Google claim their new “fade in” feature provides increased efficiency for users

I admit that Google’s new “fade in” feature is pleasant in a bland sort of way, and seems to be a good move from a branding point of view – but what interests me is that they claim their Multivariate testing research has actually shown measurable improvements in user behaviour “efficiency” over the old UI. It’s not entirely clear what they mean by efficiency, but this seems to be rather questionable. How is this going to improve my time-to-action if I want to check my gmail? How will it help me if I want to view maps, news, or visit any of the items that are initially hidden? By “efficiency” do they mean “time to start a search” at the expense of other actions? I can’t help wondering whether this is simply a move to enhance branding that’s been dressed up as the output of behavioural research. To look at it another way, perhaps this is actually evidence that the old school “data driven decision” mindset is starting to change at Google?

To quote Marissa Mayer on the official Google blog (emphasis added):

[…] in the end, the variant of the homepage we are launching today was positive or neutral on all key metrics, except one: time to first action. At first, this worried us a bit: Google is all about getting you where you are going faster — how could we launch something that potentially slowed users down? Then, we realized: we want users to notice this change… and it does take time to notice something (though in this case, only milliseconds!). Our goal then became to understand whether or not over time the users began to use the homepage even more efficiently than the control group and, sure enough, that was the trend we observed.

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