Google Uses Jars of Marbles To Decide Whether An Android Design Change Is Good or Bad

May 30, 2013 - Written By Chance Miller

Back in 2011, Google unveiled the first major redesign for Android with Ice Cream Sandwich. It brought many visual changes to the operating system, which were definitely needed to compete with the new, beautiful Windows Phone operating system from Microsoft. Since 2011, the interface on Android has stayed nearly identical, with the only improvements coming under the hood, like Project Butter, and adding new features, such as Google Now. This suggests that maybe Google is finally happy with the way Android looks. It seemed like before Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the company would tweak something visually with every update. Such as the notification bar change from Froyo to Gingerbread. It’s like the company was just trying random things to find a ‘look’ that people could call Android.


During a presentation at Google I/O this year, the company’s Android User Experience team explained how it goes about settling debates when it comes to designing and changing stuff on Android. The team believes that every design change emotionally affects users in either a negative or positive way. The team follows the guidance of psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, who says that it takes three positive emotions to outweigh every negative one.

With that 3:1 ratio in mind, the company sets up two jars to visually assess the emotional cost of a design change. One debate the company recently had was “How do you signal to a user that they’ve swiped to their final page of apps?”. The company explains that the Android team has a published guide of 17 design principles to “Enchant, Simplify, and Amaze” the user, which they must abide by. The principles are written from the point of view of the user and say things like “keep it brief,” “delight me in surprising ways,” and “it’s not my fault.” When a change falls into these categories, a marble is dropped into the good emotion jar. If it doesn’t, then a marble is put in the bad emotion jar.


Some of the things the company considered for the problem were disqualified by the jar of marbles and 17 design principles. For example, the company considered doing nothing to alert the user they were at the last page of apps. This breaks two of the design rules, however, so it received two negative emotion marbles. They also considered having a pop up notification appear that read “this is the last screen”, but that breaks three of the design standards, and therefore was given six negative marbles. As you all should know, Google decided to use an animation to signal that the user was at the last page of apps. This gained four positive marbles.

For those that are interested, you can watch the full Google I/O talk down below. What do you think of Google’s way of solving design debates? Let us know down in the comments!

Source: FastCodeDesign