Google's been doing a lot of tinkering recently. It's redesigned its search results pages, and now it's tweaked the famous front page.
Instead of a crisp white background, it's cycling through a bunch of images. How pretty are the results? Put it this way. Since mid-morning and despite multiple reboots, our copy of Chrome is refusing to even consider loading its parent's pages.
Chrome is right. The combination of garish images on the front page and a sidebar next to the search results looks like a Tesco Value Bing. Maybe Google's planning to relaunch its search with a new name: Ming.
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Or maybe it's just the latest example of something more fundamental: Google doesn't care about design. Sure, the scribbled logos are often a lot of fun and Picasa isn't too hideous, but everything else Google does has been thrown from the very top of the Ugly Tree.
You'd think a company who famously agonises over which exact shade of blue a hyperlink should be would worry about everything else, but apparently you're wrong.
Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Calendar and Gmail may be consistent, but they're consistently ugly; where Google lets you tweak them, as it does with Chrome's various Themes and the backgrounds in Gmail, it manages to make things even worse.
What's particularly frustrating is that Google can do better. Chrome without skins isn't too horrid. Android 2.2 isn't as pretty as HTC's Sense UI, but it's not bad. The mobile Google interface is pretty good. But the big stuff, the web stuff, mings.
"Aha!" Google supporters will say. "That's because Google has built its reputation on simplicity! Google has no time for gewgaws! It's about focus, not fripperies and folderols!"
To which the only possible response is (a) what's with all the old-fashioned words? And (b) "form follows function" needn't mean making things ugly. Look at Apple's OSes, its website, its programs. They're hardly riots of crazed self-expression, but they're not eye-gougingly awful either.
Of course, with Google and Apple flicking v-signs at one another there's not much likelihood of an aid convoy making its way from Infinite Loop to Mountain View, all polo-necks and soft pencils.
But Google doesn't exactly need charity: with eleventy million bajillion dollars pouring into the company every three seconds Google can afford to hire a good designer. Maybe two!