Designers
Google Earth

Google

Location: Mountain View, California
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Google has transformed the way over 400 million global users access information. Since 2003, the Google Web site has emerged as the easiest and most comprehensible, successful, and fast means to search for information. The company’s mission, to organize the world’s information and make it universally usable, is so successful that the word “google” is listed in dictionaries as a verb meaning to search for and find information on the World Wide Web. Google users can search data, facts, figures, images, locations, and more in over 140 languages around the world. And the company’s future aspirations are vast: Google strives to be the world’s largest data archive, driven entirely by computers.

Google’s success rests in part on its redesign of the work environment. It fosters creativity by hiring “the most intelligent people out there” and providing them with the smartest and best tools. In 2005, the company hired an estimated eight new staff members per day. The employees, who come from varied backgrounds, including sociology, technology, engineering, mathematics, and cognitive psychology, are hired into the company rather than for any specific jobs. Most work is done in teams averaging three people, so there is room for a great deal of individual input. Google also has a fairly radical idea of utilizing staff time: every week, each employee has one day, or twenty percent of his or her week, free to work on any idea or subject.

The design of the company campus, affectionately termed the “Googleplex,” reflects this investment in its employees. It is configured to assist in generating creative thinking and in making the employees feel differently about their work days. Contrary to the typical professional environment, at Google, everyone is surrounded by toys, sports, and games, with plentiful free and healthy gourmet food, massages, laundry, and dry cleaning. Many bring their dogs and children to the office; and people move among the buildings informally on Razor scooters.

The company’s informal motto, “Don’t be evil,” reflects a moral imperative derived from the founders’ intention to treat their employees, users, and company ethically. From its inception, Google went against the prevalent trend toward Flash and visual complexity in designing its Web site. Its logo and homepage remain remarkably simple, focusing on providing the most accurate and efficient way to give the viewers access to information. Proprietary software enables the millions of results from any user’s search to be instantaneously sorted so that the sites containing the most comprehensive information on the subject appear at the top. Beyond researching general information, Google’s simple interface provides immediate answers to specific queries on local and global weather, currency calculations, telephone and address information, definitions, quotations, comparison shopping, video, UPS/Fedex/USPS package tracking, airline flights, images, translations, books, quotations, music—just about anything that is recast as information and can be searched.

Google’s new products appear at a remarkable rate, and are rapidly altering traditional economies. With Google News, computer algorithms track thousands of news sites so users can read news from varied perspectives. In 2003, Google’s AdSense program generated revenue for the company by providing advertisers with highly targeted placement adjacent to relevant content at a relatively low price. This was followed by AdWords, a real-time “auction” in which hundreds of thousands of ads are compared to a user’s search query, with the most profitable ad displayed. AdWords has quickly become the second-largest market ever created after the New York Stock Exchange, and it accounted for more than $6 billion in revenue in 2005. Prior to GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth, only one to two percent of the world’s population had ever seen satellite imagery. Now mapping is easily available and highly interactive, with users able to drag, drop, and zoom in on any part of the map. Not only can you focus on the house where you were born, you can also see the new owner’s lawn furniture.

In 2006, Google plans to spend more than $500 million on research and development, with teams working on virtually every kind of long-term technology. No one part of the Google organization is specifically focused on design; instead, the entire company focuses on users’ needs. However, in its culture, employees, manner of working, Web site, and means of providing the world with instant information, Google has redesigned the way we work, learn, and think.