I've been at Google for nearly 8 years. I lead the user experience design of Google Search – we're always working on creating a simple, useful, beautiful experience. We're especially focused on our mobile Search app these days (both Android and iOS), making sure it's easy to search by voice, and that we're providing the right info just when you need it.

I’ve been designing for the web since 1994, I occasionally moonlight as an actor in mildly amusing YouTube videos, and I was a founding member of the Mars Society and helped scout the location for their research station in Utah. Feel free to ask me all about how I got into this, and how and why we design Google Search the way we do. Looking forward to it!

Proof: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JonWiley/posts/9B9FYkrPTcm

Edit: Ok, I gotta go. THANK YOU! Thanks for the interesting questions and ideas. Long time lurker, first time poster - this was fun.

Comments: 238 • Responses: 28  • Date: 

djh81665 karma

Hi, Jon. Thanks for the AMA and for your work on the Google Maps app! I use it all the time. Any chance you guys can make the app save my "Avoid tolls" preference like the old version did? I recently moved right next to a toll road and honestly avoid using voice recognition because it always tries to use the toll route. Thank you again :)

Jonwiley60 karma

I use this feature, too. We're looking for ways to try to make this work the right way. Like many design problems, this one has edge cases which are important to get right. Imagine that you checked the "Avoid tolls" preference and Maps saved the preference. Later, you tap on the mic and say "Navigate to the hospital!" and Maps takes you the long way. Probably not what you wanted. We need to think through all of the cases and make sure we ship the right design.

djh8163 karma

Thanks, Jon! Glad to hear it sounds like it's coming in the future again. Literally my only gripe with Maps. I understand the edge cases but maybe in the meantime have a checkbox to save the preference and display a disclaimer about those edge cases? I personally would not count on my phone to get me to a hospital :P

adolflow10 karma

Agree 100%, I already get little pop-ups when navigating saying that going this other way is x min slower / faster... Maps should let you prefer no tolls, while remarking that another route is faster but includes tolls

Jonwiley18 karma

Fair point. I'll talk to the team (but keep in mind that there are a lot of edge cases).

archon81056 karma

Hi Jon, are there plans to fix the incredibly slow behavior of search for mobile when you have a decent number of apps installed?

Exhibit A: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvxurf2sgpg.

Exhibit B: Because of A, the Android Wear experience is severely hampered. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWOfbfXMbks and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Af8G0aYruV8.

I tried bringing this to the attention of the Android team (via Adam Powell) but haven't heard back yet.

Thank you.

Jonwiley51 karma

I hadn't seen this. Thanks for the feedback, I'll look into it.

DystopiaMan47 karma

Hace you ever design an Easter Egg so well that nobody has found it yet?

Jonwiley66 karma


read_the_article_46 karma

Hi there Jon Wiley,

Please PLEASE answer this question: Why did Google remove the Google Discussion search filter?


Info for those not aware: Google Discussion filter was a tool to search forums/discussions. In the beginning of the year, Google removed the discussion filter as an option. Although it was removed from the search page, you could still access it with a workaround: https://www.google.com/?tbm=dsc

About a week ago Google have permanently removed the search, so now the workaround link does not work.


It was literally 90% of what I used Google Search for. You could use it to search for difficult to find technical information, solutions to problems, getting a "human" perspective on products or services. Combining it with the "Anytime" filter (past day) (past year), to get info recently or during certain periods was amazing.

The alternative is to now use subpar forum search websites (boardreader/omgili) or to use regular Google with complicated search syntax that severely pales in comparison to the powerful Google Discussion filter.

Google Discussion filter worked perfectly as intended and many people used it (based on the complaints after removal) so why remove it? I could understand if it was replaced by a better product, but just removing it with no alternative has lowered the quality of my Google searches. Please have the team reconsider restoring the discussion filter. I can't properly describe to you you how frustrating this is.

For those that want to, politely make an official complaint to Google here: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/websearch/Psb6OmlLJTg/discussion%5B1-25-false%5D

Thanks for doing this Mr Wiley.

Jonwiley51 karma

One thing that’s almost always guaranteed with product design: when you add a feature, no one complains about it outright; if they don’t love it they mostly just ignore it. Whereas if you take something away, you’ll hear about it if people relied upon it… loudly and often. With something like Google Search, even if just a small fraction of people miss a feature and an even smaller fraction says so, that can still be tens of thousands of people. It can seem like a tidal wave of opposition to the removal: “look at all these people who want it back!”

So it would be much easier to leave in everything that’s ever launched. But then you end up with bloatware: an unwieldy array of ill-fitting modules that don’t work well with newer technologies (e.g., the shift to smartphones, or upgraded security, or touchscreens, etc.) and don’t really serve most of your users well either. And nothing comes for free – every feature must be maintained, supported in multiple languages, on multiple devices, and the additional complexity must be accounted for in testing so that the entire service remains reliable. And that cost gets balanced against the impact: is this feature solving an important problem for lots of people?

There are many, many such features that you always have to make tough choices about. We’ve actually cut features that I love. This is one of the toughest but most important parts of designing products – deciding what to trim as you move forward. Sometimes you over-trim – we work to measure the impact and aim to strike the right balance. Sometimes we get it wrong, so it is important that people speak up. We really do listen, and we prioritize according to what seems to satisfy the widest needs given our capabilities.

read_the_article_17 karma

Thanks for the reply Jon.

I understand the general point you are making. Deciding how to keep a product at it's most efficient can certainly be difficult. And of course, there are situations of the vocal minority.

However...you have a product that is clearly useful at what it does to the point where removing it takes away from the experience and the problem (I believe from reading your somewhat non-specific reply) is that it doesn't "interface" with newer technologies well and might be inefficient.

Google Discussions Filter cut out the clutter beautifully. If it caused problems with newer technologies, consider having the team develop a newer, more efficient Discussions Filter.

I wish you could be a little more specific about the problems that the discussions filter might have caused specifically, but maybe due to time constraints it's understandable that you gave a general product design philosphy reply.

Thanks again Jon

edit: Also, you heard him folks:

Sometimes we get it wrong, so it is important that people speak up. We really do listen, and we prioritize according to what seems to satisfy the widest needs given our capabilities.

Make your voices heard if you are also concerned about this: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/websearch/Psb6OmlLJTg/discussion%5B1-25-false%5D

Jonwiley8 karma

I wasn't directly involved in the removal of this particular feature, but often it comes down to the reasons I stated above: lots of effort required to maintain for a (relatively) small fraction of people. If you do post to the product forum, what's really helpful is understanding the problem you are looking to solve – i.e., you have a question, you're looking for an answer, and you aren't finding the best results. If you provide some example questions (we call them queries), that can help us understand how Google Search isn't working for you. Then hopefully we can make Search better overall.

Garth_Lawnmower44 karma

Can you please add a way to tell Google Now I don't have a work location? Once you've set a location you are only presented with the option to continue to set it as “work " or edit it to a new location. Editing it through Maps does not help.

Jonwiley62 karma

Feature request filed! Thanks!

Deus_cz35 karma

Is Google Search going to get some kind of Material Design makeover or is it going to stay mostly the same as it is for all those years?

Jonwiley94 karma

I'm one of the instigators of material design. It actually came about a couple of years ago when we were working on a design problem involving Google Search. I was looking at mobile results on cards and I asked "what is this made of?" People gave me funny looks, like 'what do you mean? It's just pixels." But I didn't think that was a good answer.

When you physically interact with software – actually touching the cards and links and buttons, etc. – you bring a lot of expectations around how physical objects behave. If the interface isn't thoughtful about those expectations – if it's just a bunch of pixels – it leaves you with a rather unsatisfying and inauthentic experience.

Material design came about when thinking how to make Google Search better on mobile devices. So we plan to bring material design to all of its products, including Search.

RocketTech9934 karma

Is there any interest in google search passing a Turing type test? Considering the bluring of lines between subject search (google.com) and personal assistants (Ask Google, Siri, Cortana), when do you think these tools may pass a Turing test, even if it isn't a primary goal?
Essentially, how long until I could have a natural conversation with my phone/tablet about my plans for the day?

Jonwiley232 karma

That’s interesting – tell me more about is there any interest in google search passing a Turing type test?

thoomfish34 karma

This is my favorite answer in the entire AMA.

Jonwiley97 karma

How do you feel about this is my favorite answer in the entire AMA in reality?

bobthebobd33 karma

How can search be made better?

Jonwiley42 karma

That’s the question I ask myself every day. Sometimes I have an answer and I work on that. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed at the massive scale of the problem. I tell folks I design things for Google Search and they often say “what is there to design? It’s really simple and it seems pretty much done.” But the truth is that we’re at the beginning.

In the near term the basic idea won’t change much – you want to get whatever answers and info you need throughout the day, as easily and fast as possible. That’s what search has always been about.

What’s changing is how you get the answers and how good they are. We’re in a little golden age of new devices, from watches to in-car UI’s. Each come with new capabilities and ways of interacting and you can expect new ways to get the answers you need, often with less effort (voice search being a good example).

Need directions? Just glance at your watch and they’re already there. Wondering who built that bridge in front of you? Just ask and Google can tell you on the fly. Years ago if you had a question you’d wander over to the library or look it up on your computer when you got home. Now a lot of knowledge is readily available at your fingertips.

subheight64021 karma

It always seems like Google is removing more features from Search than they add in. I especially loath most of Google's mobile apps - they have little to no options, settings, and customization.

Why exactly does Google have this design philosophy when adding an options page would be a relatively easy thing to do???

Jonwiley25 karma

See earlier answer on removing features… yes, this is a basic challenge of design. And you’re right another approach is to offer deep customization with options for everything. But usually that’s a sign that you’ve avoided the tough design choices – ideally you come up with one simple, straightforward solution that handles most user needs well. Otherwise you’re putting the burden on your users to figure out how to essentially build the product themselves. So we try to minimize the settings you have to tweak to get Google to work well. A big reason why Google Search is so successful is that it’s fast and simple. Type in a box or tap on a mic and just ask.

the_singular_anyone19 karma

What role do you believe the tech industry needs to play in re-shaping the economies of the cities it moves into?

Jonwiley24 karma

I live in Mountain View along with many of my coworkers who call the Bay Area home. I’m sympathetic – I know I’ve been lucky, and I love living here, and at the same time I realize there are lots of people in tougher situations. Companies need to have a strong awareness of the impact their operations can have on the community. Google does a lot to participate locally, like volunteering (I’ve done trail maintenance in parks and towns), contributing to local non-profits, and funding MUNI transit for students in SF. But this is a WAY bigger issue than any one company or even any one sector. A lot of it comes down to not building enough housing for the demand. This is a long read, but well worth it if you really want to dig into the issue: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/14/sf-housing/

plausble18 karma

How will material design affect Google Search?

Jonwiley16 karma

I think a big challenge with Google Search in terms of experience is that it has often felt like a series of jump cuts in what is actually continuous. Material design gives us a framework we can use to do something closer to a scene change in a play, continuously moving from one state to the next. This can make it feel much faster and can also provide cues as to what happened when you touched something in the UI. It's another step towards removing any speed bumps along the way to getting a good answer.

JoeRolette16 karma

Why does Google search tell me how long it took to perform a search? It is never more than one second, which is no big deal for me. This has always confused me. For example:

When I search for "Arsenal Football Club" this is what I see: "About 43,300,000 results (0.58 seconds)"


Jonwiley17 karma

It’s almost as much a reminder to ourselves as anything else. Speed is really, really important – even more so as people shift to mobile. Google needs to be really responsive or it doesn’t feel second-nature. We want the Google app to be something you can just pull up and ask any question on the go, using voice search if you like (since that’s also faster than typing on mobile): “Will I need a jacket in Portland this weekend?”

robertcat15 karma

So is there a design department now? If not, how do you keep things coordinated with the rest of Google?

Jonwiley23 karma

There isn't a design department. Each product team has a group of user experience folks (interaction designers, researchers, visual designers, prototypers, motion graphics designers, etc.) Each team focuses on the particular problems they are trying to solve and tries to solve it in the best way.

In terms of coordination, we talk a lot. All the design leads are routinely talking to, having lunch with, and sharing work with all the other design leads and the rest of the company. When someone solves a problem in a way that could be applied elsewhere, we try to adopt it.

wavefrom15 karma

What would you recommend for someone just getting into HCI/UX? College programs, certifications, DIY to end up doing UX at Google?

What does Google look for in a UX team member?

How does User Research inform your designs and where does it fit in the process?(aka before, after, during, all of the above?)

How many people are on the Google Search UX team? How many people are on the Google UX team through out the company?

Jonwiley14 karma

College is good. There are a number of good HCI/UX programs. DIY works fine too if you can build up a good amount of experience.

Google looks for people who have great empathy, a solid understanding of technology and the systems which make design solutions possible, and a drive and vision to solve important problems for many people.

Our first principle is to focus on the user and we often do that through research. We have a large team of user researchers using a variety of methodologies to ensure that the solutions we create meet/exceed the needs of our users.

On the Search UX team there are over two dozen. Globally there are hundreds.

theirfReddit13 karma

Dear Jon,

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

What do you think is the next great element in the experience of Search? I'm a Search Enthusiast and I expected search by voice, glad it was done well and I expected Google to do it properly and well, and hot-wording made it even better. Something I didn't see coming, but spent this summer recreating was conversational search. I love it! So simple you wonder why it didn't exist— the definition of a stellar interaction. Many thanks and props to you, Amit, and everyone at Search.

What do you think or would you like the next great interaction of Search to be?

If you don't mind me saying more: I wanted to thank you for your contribution to design, design at Google, and my inspiration. Being the Principal Designer for Search and Maps is amazing, but your work more than speaks for itself. And the best part about Google's design in general is that it keeps on improving. Many get stuck in a style or patterns, but Google is redefining design. While people are contemplating or switching between flat or skeu, Google came out with Material Design. Need I say more?

Jonwiley15 karma

Thank you for the kind words.

It’s a bit hard to say, since “search” is such a general thing – really it means getting the info you need whenever you need it, for whatever you’re doing. But broadly: I expect obstacles to drop away. Devices will get cheaper, smaller, lighter, longer-lasting, etc. You’ll be able to connect anywhere, fast. And then WHAT you get will be much higher-quality info: not just plain facts, but specific help for what you’re doing at the moment. Also, in many ways I think the technology will become more invisible – it’ll fade into the background. Think of plumbing – you just turn on the tap, and voila, water! I think information technology will start feeling that way too: on-demand but unobtrusive otherwise. And it’ll be magnified for people in other parts of the world where access to information is tough today.

dr_droidberg11 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA!

Are there any plans to add some of the "search tools" to the Google Search Android app? I use them pretty often (especially the time filter) and would be much easier to use them from the app instead of remembering I need to use a browser to access those more advanced features.

Also, if you know anyone who works on Google Keyboard, tell them I'd love for them to enable auto-correct when typing in Chrome or the Google Search Android app :)

Jonwiley10 karma

Yup, I use the tools too. We're working on how to get those into the app.

NamenIos9 karma

What features could improve Google Search for people speaking two languages fluently?

I have to add &lr=lang_de if I want to search German sites when I use google.com in English.

sorry for highjacking your ama for a disguised feature request

Jonwiley31 karma

This is maybe not quite the same thing, but we’re working on a really cool feature for voice search – it lets you set multiple languages, and then you can speak in whichever of those languages and Google will automatically detect which you’re using at the moment. So that makes it easier to use Google when you speak multiple languages (at least on the asking-questions side). On the results side, tricky stuff since the Web is such a blend of languages, some amount of machine translation is possible but not perfect, etc. But you can add multiple languages for which search results are displayed at Settings > Languages and add them. Then you’ll see both English and German results, depending on what’s relevant.

NamenIos6 karma

Wow this sounds really great, I have my Android in English and feel kind of awkward when I am using Google Now when somebody could hear me. This would solve this. It is really cool to see things are getting better and better and there are persons who are constantly thinking on how to improve products!

On the results side, tricky stuff since the Web is such a blend of languages, some amount of machine translation is possible but not perfect, etc. But you can add multiple languages for which search results are displayed at Settings > Languages and add them. Then you’ll see both English and German results, depending on what’s relevant.

Thanks turns out I had done that, maybe the English results are just ranked higher on my search terms.

Tropiux6 karma

How did you end up working at Google?

Jonwiley33 karma

So, my dad is an electrical engineer and I can always remember having a computer in the house. My dad had a simple rule: I could play with the computer, but if I broke anything I had to fix it. It’s only now that I’m a father myself that I realize he basically created his own in-house tech support and me learning something along the way was a bonus.

And from elementary school forward, I really enjoyed acting and performing on stage. When I was ten my aunt asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said “stand-up comic.” She said “oh, but you’re smart, you should be a scientist!”** I thought about it for a second and then said “ok, I’ll be an astronaut.” Seriously, just like that – from that day forward all the way to my 2nd year in college I intended to get a PhD in comparative planetology so that I could go to Mars.

I initially double-majored in computer science and astronomy. Turns out I suck at math. I was also pretty sure that if I ever did become an astronaut I’d just be hanging out in low earth orbit – no trip to Mars. So I switched over to acting. I also joined a local improv/sketch troupe. This was around 1995, and I’d kept up with my interest in the Internet and computers and I’d been dabbling in creating documents for the World Wide Web. My troupe needed a cheap form of advertising to college students, so I built a web page.

I received a degree in acting but struggled to make a living out of it. Meanwhile, I discovered people would pay me to design websites. I’ve been designing for the Web for 20 years. The acting degree actually helps with experience design. Being a good actor means being a great listener and being able to put yourself in another’s shoes. The same is true of design. Both disciplines require empathy.

tl;dr: I tried to be an astronaut, became a poor actor instead, and discovered designing websites paid the bills better than waiting tables.

** Some of the smartest people I know are stand-up comics.

therandompoopsman6 karma

Yo J-Wiley,

UX design is an awesome field!

What were the most surprising or counter-intuitive discoveries you've found related to UX?

What do think the biggest mistake a developer can make in designing a product? The most common mistake?

Lastly, something a bit more personal: what's the best song you've heard in the last week and why?

Jonwiley8 karma

When I first started there was this concern that the expectations for UX are totally different in different countries and that people behave in very different ways. Not so much. There’s a bit of variation, but in general people are people and they react in similar ways. In terms of mistakes: Design and engineering are about solving problems. Designers should be crystal clear on what problem they are solving, why it is a problem, why their solution is good, and how to tell whether or not they solved it. Best song in the last week: Foil by Weird Al (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-0TEJMJOhk)

jc-miles5 karma

Who designs the Google Doodles? Is there a dedicated team? How is the process from idea to deployment?

Jonwiley7 karma

Doodle Team. They are amazing. http://www.google.com/doodles/about

leonarb_64 karma

With the increasing popularity of touchscreen devices (tablets, phones, even laptops with touchscreens) how do you plan on further innovating Google Search's design for both devices with touchscreens and devices with traditional keyboards and mice while keeping design language cohesive?

Jonwiley9 karma

I don’t actually know. We’re definitely in uncharted territory. Watches? Cars? Rooms? This is why I love my job.

BigToach4 karma

Can you provide us with some details into your workflow? For example, how much of what you do is tweaking tiny things based on research vs designing full experiences? How much interaction do you have with developers?

Jonwiley14 karma

We have a lot of things we're working on at any given moment and each is often at a different stage. Some things are very early and very conceptual – more asking of questions and trying to figure out how we might solve a problem. From there things progress into a variety of mockups and prototypes, often informed by observations. We refine solutions, build working versions, try them out, debate about them, and try them again. Some things are "oh, yeah, we should just fix that," while others require a lot of careful attention. I meet with engineers and developers daily.

An example of a fairly clear-cut problem to solve was the placement on the page of images for a topic along with information from the Knowledge Graph. Before, if you asked about [trees] you might see a card about trees with a picture and then a bunch of images of trees somewhere else on the page. That seemed silly – those should be together. The design solution is fairly straightforward, so then it becomes working through all the edge cases, working with the code, making sure we don’t break stuff, etc.

A much bigger and fuzzier problem to tackle is something like the question [what color should I paint my bedroom?] Even if Google had the perfect technology, “blue” isn’t really the answer you want. Questions like these are actually an invitation to have a conversation about a topic. Figuring out how to do that right, while still making things simple, fast, and reliable, is a tall order.

Monster404543 karma


Jonwiley18 karma

Exactly like. The movie is listed under Documentaries in the Google Play Movies store.

Billobatch3 karma

How often do you google yourself?

Jonwiley17 karma

0.063076 times per day (I just did the math). Apparently I search for margarita recipes ~3x as often.