Appley design versus Googley design

Your UX design friend tells you she likes Google design. What exactly is she talking about when she refers to Google design? Another friend says that he likes Apple design better than Google design. What is he pointing to as the thing that’s better than the other thing he’s pointing to?

It used to be the case that one way to differentiate Apple design from Google design was that Apple was forcefully top-down, while Google was chaotically bottom-up. At Apple you had Steve Jobs decreeing on a case by case basis what was good design and what was not. At Google you had smart, nonconformist engineers with extra time on their hands making cool shit.

But as of a few years ago, Google has a centralized, principled design philosophy. So now they’re both more top down.

But there are still major differences. One way to bring the differences into relief would be to look at the corpus of products from each company and infer what must be the design philosophy behind them. Another way is to read what each company says about its design philosophy.

In the case of Google that’s: a ton. This video gives a great introduction to how they’re thinking about things.

How much does Apple have to say about it’s high-level design philosophy? Not as much. They lead their design page with a the magisterial heading “Design Beautiful Things” — but they’re far from scientific in their articulation of what it is that makes something “beautiful” and how a designer can solve the problem of building beautiful things.

But what about the most important question: whose design is better?

It still feels to me like Google design is Googley in that it’s technically brilliant and groundbreaking, but it is clearly the product of terrestrial intelligence. In this case the technical problem they’re trying to solve includes aesthetics and human accessibility.

And it still feels to me like Apple design is operating at a higher level. There’s no mistaking it when you use Apple products: they’re beautiful.

So which one of your friends is right?


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