Inspiring Design: Google Doc

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A designer asked me the other day what application design I thought was great and I happened to be working on a Google Doc. I thought it was a terrific design in many ways.

Just as an aside, Google Slides is one of my LEAST favorite Google applications. It’s awful and everytime I use it, I wish I could use Microsoft PowerPoint instead. However, the Doc UI is much better.

Information Architecture

Google Docs does an excellent job in space management. They have many features, but it never feels cluttered. The focus os obviously on the middle on the screen where you type, but they do a great job of organizing the rest of the screen. The top menu and button area is compact, but not too busy for the use case. The footer is useful and also compact. They also do a great job of using side panels when necessary.

I often try to communicate the difference between a desktop application and a mobile application. This is a perfect example. The information architecture is perfect for desktop and you can imagine a completely different approach for tablet or mobile.

Direct Manipulation

One of the hallmarks of a great design is direct manipulation. Modals are old and clunky. They get in the way and slow the user down. Docs removes excise in all sorts of use cases. When you add a comment, it isn’t disconnected from the text. When you add a link to the text, it feels natural and direct.

Obviously, the star manipulation is typing. Way back in the day, the concurrent editing of a Google Doc was a revelation. It was the perfect use of technology to create a better experience.

Great Inline Feedback

The obvious ones are misspellings and grammar mistakes, but Docs also has a great word count feature.

Lots of good tools.

If you check the box that says “Display word count while typing” it puts a little box on the bottom left, which can be expanded with great info for students.

Students often have to hit specific word counts.


I don’t have time to go over every single cool design feature, but if you use it, you will find it easy and pleasing. The tools on the strip all the way to the right are especially well designed. Use the little Task List and see all of the little things that make a design shine.

When I ask applicants to do a design exercise, I really want them to succeed. I show them great designs and give them all sorts of advice and hints to make the design better. One tip is to look at well designed products and emulate them. I don’t think everything Google does is great, but some of their applications are wonderful to use.

When you make a design, think about the little details. Think about the excise and get rid of it. Think about adding in little delightful touches. Think and keep designing.


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