Lessons learned from Google
I recently read a book called “How Google Works” by the founders of Google, Eric Schmidit and Jonathan Rosenberg. It was an amazing read, filled with numerous insights to the basic values Google was built on and their reasons to how they became so successful, from hiring top talent to centering their products around their users (with great stories to support their reasoning!)
Using Google as a reference to look at any top tech company’s success, how can we apply their advice to our design work? I compiled insights from the book that really resonated with me and how they connect to thinking about the design process and leveraging that to create a successful product or service.
They put their users first, always
The reason why a product or platform is so good is because their emphasis is on their users, not the product itself. This means fulfilling a need or problem users never realized was a problem to begin with until they provide a solution that transcends current product offerings.
Remember when Google released their search engine and that search engine became the best engine everyone uses today? This is because their primary goal was to provide the best experience for users to look up publicly accessible information which wasn’t something people would have thought of changing, given the existing search engines at the time. The existing search engines would provide users information when they typed something but they would often get poor results. It was like if you typed in a specific title of a car, but instead the first link would be to an art show with the name of the car included in the link description.
Serving our end users is at the heart of what we do and remains our number one priority (214)
When Google or any company says their “end users”, they mean users who have been enlightened as the result of their products. The product doesn’t just address their needs but provides a new perspective; a new way of doing things.
Google believed they could create a better product than what existed at the time, with one purpose: to create a search engine that had the single goal of surfacing accessible information in the context of what a user needs. With the rise of web pages and digital information, how could Google facilitate a seamless connection that would provide users what they were looking for and ultimately a solution that would address the unknown pain point of finding relevant information in one search? They started with their algorithm, PageRank, which would rank web pages based on what the user typed. Now with a plethora of data which exists now and the amount of users who use the internet, Google search has become an necessity when searching up any information, given the refinement of the algorithm and additional features added to make Search as diverse and valuable for users in need of quick, accessible information.
They value technical insights over market research
When Google Search launched, they differentiated themselves in that they placed emphasis on credible sources such as academic websites. This came from the insight in that the quality of a web page and how well it a user’s search would be based on the number of pages that led to a page (The more referrals to a web page = the higher the content)
Since then, most of Google’s successful products have been made with technical insights in mind, while the least successful ones have not.
Technical insights build great products. People will know a good product regardless of how it is marketed. Bad marketing can’t save a mediocre product.
In the book, it lists some of Google’s most successful products with the technical insights they are based upon:
AdWords– Ads could be ranked and placed on a page based on their value as information to users, rather than just by who was willing to pay more
Google News– Stories could be algorithmically grouped by topic, not source.
Google Chrome– Browsers needed to be reengineered for speed as websites grew more complex and powerful.
The point is that any successful product uses technical insights to find new ways of developing technology. This can be “driving down the cost or increase the function and usability of the product by a significant factor” (71).
Giving the customer what he wants is less important than giving him what he doesn’t yet know he wants (73)
Technical insights are different in market research in that marketing research only tells you what already exists. It does not give you insight to user behavior or how to do something new. In fact, marketing research narrows down your scope to thinking about the future, making you focus on solving existing problems or instead not telling you how to solve problems which users think don’t exist. As Henry Ford said, don’t look for faster horses.
Technical insights are based on the concept called “combinatorial innovation”. This is combining or recombining what already exists to create something new.
One way of developing technical insights is to use some of these accessible technologies and data and apply them in an industry to solve an existing problem in a new way (75)
Components that are currently driving the wave of new inventions include (digital) information, connectivity and computing. We have the opportunity to use copious amounts of the world’s information, computer power, open source software, and APIs, which can provide access to information platforms with vast amounts of data such as weather, economic transactions and even human genetics. These tools can be used to develop powerful insights and drive change in an industry.
They care about growth first
When building up their product, companies like Google and Amazon prioritized scale over what was considered “growth” in companies. For companies, this meant that they became big by first creating a product, achieving success (locally or regionally) and then grow the company by building sales, distribution and service channels, also ramping up manufacturing capability to match the progress. In order to get to the point of success, it would often be slow and time consuming. This won’t bode well in the internet world where you have competitors doing things quicker and more effectively. You need to have a “grow big fast” strategy.
Tech giants re-invented the meaning of what growth could become
Successful companies scaled their product, focusing on how fast they could release products to their consumers, growing their company very quickly and eventually globally. With a platform, it is easier to scale and reach a broader audience vs a product which doesn’t provide much room for connection. They understood how to create and quickly grow platforms which connected a wide range of users and providers to cater to multi-sided markets.
By building a platform, you can support a network that can connect millions of people and provide value for everyone in a short period of time. An example is YouTube which is a platform that lets you create videos and share them with a global audience. By adding videos and joining the community, you are adding more value and contributing to the growth of what the platform can offer in the future. For users, it is quality content and new information, for Google, it is more investment and for investors, it is ROI.
Platforms, not products
On the verge of being bought out, Google and Facebook decided to focus on building a platform first vs profiting on their “product” in the short term; it became “more valuable, attracted more investment and helped improve the products and services the platform supports”. When you monetize your product too soon, you are sacrificing your brand as well as your user experience (ads over product functionality is a big no no)
They encourage relationship building with other companies and themselves
When your platform is open, it tends to scale more quickly. The internet is a good example of an open platform in that so many people have contributed to it, allowing for connection and communication with a wide range of networks. It may seem counter intuitive to share your intellectual property with other people in fear of losing your competitive advantage but you are sacrificing control for scale and innovation. With open networks, you drive innovation into the product ecosystem while lowering the cost to build. This leads to more value for users (users can have ownership of the products they want to keep on using) and more growth for the ecosystem.
Google utilized the talent of thousands of users to help them innovate on their products, such as Google Translate which gets help from users all around the world to constantly improve the translation quality of different languages. Another example is their mobile system, Android, which grew immensely due to the growing need for smart phones and can be seen in a wide range of different phones due to its optimization for other products.
But not all successful platforms are open. Apple is a closed system for understandable reasons. They didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of their products and wanted to have full control in providing the best products for their users (establishing themselves as the only company who created products in a different way). Steve Jobs believed that the only way to do this was to provide a controlled and predictable environment in which Apple products were to be used.
They don’t follow the pack, they lead
When we focus too much on our competition, it causes us to fall into mediocrity. We spend too much looking at what our competitors are doing and when we want to try something new, we often don’t take big risks which lead us to developing incremental, low impact changes. In other words, by focusing too much on competition, you will never deliver anything truly innovation. Successful companies allows competition to keep them sharp and then diverge to create something different, something better.
When Microsoft released Bing in 2009, Google saw the need to diversify their search engine. With that in mind, they created new features such as Google Instant which provides search results while you are typing and Image Search which allows you to drag an image in the search box and find that image. This created a distinction between the two search engines.
How exciting is it come to work if the best you can do is trounce some other company that does roughly the same thing? (91)
The best companies do their best not to follow the competition, but instead using their competition as a way to be better. Instead of fighting with their competitors, they continue to improve their products and expand their platform to stay on top of the game. They always think ahead and think about what they can do in the future, instead of now.
How did the companies we know and love today become so successful to begin with? Simple. They weren’t afraid to make a difference even if it meant starting from nothing because they could find new ideas from what already exists and innovate upon them.
You will never disrupt an industry or transform your business, and you’ll never get the best smart creatives on board, if your strategy is narrowly based on leveraging your competitive advantage to attack related markets
Disruption and innovation go hand in hand in that disruption allows for innovation to happen which is the result of incremental change and the opportunity for everyone to innovate. This is what creates products that are “new, surprising and radically useful”
They also aren’t afraid of failure. Successful companies have constantly outputted products and failed numerous times to get to where they are now. They still continue to do this in order to stay on the top of the internet space.
Focus on the user and all else will follow
When creating products, a company’s goal should be to produce as much as possible and invest as little as possible until they are able to validate their ideas and know for sure that their product will satisfy users. This is an important step to take become scaling their platform and growing their product ecosystem. This can be said for not just Google, but for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, etc.
If you have questions or just want to chat, feel free to connect and message me on Linkedin 🙂
If you liked my post, please recommend it!
Links to some other cool reads:
- Prepping for Design Interviews (My Microsoft Onsite Experience)
- Most UX portfolios suck
- What I learned as a designer in the past 2–3 years
- The Types of Design Research every Designer should know NOW
- When did Design become so Easy?