Rethink your Web-Interfaces

Forbes recently published a list of Web-Applications for small businesses. Google won in several categories (Calendar, E-Mail, Information Managers, Spreadsheets), my question is why?

Some possible explanations come to mind, like

  1. Google paid for the report,
  2. the reviewer would like to work at Google,
  3. the company likes the traffic Google sends them…

Anyway, I think more important is how Google designed their applications. Not that they have more features or more buttons to press, quite the opposite, they usually feature less possibilities!

Google engineers think about the interfaces for the Web and don’t just stupidly copy the interfaces from (bloated) Desktop applications.

Let’s compare Open Office’s (Neo Office’s) Spreadsheets, Zoho’s Spreadsheets and Google’s Spreadsheets toolbars:




As you can see, Zoho clearly modeled their application like a typical Desktop application. Google, on the other hand, threw out a lot of complexity and cleared the interface. They structured the menu to fit the current task (formatting, sorting or building formulas), which is natural in the Web.

Of course you could argue that one doesn’t need to re-learn how to use the spreadsheets in a Web-browser, but it’d require to re-learn how to use the browser!

Google removed the need of a Right-Click for the important features (only copy, paste etc. are included). It’s not very common to override the right-click within a Web browser, so customers might not expect it.

They’ve done the same for most of their applications, GMail offers few simple but very powerful metaphors (labels, search), the same with their calendar.

So, the lesson I’ve learned is to think about the different paradigms (this also goes under know your audience). A Web-GUI is different from a Desktop-GUI and vice-versa. Don’t just copy designs from one world to the other – it’s a lot of work and only a few people appreciate it in the end.

The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities.
— Edsger Dijkstra