’s hard to believe, but Google itself wasn’t fast enough. Along came Suggest to help people get answers faster. This project was more than just autcomplete: It was about providing complete search in small spaces, and ensuring a consistent Google experience no matter where you searched—google.com, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Toolbar, on a BlackBerry, or embedded in some other application. It was just as small-screen devices (a.k.a. smartphones) were emerging.

What’s special about it

An undisclosed but very large number of people use this every day to get their search results. And it set the world standard for speed, visual design and behaviour. (Mostly thanks to some seriously impressive engineering work by my colleagues.)

Role

I was the lead designer on this project, working closely with engineers and product managers across the company to design a straightforward, adaptable, and uniform user experience for Google search—wherever it might happen, in whatever small space. For every 99 things we experimented with, we kept one—a lesson in elegant, effective interaction. It may surprise you to learn that I worked full-time on this project for quite awhile, really digging into what it means to formulate a query, to get an answer, and what kinds of answers those might be. A lot of thought went into an experience that disappears into your daily routine.

Looking back

I wish I had really spent more time digging into what it meant to search in a small space, to anticipate today’s smart watches and even more precious embedded querying. Luckily, the work lasts!

Google design training 2009-2012

Building a company-wide design brain

The curriculum was circulated as Adobe Fireworks PNGs edited directly by participants—concepts and exercises integrated tightly with the prototyping tool.
Group work and independent exercises were supplemented by critiques.
One tiny concept from a crash course in visual design, HCI, and product design.
Happy participants.

Google design training 2009-2012

Building a company-wide design brain

What it is

A two-day, intensive hands-on design training workshop in the fundamentals of visual design, user interface design, and design process—all the while going from 0 to 60 with Adobe Fireworks, a great UI prototyping tool (all the course materials were Fireworks PNG files). Through independent and group work, participants learned basic design principles, developed hard prototyping skills, and a little about how to critique.

What’s special about it

This program was a very small part of a design renaissance at Google, during a time in which the company developed a more sophisticated design language and coherent user experience across more and more products. I started this design training to empower engineers and product managers, and it quickly became the most popular Googler-run course. I personally facilitated the program for more than 700 Googlers around the U.S. and in Europe.

Role

I developed the course curriculum while working at Google.org, then worked closely with Google’s great front-end engineering education program managers and educators to scale and align the program with Google’s long-term engineering needs.

Looking back

I was encouraged to use technology to scale the project to an even wider audience, but couldn’t shake the value of in-person instruction and group work. So I lost an opportunity to share the material even more widely. And I didn’t update the curriculum often enough to stay current with trends in technology. But hey, it was not easy to cram so much about design into just 16 hours!

Public data 2008-2010

Statistics in search

The original search result, pre-interactive graphics
The contemporary, interactive version

Public data 2008-2010

Statistics in search

What it is

Maybe you’ve seen the TED talk. I had the singular opportunity to work with the amazing team behind those stats, whose technology, know-how, and drive to serve the public good I found at Google. What was originally Gapminder was, among other things, turned into a project to bring public statistical data to search.

What’s special about it

A little ahead of its time, this project was more or less the first time that data—answers to questions like What’s the population of California? was provided directly, in the form of a visualization (and with comparisons), directly in search results. The subsequent experience included a deep exploration UI, lead-designed by Anna Rosling Rönnlund, to which I had the opportunity to contribute.

Role

I was the search designer for the project. While they worked on getting more data, and building a more robust technology, I helped the team design the experience that would face the world through Google Search, including search results, landing pages, and parts of the exploration UI. I was able to assistant-shepherd the project through the sometimes arduous process of becoming part of Search. I also worked on techniques for dealing with heterogeneous and difficult-to-visualize data, filtering and exploration UIs, and interfaces for authors of statistical data.

Looking back

I learned so much about working with data (including the need to design with real data, not fake it), but I feel as though I missed an opportunity to go deeper with the team on the storytelling and sharing aspect of design—and to explore specific areas of greater need that weren’t obviously “public statistical data.” We were working with limited technology and design boundaries for search results, and I have been incredibly happy to see the evolution of the design, pictured here, thanks to work by later teams, including my colleague Dan Vanderkam.