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As every web developer/designer, I read many articles about why responsive web design is important. We are also often told, that you can learn a lot by observing the UI (and optionally the code itself) of large, successful companies.

Today I wanted to browse Google's result page on the left side of my screen and I noticed that the page is not responsive, even though it'd make sense and, even for a beginner, wouldn't be difficult to do so.

Why did Google decide to not take the responsive design approach for the result page?

I hope to see answers and I hope this question won't be closed.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Evil Closet Monkey, Mayo, Devin, SteveD, JonW Nov 21 '16 at 10:01

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • We cannot provide answers to this, only speculation (thereby this has been closed as 'Primarily opinion-based'). In order to get the answer you would need to contact them directly. – JonW Nov 21 '16 at 10:03
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Responsive design is best practice, except for the most high-end websites

Responsive, mobile-first design gets you the most “bang for the buck” for most web sites or applications. Effectively you can design your web property once, get a good experience anywhere.

But responsive design has its drawbacks, and is arguably compromise solution that works best for small, medium, and probably large (but not super large) web properties.

The Big Boys have different problems

When you’re Google, you see things a little differently. A months-long project to improve the experience for one particular device can seem quite reasonable when you’re dealing with the kind of volume they get.

If money were no object, and your organization could attract as much top talent as it needed, you could start looking at how your web experience could be better for users of particular devices.

“Native” web apps

When most web professionals hear “native solution” we think of a downloadable app designed for a particular platform (e.g., iPhone or Android). While Google has downloadable native search apps, they also go beyond this and also make “native web apps” — website experiences tailored to particular platforms.

Since these specific-purpose web experiences send less markup to the browser than a responsive / adaptive site needs to, they can shave milliseconds off of response times.

For them, few optimizations are premature optimization

Ideally, your web property would not send useless code to the user’s device that just slows down the experience. But that is how responsive sites work. Pages have markup on them for various screen sizes that the user is not using. CSS contains rules for different screen sizes as well. Images that are never seen on mobile devices get downloaded anyway.

Google and other top sites optimize away these inefficiencies by responding to detecting different devices specifically, and responding with just the code they need.

This doesn’t come cheap. They must design, build, and maintain each different version of the site. The continual release of new devices complicates the effort. Even the detection of the various devices is finicky — it’s much less tricky just to build it the responsive / adaptive way.

Google uses browser detection; you probably should not

If you want to see google.com adapt for a different screen size, you need to go into your browser tools and spoof a different device (which makes the browser send a different user agent to the web server). Your website could work the same way, but you probably don’t want it to.

Browser detection to customize code for different devices is discouraged by many experts these days, largely because it is so problematic to maintain. (I don’t particularly want my weekends disturbed because somebody on an XYZ tablet or phone cannot fill out a web form, how about you or your developers?)

Google has shifts of teams of people for this sort of thing, working 24x7. They don’t need to compromise.

  • I was going to say something similar, but you said it first (and probably better than I would). But to summarize: simply put, they use adaptive rather than responsive models. However, it's a bit unclear to me why don't they do adaptive+responsive – Devin Nov 19 '16 at 23:25
  • I thought about your last point too, but considering Google Chrome browser's popularity, ways of loading styles after the page has been loaded (or visited), I don't believe the reason is it is too hard to implement and keep it up to date nor that they can't find a way that won't affect the user's page loading time at all. But rather that doing the site responsive has more disadvantages than benefits for their goals. – Alvaro Nov 20 '16 at 12:22
  • @Alvaro, I've edited my question because I think it gave you the wrong impression. I'm not saying things are too hard or expensive for Google, quite the opposite. They take the “Cadillac approach” because it makes sense for them, and they can. – Tim Grant Nov 20 '16 at 19:32
  • money is no object when you make $60 billion in profit a year. – albert Jul 11 '17 at 15:34
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TL;DR: A different design, even if more convenient, might make the user loose the familiarity with Google brand.


Very interesting question.

Even when a design might be more convenient, user-expectation is probably the most important reason to maintain the design as true as possible to the original. Google Search is the brand's main product.

This means the design needs to make the user feel:

  • Familiarity
  • Brand recognition

Users might be satisfied with the site the way it is because the design feels familiar. Check this quote from UXMyths:

A study found that Amazon.com “was perceived in the usability testing to have the slowest home page loading speeds of the 20 websites studied, and to have one of the most confusing home pages. But users said before and after the website testing that they were likely to use and/or recommend Amazon to a friend.

‘Amazon had already been visited by 71% of the usability testers,’ notes Ms. Frank, 'so the familiarity with the site and the strong brand recognition were able to overcome flaws that would have been the kiss of death to lesser known websites.’”

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This applies specially for the desktop Web, as it is the original one. About the web in other devices:

If you access Google Search from a phone, from a tablet or from a desktop device it looks different. The site loads in a different way depending on the device. It probably loads exactly how they balanced is the best way for each device. Desktop users have different goals and use of the site than tablet or phone users.

What you might have noticed is that it is not responsive in the way of restructuring the layout. If you resize your desktop Browser it won't adapt as you might expect for a responsive or fluid design. Probably because they know it is best for the user goals not to hide any of the information or readapt it in any way.

Each style, height, color, etc. is highly tested to be as favorable as possible for their goals (to a pixel precision).

A more convenient design might make the user loose the familiarity with Google brand.

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Also Google doesn't need to rank in Google :)

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