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For power users, it clearly saves time in some circumstances. It also jumps around alot and does things that are very different than before. One person said it is like a guy who finishes your sentences, "More annoying than helpful".

What's the verdict?

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Then perhaps we can hold off the mass down-voting until we're sure of the OP's intention, and the people who originally answered the question have time to adjust their answers accordingly (if required)? –  Sk93 Sep 11 '10 at 11:12
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UX isn't all user testing. Its craft and skill. I am asking the professional UX community to analyze the UI and give their expert opinions. My goodness, down votes are just obnoxious. –  Glen Lipka Sep 15 '10 at 5:27
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@Glen This question currently amounts to "do you like Google Instant" within the context of being a UX/UI designer. For me personally, that's not what this site is for. That's why I'm critical and have downvoted certain answers. Again, no offense intended; I'm trying to help shape the site using the abilities I've been given, which is something we should all be doing during the beta period. It's cool if you disagree. The more we disagree, the more we'll learn about what's right and what isn't. –  Rahul Sep 15 '10 at 19:23
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I like questions that ask professional UX practioners to give their expert opinion. It helps me become a better craftsman myself. If this site didn't have those questions it would be significantly limited. Charles, down votes aren't inherently obnoxious, but down voting an expert opinion just because no testing has been done is awful, in my professional opinion. –  Glen Lipka Sep 16 '10 at 5:20
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I agree with Glen, If you limit this site to purely questions and answers that rely on test-driven data, you'll find quite a dry site. Much like all the other "stack" site's I'm active on, personal opinion must enter the fray, but when it does, it should have reasoning and explanation along with it. Just saying "I love it" or "I hate it", isn't an answer, but saying "I love it, because.." can actually be beneficial. For example, I have a question on here related to the need to have a login button. It's been exceptionally useful to read the answers given, as they are both factual and personal. –  Sk93 Sep 16 '10 at 12:30
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16 Answers

up vote 113 down vote accepted

I'm the guy who did all the prototyping on Google Instant, and I attended >90% of the user studies we conducted at Google. (and I'm going to try not to be biased!)

We went through several iterations of prototypes based on our internal testing. What we found worked really well with the current implementation was that study participants either (1) saw the results while they were typing, and proceeded to click what they wanted, or (2) never noticed anything changing because they were hunting-and-pecking on the keyboard, or else too busy looking at the suggestions. That validated our goal that it wouldn't be too distracting. Of course, when a large part of the page changes like it does in Instant, users can't help noticing the change; the important thing is it shouldn't interfere with their task.

Yes, it might feel for certain queries that Google is thinking for you, and auto-completing things for you. Though, this happens much less frequently than you'd think, but you end up remembering more vividly. All the other times when you saved time by not having to type an entire query, or because Google suggested a better query than what you were intending to type, or because you saw a quick preview of the results and decided to refine your query further — all those instances get forgotten more easily because you expect Google to work that way. Try keeping track of all the instances where it worked well for you, then compare against the number of times it felt odd to you.

One of our participants said: “It found a way of asking the question that I hadn't even considered.” (verbatim, from study transcript.) Google Instant helps a lot of users formulate their query better. Many of us here cannot imagine query formulation being a huge problem, but it is. Instant tries to make that just a little better.

We also minimize the amount of flickering on screen when results change. Given the realities of network latency in shipping a new set of results from the server to the client, we have a lot of black magic going on in the interface that attempts to minimize the visual noise when results transition. For example, when new results are available, the old ones fade out quickly through a transition to grey; this was noted as a strong indicator by our users that "Google is thinking"; without it, users didn't realize that results were different, unless there was a huge map or a huge picture in the middle of the new results page.

Here's a longer description of the user studies we conducted.

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Excellent writeup. Thank you. :) I find myself ignoring it 95% of the time, but when I see it, I literally lose train of thought. It's a fascinating case study, thanks again. –  Glen Lipka Nov 3 '10 at 23:53
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Might find this of interest, Who designs great UIs with usability testing? ui.stackexchange.com/questions/2193/… –  blunders Nov 4 '10 at 3:19
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I like Google Instant, but sometimes I miss the search box at the bottom of the screen. If I scroll down and realise my search terms need to be changed then I have to scroll back up to do it. –  John Ferguson Nov 28 '10 at 3:07
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Thanks for the excellent answer, I don't care for the feature and disable it myself but your explanation is invaluable. –  jpierson Feb 3 '11 at 2:14
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Just for fun, my problem is that sometimes a result flickers by that stands out as interesting, but a simple keystroke in the word I was typing completely eliminates it from the results and I can't figure out what part of the half-typed query made it appear and it will never appear again... that annoys me as hell some times ^^ "Undo" would be nice. –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 29 '11 at 23:05
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Good UX because they asked a lot more people than you did. :-) There's a great write-up on Google's blog.

We knew it would take extensive testing to find the right design, so we ran through a sequence of prototypes, usability studies (testing with people from the community), dogfooding (testing with Google employees) and search experiments (testing with a small percentage of Google users).

In user studies, people quickly found a new way to interact with Google: type until the gray text matches your intention and then move your eyes to the results. We were actually surprised at how well this worked—most people in our studies didn’t even notice that anything had changed. Google was just faster.

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+1 for reference to user testing –  Rahul Sep 11 '10 at 11:01
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How many people you ask for "how to build a house" One Architect ? or all the people on the area ? And if you ask all the people in the area, how "to build a house" do you think that the answer that they give are the correct and the house is not fall ? The same way, one person in google decide to make it, and all the rest are advertising. –  Aristos Sep 21 '10 at 13:49
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A lot of good ideas originate with one person rather than the masses. Also, extensive user testing is just "advertising"? –  James Sep 21 '10 at 14:48
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@Aristos (a) They don't give details about how the user tests were conducted. (b) They discarded at least two designs, presumably based on the results of user tests. –  James Oct 26 '10 at 20:36
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User testing cannot be done to test things like google instant. You have to experience it over time to know whether you will like it or not. –  ThomPete Nov 2 '10 at 6:49
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Cant stand the thing.

  • It's too slow It can sometimes take a good few seconds for the page to update. When it does, you've continued to type, but you have just seen the gem of a result.. but oh no, it's now rebuilding the list again based of the latest garble of text you've entered - and your gem is buried in the haystack once more

  • It's very distracting There was a study done about how big changes in what you're looking actually clears your short term memory. I can't remember the exact name of the study, but it certainly rings true on Google's instant search. I've quite often seen something appear in the instant search that looked really interesting, but wasn't really what I was looking for... and then i've had to stop and remember exactly what I was typing. Maybe not so bad if you're searching for small terms, but larger term searching is actually harder now imo.

  • It's ugly The rapid updating and the bouncing all over the place is just plain ugly imo.

The only good thing about it is that to turn it off, you don't have to find the option in your user account settings - its right there next to the search bar. (imho of course :) )

Edit

To help fortify my answer and alter it from being 100% subjective to being at least slightly objective, here are a few links to reviews on Google Instant, which have comments by users/readers who mostly share the sentiments of the article:

http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Web+Search/thread?tid=1f475d87e142c7a8&hl=en

http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Web+Search/thread?tid=49ef1e2a99799751&hl=en

http://www.zdnet.co.uk/blogs/jacks-blog-10017212/google-instant-or-google-stupid-10018659/

http://www.product-reviews.net/2010/09/09/google-instant-search-consumer-feedback-after-update/

From my own research, it seems there are more people publicly stating their dislike, than those stating their liking. Obviously, this is almost always the case, but without running your own independent testing, I don't know how you could answer this question any more objectively :)

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The question asked if it provided a good user experience, which in itself is a subjective queston. My answer, as a user of Google is, of course, also subjective and therefore surely valid. Anyone here, except for maybe the Google team who ran the research, could not realistically answer this question without providing a subjective answer, unless they too carried out an enourmous user survey. I think your mass-handing out of downvotes on oppinionated replies, when the question includes personal oppinion, and you don't know what the OP wanted, is slightly unfounded. –  Sk93 Sep 11 '10 at 11:06
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Good UX is certainly not subjective! It can be clearly measured through user testing. The question in the title, to me, is an objective question. Glen's description is where things get confusing and lean towards asking people for their opinions ("what's the verdict?"). As for the downvotes - please don't be offended, I'm just sorting the results based on the ability the site grants me to do so. It's not personal. :-) –  Rahul Sep 11 '10 at 11:22
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If he would have said hate it and gave no explanation, I would agree with downvote, but: slow, distracting and ugly are generally accepted as bad UI. –  JeffO Sep 14 '10 at 18:08
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Downvotes are not intended to "sort" results, but rather indicating mis-information. As it wasn't clear what the OP was after, it seems "bad form" to down vote arbitrarily. I'm not offended, nor am I taking it personally, but merely indicating that I do not believe the down vote was really called for (for myself, or any of the other five answers also down voted). A simple comment stating you believe the OP was after non-subjective answers would have been more than enough imo :) –  Sk93 Sep 15 '10 at 7:36
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+1 if for no other reason than to counteract Rahul's downvote. –  Charles Boyung Sep 15 '10 at 16:01
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I don't like their implementation of instant results.

I love filtering results when the list is a regular font size and can only become more exact with the more text provided to the filter itself. (e.g. taking a list of 300 items and after 6 letters showing only 4 results.)

My major beef with Google's implementation is:

  1. The update area is too big, the majority of the screen is changing with each letter I type. Adding a small delay may be nice but usually having the entire screen go blank for a split second and show new data is visually distracting.
  2. With "instant" results like they provide, it feels like it should be filtering and refining the results in some way. Adding a new word to the query can sometimes change the whole result set. This also throws me off.
  3. The font large font size of the results is visually districting as well. If it was a smaller, more regular size like 10pt, I may not dislike it as much.

As it stands now, I have instant search turned off. I'll test it every now and then but I was having a better time with the regular "enter the query and press enter" approach.

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-1 - no references, just personal opinion –  Rahul Sep 11 '10 at 11:02
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@Rahul I wish I could give a -1 to comments because when you allow a subjective question like this, you are going to get subjective (re: opinion-based) answers. You shouldn't downvote an answer that is an opinion when the question is ASKING for opinions. –  Charles Boyung Sep 15 '10 at 15:58
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+1 if for no other reason than to counteract Rahul's downvote. –  Charles Boyung Sep 15 '10 at 16:00
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@Rahul - Why did you downvote the clearly thought-through answers here and then completely ignore all of the simple opinion answers that look like they were thrown together in 10 seconds? There are at least three of them here that were posted before this one, so you had to have seen them. –  Charles Boyung Sep 15 '10 at 16:13
    
I downvoted most of the answers. I just didn't comment on all of them. –  Rahul Sep 15 '10 at 19:17
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It's good UX. That its implementation leaves something to besired (like lack of speed,although I haven't experienced it), does not change that the principle is sound: the only logical next step after entering a search query is to actually perform the search, so you might as well just skip that step and do it for the user. Also, it's not finishing your sentences, it's providing shorter and thus faster paths to your desired search results.

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I really like it. It seems a little slow at first, but I believe over the next few days, they'll iron out that and it'll be fantastic :) I find it much more useful for when I'm looking for complicated searches, like looking up a specific coding errors etc.

I've actually just asked a question on a similar vein to this, as my company are looking at adding this style of dynamic search to our software products.

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Google instance come to change the user interface with the user on the common search dialog.

This is not so good for the moment because google is the only one that done this and I do not think that other software can do this for the moment.

So the google search has a different user interface that make all of us to confuse.

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I think it is a great UX idea. It allows advanced users to instantly refine search terms to see get the best results while less advanced users can probably find what they're looking for after typing three or four letters.

Great idea, and it will only become better as Google remembers common searches for logged-in users and displays results after only one or two letters.

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I know they try to maintain their original home screen (logo, search box and button in the middle), but I'd rather not have everything jump to the upper-left after typing the first letter. If Instant is on, just start there to begin with. It's not like it would be that hard to find.

I will say, if you're having trouble spelling one of your search words (could be the reason for doing the search in the first place), the immediate response is very beneficial.

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Google instant is bad UI. There is inconsistent indication it is working, therefore I never know if what is shown on-screen is for what is currently in the text box, or what was previously in the text box. I find I have to impulsively click the "Search" button when I am done to make sure what I am seeing is for what I have finished typing. In other words, through usage I have found it unreliable, so I inherently distrust that it is correct. Because of that, it slows me down by making me think, "is it working?".

A sign of good UI is that a user does not have to think to use a piece of software, they just flow with it. If the user has to constantly evaluate what is going on, you have lost.

Don't get me wrong, I love the instant feedback, but I think "google suggestions" is a better approach.

Let me give you another example of bad google UI: the Bookmarks list in the default android browser. This list always moves frequently used items to the top of the list. This may sound "helpful" in theory, but in practice since the locations of bookmarks are constantly changing, what it does is remove any ability for me to memorize the location of the bookmarks in the list. When I am sitting at a traffic light and want to check the weather, I cannot simply pop open my favorites and go to the weather link from muscle memory. I have to actively scan the list. There is a reason Microsoft removed this feature from Office menus.

Rule: never change or move UI elements on the screen.

Rule: Don't make the user think. If they have to actively evaluate your user interface every time they use your software you have lost.

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+1 Agree on the first part about it being difficult to see if the results reflect what I typed, resulting in button banging. –  Oskar Duveborn Apr 29 '11 at 23:08
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When I am trying to reformulate my original query and the modification has resulted in worse results, I can not go back to the original query instantly by pressing the back browser button. I have to edit/type the changed query to the original query but I have already forgotten what exactly it was.

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I type faster than it can provide feedback, so it over-writes my correct answers with wrong ones.

Hate it.

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As I have gotten used to it I actually think it's pretty good.

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Extremely efficient in most cases. I can only see it getting better as it gets "smarter" from use and trends. Has done far more good than harm for me so far.

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FWLIW, I don't pay any attention to it. I just type like I always did and, occasionally, use the autocompletion aspect of the search bar. The only time I notice the listing of results is after I finish the query text. This probably has allot to do with the fact that I can't type well so I generally look at the keyboard when typing. That, and I'm an old phart who started his computer interfacing on TTY's.

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Love it, it helps me think of better ways of phrasing things. It also provides humorous and off the wall suggestions sometimes which help to give me a chuckle. Way to go Google.

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