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Google wants to make its products more human

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Interview episode of The Vergecast

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Off the heels of Google’s event announcing the Pixel 3, Pixel Slate, and Home Hub, Nilay sat down with Ivy Ross (Google’s VP of hardware design) and Rishi Chandra (Google’s VP of Home and Nest) for this week’s Vergecast interview. The three discussed the evolving and increasingly human design language of Google products, the future of devices like the Home Hub in a world that demands privacy, and — yes — the infamous Pixel 3 notch.

Below is a brief, edited transcript of their conversation about Google’s hardware design philosophy.

Nilay Patel: You said “what is it like to hold Google in your hands?” So, what unites that entire portfolio for you? What are the ideals you’re pushing forward?

Ivy Ross: Yeah, so we really use three words to inform that design language: human, optimistic, and bold. And that may sound simple, but it came from a long exercise of a cross-functional team representing marketing, the product folks, and design, really looking at what is uniquely Google and how might that come alive in hardware, and then what does that design language look like that delivers on these words.

So, human: I think we have always been, for everybody, much more accessible. Optimistic comes from our sense of fun. I mean, what other brand changes their logo every day on the browser? And then bold, ‘cause we do bold things as a company, i.e. driverless cars. And so we felt that those are three elements of our DNA that we wanted to make sure came through in our hardware design language.

Nilay: Does that start from the design of the actual hardware itself, the technology inside of it, or are you saying, “We’re going to do pops of color and fun fabrics at the end”?

Ivy: So when I say design language, I think as a group, and my team does the industrial design, color materials, finishing. We work collaboratively with the PMs and the engineers. The PMs really come up with what the product function will be, and then our job is to work together to bring that to life through the physical product. So it is materials, color, finish, form, interactions — that’s what my team is responsible for. But I think there are certain things, for sure, that overlap. I mean the fact that we create our hardware to be helpful to people, I would say, is definitely a human trait. So, they’re very relatable. They’re not isolated.

That is something I think is very much on the entire hardware division’s mind, is how we have a history of delivering helpful software. And for us, we want to be able to deliver the best hardware that leverages our software AI, but at the end of the day is helpful. Because if it’s not helpful to us humans, it won’t stay around.

Nilay: Yeah and I think a good example of that is the new Pixel phone’s have the selfie camera on front and the wide-angle, which actually solves a constructive need — because they’re showing the phone to people, that’s the thing that they’re most wowed about, which is kind of remarkable.

Ivy: Yeah, it’s a small thing but it’s really fun and you’re right, that’s a great example of seeing a problem that exists out in the wild and being able to solve it.