Earlier this month, Google made a dramatic change to the design of their search results pages.
Design is always an iterative process with multiple prototypes and revisions. Usually, selecting which prototypes to use is done by an expert designer. But at Google, the users decided.
In a blog post detailing the re-design, Google explained that Google designers came up with different options, and then they tried each out to see which was the best. In the past, Google has tested small things like what shade of blue to use for link color. (If you’d like to run similar experiments on your site, you can use Google’s free Website Optimizer tool.)
In this case, the “best” meant which design produced the fastest click-throughs. Faster click-throughs mean (1) people are finding what they’re looking for faster and (2) Google can display more search results and AdWords to a person in a day.
This is the design model for the future. Human creativity creates prototypes, which are then rigorously tested in an iterative process using randomized experiments to arrive at the optimal solution.
Two things that make Google’s process successful: randomized experiments over statistically-significant numbers of users and a clear definition of “success” that is the same for the business and the users.