Posted on: 9 June 2016
Is Black The New Blue? When To Leave Design Patterns In The Dust
Why Google’s testing black search results links is so revealing
Recently Google caught a bit of flack for live testing search result link colours. If you weren’t one of the lucky (or unlucky?) 13%, I’ll fill you in.
Rather than the typical blue (#1a0dab), then purple for a visited link, Google made all search result links black.
There was an outpouring of public displeasure but I’d say the trending hashtag #Bringbacktheblue really captures the public’s discomfort with change.
Even though Google has played such a constant background roll in my life, when I read about the change I actually ran a search to see what the links looked like – and to see if I was part of the test population. Sadly, I was not.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the public get opinionated on social media about companies messing with components with which they are familiar and comfortable; just ask Facebook following each major update.
Every designer wants their design to start the new wave, to be the design people copy, often willing to risk experience and reputation to reinvent the wheel. But what is at stake and is it worth it?
Why We Use Design Patterns
So what’s the big deal with blue links vs. black links?
When the Internet began, it was known that that these unique interactive pieces of content needed to be clearly identified. Over time, it’s become understood that if you try to click on something blue and underlined it will probably take you to a new page.
This learned and accepted knowledge sets the stage for a design pattern.
Should We Rely on Design Patterns?
Design patterns are one of the most important tools in a UX designer’s toolkit. They save us from spending time solving problems that have already been solved, and they make it easier for us to interact with systems.
Once a user recognizes, or is familiar with, a design pattern – like a blue underlined link – they’ll apply that knowledge to new experiences with increased efficiency, without the learning time. (You can find a ton of pattern libraries for all devices with a quick search!)
Using design patterns doesn’t mean giving up creative originality, or that you just trust / copy design approaches that are in use.
I recommend using them as a starting point and evaluating the pros and cons for your needs. If you need to revise the pattern for your needs or approach it from a new direction, find out if it works! Test it!
To be fair, this certainly isn’t the first time someone has adjusted the appearance of link colours and styles.
This blog isn’t meant to cast judgment on the interaction choices ultimately made, but it is kind of exciting, at least to me, to see the envelope of standard practice being pushed and, most importantly, assessed to see how it fares in the wild.
This isn’t the first time Google has live tested small changes to their system. In fact, they claim to always be testing small changes!
For example, they’ve received similar flack on the removal of their “+” from the new tab button on Chrome’s browser. This isn’t even the first link colour experiment they’ve tested, but in each of these cases, Google claims that a user research process was followed before changes were rolled out.
Sometimes it’s hard to know how people will act in the future, especially with novel approaches. There is value in small incremental change and modifying as needed, but sometimes looking at the problem from a new perspective can result in necessary innovation that becomes the reality that we never knew we wanted and can’t understand how we lived without.
We need to go into all design problems thinking about the needs of the user, willing to find ways to address them – established or new – and ready to test solutions to make sure that we’re on the right track.
What are your thoughts on design patterns? Should we stick with what we know or toss them in the dust? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…