• September 17, 2021

Exclusive: Google Explored New Safari-like Redesign for Chrome in 2016 — But Decided Against It

 Exclusive: Google Explored New Safari-like Redesign for Chrome in 2016 — But Decided Against It

Chris Lee, a former staff interaction designer at Google, writes in a blog post: Chrome Home was an ambitious redesign of mobile Chrome’s main UI. It brought Chrome’s toolbar to the bottom of the screen and turned in into a peeking panel that could be swiped to expose additional controls. I created the original concept and pitch for Chrome Home in 2016. It was based off two insights:

1. Phones were growing in size, and we had opportunity to innovate in creating a gestural, spatial interface that would still be usable with one hand.
2. Mobile Chrome was also growing in features – but because its minimalist interface kept everything behind a “three dot” menu, these features were underutilized and hard to access.

The idea caught traction internally, eventually becoming a Chrome org priority. I then led a team to execute and iterate on the concept. Executing on Chrome Home required rethinking not just the toolbar, but almost all of Chrome’s UI: search, bookmarks, tabs, prompts, etc. To inform our decisions, we used a variety of prototyping and testing approaches of increasing fidelity. Ultimately, such a fundamental change to a web browser required nothing short of building it into the product and testing it in longitudinal studies and live beta experiments. We heard a mixture of reactions. The feature gained a cult following among the tech community. But for some mainstream users, the change felt disorienting. Chrome serves billions of users around the globe with varying tech literacy. I became increasingly convinced that launching Chrome Home would not serve all our users well. So just as I strongly as I had pitched the original concept, I advocated for us to stop the launch — which took not a small amount of debate. Lee adds, “oh, and Safari in iOS 15 picked up some similar ideas and criticisms.”

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