Friday, August 16, 2019

“Google Pixel 3 Smartphone Deal: Save 50% at Best Buy - Business Insider” plus 3 more

“Google Pixel 3 Smartphone Deal: Save 50% at Best Buy - Business Insider” plus 3 more


Google Pixel 3 Smartphone Deal: Save 50% at Best Buy - Business Insider

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 09:00 AM PDT

The Google Pixel 3 is a top-notch Android phone with excellent features — and it's a bit cheaper than flagship phones from Apple and Samsung.

Today, it's even cheaper than usual: The phone is currently on sale for $399.99 at Best Buy— that's half the original price.

The Pixel 3 has all the features that most people will want in a smartphone. Its standout feature is the camera: Its front camera takes better photos than almost any other smartphone, including most iPhones, and the front camera can take ultra-wide selfie shots.

The device also supports wireless charging, and Google sells a nifty charging stand, though you'll have to buy that separately. It also sports a bright OLED screen and can last 15-18 hours on a single charge.

The Pixel 3 is available in Just Black, Not Pink (a white-ish pink), Purple-ish (a very light purple), and Clearly White. You can get the phone through Sprint, Verizon, or unlocked, in 64GB or 128GB configurations at Best Buy.

Although the Pixel 4 is likely to launch this fall, the Pixel 3 is still a great device and well worth the money — especially at this price.

Get the Pixel 3 at Best Buy for $399.99 (originally $799.99) [You save $400]

Top Ranking in Google Local Can Be Rented - Search Engine Journal

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 03:21 AM PDT

A post on Diggity Marketing's blog describes a tactic that appears to expose lax ranking standards on Google Local searches. The tactic is to rank a website for local search terms then rent the website to a local business. The local business can rent positions in Google and collect business leads.

This is What Rank and Rent Is

What Matt Diggity describes is creating a website that ranks for a search phrase, typically but not limited to a local search phrase. A typical search keyword can be Name of City + Service.

Rank and Rent works like this:
A search marketer promotes a website so that it ranks for multiple keyword phrases related to commerce. The search marketer contacts businesses who may be interested in renting the site in order to acquire business leads. The business rents the website then profits from all the business leads the website generates.

This is how Matt Diggity describes it:

"Rank & Rent is a digital marketing strategy where you build a site, nurture it until it becomes visible on search engines, and then rent it out. Local SEO Search engine veterans are flocking to this strategy because it's simple, scalable and best of all—lucrative."

Rank and Rent is Lead Generation

Rank and Rent is a variation on the lead generation business model.

Lead generation is the practice of ranking a web page for a search phrase then selling leads from that page. Companies like Yelp and HomeAdvisor are examples of lead generation businesses.

Yelp and HomeAdvisor rank web pages for local search related keywords.

Their business model depends on ranking for search phrases then selling leads from the Google Local Search traffic (sometimes via paid advertising).

Rank and Rent is a variation on lead generation. Rank and Rent rents the entire website and all the keywords that it ranks for to a single business.

This is good for the business because the business can benefit from the Rank and Rent website as well as from rankings from its own website.

Local Search Keyword Ranking

Yelp and HomeAdvisor use their own sites to rank for search queries to sell ads and leads. New Food Economy published an expose revealing that GrubHub purchases domain names that match business names in order to sell leads from those unofficial websites.

As you can see in the screenshot below, Google is ranking GrubHub for the name of the Mosher's Deli restaurant and then the moshersgourmetlongbeach.com website also owned by GrubHub is ranking beneath it.

New Food Economy reported that ranking the name of a business is a way to attract users to the GrubHub owned site and when they click the button to place an order, GrubHub earns a referral fee.

screenshot of google's search results

The actual Moshers Deli website ranks in position seven. But that's besides the point. The point is that even a big brand like GrubHub ranks domains other than it's own domain to rank in Google in order to generate leads.

Although GrubHub is not practicing rank and rent, it is ranking websites other than it's own site in order to generate leads.

What Matt Diggity describes is a variation of this tactic of ranking a website for the purpose of generating leads. The difference in the rank and rent business model is that the search marketer doesn't sell leads, it rents the website itself, it does not sell leads.

Local Search Ranking Easily Exploited?

Early in 2019 a site created almost entirely with Lorem Ipsum Latin language content ranked number one in Google Local search. Almost all the content was written in an extinct language and it still managed to rank at the top of Google local search. Read: SEO Contest Exposes Weakness in Google's Algorithm

That Latin language site ranked for months. Google didn't remove the Latin language site until I published an article about it.

The fact that a site written almost entirely in Latin can rank in Google local search exposes a weakness in Google's local search algorithms.

Rank and Rent is Not New

Rank and Rent is not new. I know that domainers have been renting their domains for at least fifteen years that I know of. The practice of ranking and renting domains for lucrative keywords has been around longer than that, as I know many people who rented or sold domains that ranked.

Read Rank and Rent on Diggity Marketing 

Read New Food Economy article on GrubHub Domain Ranking

Google flubs on SOS alert for North Philly shooting - Billy Penn

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 02:45 PM PDT

Google claims to pull information for its crisis map alerts from "official" sources. But in times of trouble, experts say reputable information is not widely available.

A mass shooting gripped Philadelphia for seven long hours on Wednesday. For the better part of the evening and into the night, police were embroiled in a standoff with a lone gunman, who was holed up in a Nicetown rowhouse where he fired hundreds of rounds, injured six cops and kept five hostages.

It seemed like the entire city was tuned in. Hundreds of police arrived on the premises at the exact time of the evening news broadcast. Officers, reporters and everyday citizens scrambled to release information when they had it.

Around 7:30 p.m., Google chimed in. On the Maps desktop app, an exclamation point outlined in red appeared near the site of the gunfire. It read simply "Philadelphia shooting," with no further information.

What was that thing? It's called an SOS Alert. Launched by the search giant two years ago, it's a service meant to make regular people aware of an ongoing catastrophe unfolding around them.

"Technology plays a vital role in providing information to help keep you and loved ones safe and informed," the tech company's info page reads. "SOS Alerts is a new set of features in Google Search and Maps to help you quickly understand what's going on and decide what to do during a crisis."

But here's the thing: Google didn't quite get this one right. Wednesday night's alert identified the source of gunfire as being on 15th Street just south of Venango. The actual shooting was a few blocks north, closer to Erie Avenue.

Therein lies one of the major risks. Digital news experts say SOS Alerts could be helpful to inform the public during active shooter situations — but only if the info they offer is accurate.

googlesos-alert-01
Google Maps Screenshot

Google introduced SOS Alerts in July 2017. Almost immediately, news outlets hailed the technology as a way to keep folks safe.

Tech news site The Verge said the alerts could "help out people who are actively looking for information about a disaster." Philly's local CBS station said they'd "help during a crisis."

Researchers seem to agree: In times of unexpected danger, these alerts might help.

"Google does a great job of mapping things and giving us information," said Nicole Dahmen, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon who researchers the ethics of covering mass shootings. "Labeling active shooter situations could be beneficial for informing audiences and keeping audiences safe."

But if Google wants to be in the biz of sharing information during a crisis, they'd better make sure they're getting it right, Dahmen said. Otherwise, they'll do more harm than good.

"Oh wow, that's really dangerous," she said, hearing that the monarch of digital exploration had gotten a basic detail wrong. "That can lead to other problems, [like] mass panic."

It's not clear how often these alerts pop up in Philadelphia — a city that sees the equivalent of a mass shooting every three months. Google purports to publish them whenever there's internet connectivity and "official content" available. Google spokesperson Genevieve Park declined to explain further.

On its help site, Google says the information for SOS Alerts is sourced from "official content from governments and other authoritative organizations, and the impact on the ground." What does that mean, exactly? The company spokesperson was unable to clarify.

Philadelphia Police declined to comment on whether they share information directly with Google.

During ongoing shooting situations, much of the immediate information released is wrong. Even if coming from generally reputable sources, like reports from the police scanner and career journalists.

This has been true for centuries. As the Titanic sank more than 100 years ago, telegraphs indicated the cruise ship was safely on its way to Halifax, according to an On The Media broadcast. And during the assassination of former President JFK, radio reporters stumbled through the details — at one point, guessing that there might have been three shooters. (Spoiler alert: officially, there was one.)

The problem hasn't gotten any better with time, or with widespread access to information.

CNN wrongly reported six years ago that a suspect had been apprehended following the Boston Marathon bombing. Then after the Sandy Hook shooting, the network wrongfully identified the shooter's brother as the shooter himself.

And NPR initially got it wrong when radio broadcasters reported that Congressperson Gabby Giffords had died after being shot in 2011, when she actually survived.

On The Media has released a news consumer's handbook on what they should and should not trust during ongoing disasters.

"Instances of inaccurate and false information may be an inherent problem, given the nature of social media platforms and the number of people disseminating information," reads a 2011 study from the Congressional Research Service. "Studies have found that outdated, inaccurate, or false information has been disseminated via social media forums during disasters."

Dahmen worries the SOS Alerts could perpetuate the spread of false or inaccurate info.

"The bottom line there is that Google of course doesn't claim to be journalism," she said. "But these social media giants, they have a moral responsibility to provide accurate information, to not continue to fuel misinformation."

Exclusive: A first look inside Google's top-secret design lab - Fast Company

Posted: 06 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

There's a building on Google's Mountain View, California, campus that's off-limits to most of the company's own employees. The 70,000-square-foot Design Lab houses around 150 designers and dozens of top-secret projects under the leadership of vice president and head of hardware design Ivy Ross, a former jewelry artist who has led the company's push into gadgets ranging from the groundbreaking Google Home Mini speaker to the playful line of Pixel phones.

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Inside the lab—and away from the cubicle culture of the engineering-driven Googleplex—industrial designers, artists, and sculptors are free to collaborate. "Google's blueprint for how they optimize is great for most people [at the company]," says Ross. "Designers need different things."

Hardware design chief Ivy Ross (right) and designer Leslie Greene compare colors across Google product lines, from Nest stands to Pixel phones, in the lab's Color room. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
In any other setting, Ross's upbeat, bohemian demeanor would evoke that of a high school art teacher or perhaps the owner of a crystal shop more than a design director at one of the most powerful companies in the world. Today she walks me, the first journalist ever allowed in the building, through the space—which she calls "a huge gift" from Google's executive team. Google was always an engineer's company, rarely recognized (and sometimes ridiculed) for its hardware and software design. But recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been forthright in articulating just how crucial design has become to Google's business. In the past few years, Google has developed gadgets—from phones to smart speakers—that are some of the most desirable in the world. Yet before doors opened to the lab last June, the growing Google hardware design team ran many of their operations out of a literal garage—not the best setting for such an important of part Google's operations.

So Ross collaborated with Mithun, the architects behind many Google buildings, to create something new: a space that is meant to be a backdrop to Google's soft, minimal industrial design aesthetic. "This framework, it has fairly neutral colors. There's nothing so ingrained that we can't evolve," says Ross. "But being a blank canvas, what changes it is the products we're evolving, the materials, their color, and their function."

Designers hash out product schematics in one of the lab's Garages. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
Each space in the lab was constructed to help Ross's team marry tactile experiences (understated, fabric-covered gadgets that feel at home in the home) with digital ones (Google's unobtrusive UX). "Essentially the first thing I said was, 'We need light,'" recalls Ross. "Where in some buildings, [programmers] need darkness for screens, we need light." The lab's entrance is a two-story, skylit atrium, filled with soft seating and cafe tables for casual meet-ups.
Google designers, who often draw inspiration from everyday objects (including socks and carabiners), look at swatches for an unreleased wearable the team developed for the Milan Furniture Fair. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
A birchwood staircase leads upstairs to a library filled with the design team's favorite books—each member of the team was asked to bring in six texts that were important to them, and inscribe a message as to why. "We're the company that digitized the world's information," says Ross, "[but] sometimes, designers need to hold things."

In other instances, the lab is set up so designers can window-shop. The second story walkway around the atrium feels something like a high-end mall. On one side, I see a glass wall to the color lab. On the other side, a glass wall to the material lab. The color lab features an ever-changing array of objects, collected by Google hardware designers on their travels. It's a hodgepodge of items that seems less about color than what I might call a vibe. I see a paper radish, a green stack of stones, and an ivory jewelry box—all evoking a certain handmade minimalism. The display is the best reminder of a simple fact of Google's hardware design team. Just 25% to 40% of the group has ever designed electronics before. The rest designed everything from clothing to bicycles in a previous life.

advertisement

Hannah Somerville, the archivist for the Materials room library, arranges textiles swatches above a museum-style display of objects that designers can peruse. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
At a large white table inside the color lab, under carefully calibrated lights, Ross's team debates the next colorways for upcoming Google products. Once a week, designers from across categories—from wearables to phones to home electronics—gather around the table with scraps and samples in hand, to make product line decisions together. I'm treated to a show of last season's products and colors to demonstrate a point: that Google designers, making more than a dozen products that could be in your home at once, want them to look good next to one another, even if they were produced a few years apart. "That's how insane [we are], in a good way," says Ross. "We think about your life at home and that you want some connection, perhaps."
[Photo: Cody Pickens]
At the opposite end of the atrium is the twin glass wall of the materials lab. Also open to window-shopping, this room features more than 1,000 physical material swatches, dutifully curated—and color-coded, and hand-labeled!—by the library's full-time librarian, Hannah Somerville (who instantly spots the just-announced Adidas Loop sneakers on my feet, asking how the recyclable woven plastic feels as fabric). She urges me to touch the library's swatch of mushroom leather.
Sketches of company's last iteration of the Pixel phone hang on the walls of a Garage. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
That "leather" is one of many sustainable materials on view. Others include 3D-printed filaments made from old fishing nets and particleboard crafted from dead sea grass, hinting at a future of greener products from Google. Later, a pair of designers enter the library, asking Somerville for a material that feels like the foam you'd find in the bottom of a fake flower bouquet. One holds a soft swatch up to her forehead, possibly imagining an iteration of Google Glass, the Daydream VR headset, or any number of unreleased, unannounced products to come.
[Photo: Cody Pickens]

And for all the lab's welcoming aesthetic, it's still a top-secret space. Google's future hardware designs are valuable IP in the highly competitive world of smartphones and voice assistants. Most days, the building's tight security means that the prototypes can live out as an open secret, for designers to peruse and consider at will. But for my visit, they're covered in charcoal drop cloths.

A pair of mesh Adidas by Stella McCartney Pureboost sneakers are on display in the Materials room. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
The "Human Refueling Stations" by Tune Studio are one space where I am allowed to wander freely. The lab is designed to drive creative inspiration—to ensure Google's designers stay open-minded to new ideas and aesthetics. The refueling station is the clearest embodiment of that approach. After selecting the way I'd like to feel in an app (I believe I chose "energize"), I lie down on a leather pad, don headphones, and close my eyes, listening to a soothing world beat with a strong Om undercurrent. Ross is a big believer in the healing power of color and sound. (Her team went so far as to develop an installation at Milan that demonstrated how just sitting in different rooms can affect your core physiology.) For 15 minutes I wonder what I'm doing, wasting time on this silly bed. Then I stand up, eyes suddenly alert with a skip in my step. It's easy to imagine how this meditation space in the Design Lab is meant to spark creativity in the design team. But it's also easy to imagine this as a sort of prototype of how Google's product design team is thinking about affecting human physiology with design.

One thing you won't find many of in the lab are conference rooms. Most business meetings take place in other buildings. The lab, Ross stresses, "is a sanctuary to get the design work done."

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A version of this article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

“Google Pixel 3 Smartphone Deal: Save 50% at Best Buy - Business Insider” plus 3 more


Google Pixel 3 Smartphone Deal: Save 50% at Best Buy - Business Insider

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 09:00 AM PDT

The Google Pixel 3 is a top-notch Android phone with excellent features — and it's a bit cheaper than flagship phones from Apple and Samsung.

Today, it's even cheaper than usual: The phone is currently on sale for $399.99 at Best Buy— that's half the original price.

The Pixel 3 has all the features that most people will want in a smartphone. Its standout feature is the camera: Its front camera takes better photos than almost any other smartphone, including most iPhones, and the front camera can take ultra-wide selfie shots.

The device also supports wireless charging, and Google sells a nifty charging stand, though you'll have to buy that separately. It also sports a bright OLED screen and can last 15-18 hours on a single charge.

The Pixel 3 is available in Just Black, Not Pink (a white-ish pink), Purple-ish (a very light purple), and Clearly White. You can get the phone through Sprint, Verizon, or unlocked, in 64GB or 128GB configurations at Best Buy.

Although the Pixel 4 is likely to launch this fall, the Pixel 3 is still a great device and well worth the money — especially at this price.

Get the Pixel 3 at Best Buy for $399.99 (originally $799.99) [You save $400]

Top Ranking in Google Local Can Be Rented - Search Engine Journal

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 03:21 AM PDT

A post on Diggity Marketing's blog describes a tactic that appears to expose lax ranking standards on Google Local searches. The tactic is to rank a website for local search terms then rent the website to a local business. The local business can rent positions in Google and collect business leads.

This is What Rank and Rent Is

What Matt Diggity describes is creating a website that ranks for a search phrase, typically but not limited to a local search phrase. A typical search keyword can be Name of City + Service.

Rank and Rent works like this:
A search marketer promotes a website so that it ranks for multiple keyword phrases related to commerce. The search marketer contacts businesses who may be interested in renting the site in order to acquire business leads. The business rents the website then profits from all the business leads the website generates.

This is how Matt Diggity describes it:

"Rank & Rent is a digital marketing strategy where you build a site, nurture it until it becomes visible on search engines, and then rent it out. Local SEO Search engine veterans are flocking to this strategy because it's simple, scalable and best of all—lucrative."

Rank and Rent is Lead Generation

Rank and Rent is a variation on the lead generation business model.

Lead generation is the practice of ranking a web page for a search phrase then selling leads from that page. Companies like Yelp and HomeAdvisor are examples of lead generation businesses.

Yelp and HomeAdvisor rank web pages for local search related keywords.

Their business model depends on ranking for search phrases then selling leads from the Google Local Search traffic (sometimes via paid advertising).

Rank and Rent is a variation on lead generation. Rank and Rent rents the entire website and all the keywords that it ranks for to a single business.

This is good for the business because the business can benefit from the Rank and Rent website as well as from rankings from its own website.

Local Search Keyword Ranking

Yelp and HomeAdvisor use their own sites to rank for search queries to sell ads and leads. New Food Economy published an expose revealing that GrubHub purchases domain names that match business names in order to sell leads from those unofficial websites.

As you can see in the screenshot below, Google is ranking GrubHub for the name of the Mosher's Deli restaurant and then the moshersgourmetlongbeach.com website also owned by GrubHub is ranking beneath it.

New Food Economy reported that ranking the name of a business is a way to attract users to the GrubHub owned site and when they click the button to place an order, GrubHub earns a referral fee.

screenshot of google's search results

The actual Moshers Deli website ranks in position seven. But that's besides the point. The point is that even a big brand like GrubHub ranks domains other than it's own domain to rank in Google in order to generate leads.

Although GrubHub is not practicing rank and rent, it is ranking websites other than it's own site in order to generate leads.

What Matt Diggity describes is a variation of this tactic of ranking a website for the purpose of generating leads. The difference in the rank and rent business model is that the search marketer doesn't sell leads, it rents the website itself, it does not sell leads.

Local Search Ranking Easily Exploited?

Early in 2019 a site created almost entirely with Lorem Ipsum Latin language content ranked number one in Google Local search. Almost all the content was written in an extinct language and it still managed to rank at the top of Google local search. Read: SEO Contest Exposes Weakness in Google's Algorithm

That Latin language site ranked for months. Google didn't remove the Latin language site until I published an article about it.

The fact that a site written almost entirely in Latin can rank in Google local search exposes a weakness in Google's local search algorithms.

Rank and Rent is Not New

Rank and Rent is not new. I know that domainers have been renting their domains for at least fifteen years that I know of. The practice of ranking and renting domains for lucrative keywords has been around longer than that, as I know many people who rented or sold domains that ranked.

Read Rank and Rent on Diggity Marketing 

Read New Food Economy article on GrubHub Domain Ranking

Google flubs on SOS alert for North Philly shooting - Billy Penn

Posted: 15 Aug 2019 02:45 PM PDT

Google claims to pull information for its crisis map alerts from "official" sources. But in times of trouble, experts say reputable information is not widely available.

A mass shooting gripped Philadelphia for seven long hours on Wednesday. For the better part of the evening and into the night, police were embroiled in a standoff with a lone gunman, who was holed up in a Nicetown rowhouse where he fired hundreds of rounds, injured six cops and kept five hostages.

It seemed like the entire city was tuned in. Hundreds of police arrived on the premises at the exact time of the evening news broadcast. Officers, reporters and everyday citizens scrambled to release information when they had it.

Around 7:30 p.m., Google chimed in. On the Maps desktop app, an exclamation point outlined in red appeared near the site of the gunfire. It read simply "Philadelphia shooting," with no further information.

What was that thing? It's called an SOS Alert. Launched by the search giant two years ago, it's a service meant to make regular people aware of an ongoing catastrophe unfolding around them.

"Technology plays a vital role in providing information to help keep you and loved ones safe and informed," the tech company's info page reads. "SOS Alerts is a new set of features in Google Search and Maps to help you quickly understand what's going on and decide what to do during a crisis."

But here's the thing: Google didn't quite get this one right. Wednesday night's alert identified the source of gunfire as being on 15th Street just south of Venango. The actual shooting was a few blocks north, closer to Erie Avenue.

Therein lies one of the major risks. Digital news experts say SOS Alerts could be helpful to inform the public during active shooter situations — but only if the info they offer is accurate.

googlesos-alert-01
Google Maps Screenshot

Google introduced SOS Alerts in July 2017. Almost immediately, news outlets hailed the technology as a way to keep folks safe.

Tech news site The Verge said the alerts could "help out people who are actively looking for information about a disaster." Philly's local CBS station said they'd "help during a crisis."

Researchers seem to agree: In times of unexpected danger, these alerts might help.

"Google does a great job of mapping things and giving us information," said Nicole Dahmen, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon who researchers the ethics of covering mass shootings. "Labeling active shooter situations could be beneficial for informing audiences and keeping audiences safe."

But if Google wants to be in the biz of sharing information during a crisis, they'd better make sure they're getting it right, Dahmen said. Otherwise, they'll do more harm than good.

"Oh wow, that's really dangerous," she said, hearing that the monarch of digital exploration had gotten a basic detail wrong. "That can lead to other problems, [like] mass panic."

It's not clear how often these alerts pop up in Philadelphia — a city that sees the equivalent of a mass shooting every three months. Google purports to publish them whenever there's internet connectivity and "official content" available. Google spokesperson Genevieve Park declined to explain further.

On its help site, Google says the information for SOS Alerts is sourced from "official content from governments and other authoritative organizations, and the impact on the ground." What does that mean, exactly? The company spokesperson was unable to clarify.

Philadelphia Police declined to comment on whether they share information directly with Google.

During ongoing shooting situations, much of the immediate information released is wrong. Even if coming from generally reputable sources, like reports from the police scanner and career journalists.

This has been true for centuries. As the Titanic sank more than 100 years ago, telegraphs indicated the cruise ship was safely on its way to Halifax, according to an On The Media broadcast. And during the assassination of former President JFK, radio reporters stumbled through the details — at one point, guessing that there might have been three shooters. (Spoiler alert: officially, there was one.)

The problem hasn't gotten any better with time, or with widespread access to information.

CNN wrongly reported six years ago that a suspect had been apprehended following the Boston Marathon bombing. Then after the Sandy Hook shooting, the network wrongfully identified the shooter's brother as the shooter himself.

And NPR initially got it wrong when radio broadcasters reported that Congressperson Gabby Giffords had died after being shot in 2011, when she actually survived.

On The Media has released a news consumer's handbook on what they should and should not trust during ongoing disasters.

"Instances of inaccurate and false information may be an inherent problem, given the nature of social media platforms and the number of people disseminating information," reads a 2011 study from the Congressional Research Service. "Studies have found that outdated, inaccurate, or false information has been disseminated via social media forums during disasters."

Dahmen worries the SOS Alerts could perpetuate the spread of false or inaccurate info.

"The bottom line there is that Google of course doesn't claim to be journalism," she said. "But these social media giants, they have a moral responsibility to provide accurate information, to not continue to fuel misinformation."

Exclusive: A first look inside Google's top-secret design lab - Fast Company

Posted: 06 Aug 2019 12:00 AM PDT

There's a building on Google's Mountain View, California, campus that's off-limits to most of the company's own employees. The 70,000-square-foot Design Lab houses around 150 designers and dozens of top-secret projects under the leadership of vice president and head of hardware design Ivy Ross, a former jewelry artist who has led the company's push into gadgets ranging from the groundbreaking Google Home Mini speaker to the playful line of Pixel phones.

advertisement

advertisement

Inside the lab—and away from the cubicle culture of the engineering-driven Googleplex—industrial designers, artists, and sculptors are free to collaborate. "Google's blueprint for how they optimize is great for most people [at the company]," says Ross. "Designers need different things."

Hardware design chief Ivy Ross (right) and designer Leslie Greene compare colors across Google product lines, from Nest stands to Pixel phones, in the lab's Color room. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
In any other setting, Ross's upbeat, bohemian demeanor would evoke that of a high school art teacher or perhaps the owner of a crystal shop more than a design director at one of the most powerful companies in the world. Today she walks me, the first journalist ever allowed in the building, through the space—which she calls "a huge gift" from Google's executive team. Google was always an engineer's company, rarely recognized (and sometimes ridiculed) for its hardware and software design. But recently, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been forthright in articulating just how crucial design has become to Google's business. In the past few years, Google has developed gadgets—from phones to smart speakers—that are some of the most desirable in the world. Yet before doors opened to the lab last June, the growing Google hardware design team ran many of their operations out of a literal garage—not the best setting for such an important of part Google's operations.

So Ross collaborated with Mithun, the architects behind many Google buildings, to create something new: a space that is meant to be a backdrop to Google's soft, minimal industrial design aesthetic. "This framework, it has fairly neutral colors. There's nothing so ingrained that we can't evolve," says Ross. "But being a blank canvas, what changes it is the products we're evolving, the materials, their color, and their function."

Designers hash out product schematics in one of the lab's Garages. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
Each space in the lab was constructed to help Ross's team marry tactile experiences (understated, fabric-covered gadgets that feel at home in the home) with digital ones (Google's unobtrusive UX). "Essentially the first thing I said was, 'We need light,'" recalls Ross. "Where in some buildings, [programmers] need darkness for screens, we need light." The lab's entrance is a two-story, skylit atrium, filled with soft seating and cafe tables for casual meet-ups.
Google designers, who often draw inspiration from everyday objects (including socks and carabiners), look at swatches for an unreleased wearable the team developed for the Milan Furniture Fair. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
A birchwood staircase leads upstairs to a library filled with the design team's favorite books—each member of the team was asked to bring in six texts that were important to them, and inscribe a message as to why. "We're the company that digitized the world's information," says Ross, "[but] sometimes, designers need to hold things."

In other instances, the lab is set up so designers can window-shop. The second story walkway around the atrium feels something like a high-end mall. On one side, I see a glass wall to the color lab. On the other side, a glass wall to the material lab. The color lab features an ever-changing array of objects, collected by Google hardware designers on their travels. It's a hodgepodge of items that seems less about color than what I might call a vibe. I see a paper radish, a green stack of stones, and an ivory jewelry box—all evoking a certain handmade minimalism. The display is the best reminder of a simple fact of Google's hardware design team. Just 25% to 40% of the group has ever designed electronics before. The rest designed everything from clothing to bicycles in a previous life.

advertisement

Hannah Somerville, the archivist for the Materials room library, arranges textiles swatches above a museum-style display of objects that designers can peruse. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
At a large white table inside the color lab, under carefully calibrated lights, Ross's team debates the next colorways for upcoming Google products. Once a week, designers from across categories—from wearables to phones to home electronics—gather around the table with scraps and samples in hand, to make product line decisions together. I'm treated to a show of last season's products and colors to demonstrate a point: that Google designers, making more than a dozen products that could be in your home at once, want them to look good next to one another, even if they were produced a few years apart. "That's how insane [we are], in a good way," says Ross. "We think about your life at home and that you want some connection, perhaps."
[Photo: Cody Pickens]
At the opposite end of the atrium is the twin glass wall of the materials lab. Also open to window-shopping, this room features more than 1,000 physical material swatches, dutifully curated—and color-coded, and hand-labeled!—by the library's full-time librarian, Hannah Somerville (who instantly spots the just-announced Adidas Loop sneakers on my feet, asking how the recyclable woven plastic feels as fabric). She urges me to touch the library's swatch of mushroom leather.
Sketches of company's last iteration of the Pixel phone hang on the walls of a Garage. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
That "leather" is one of many sustainable materials on view. Others include 3D-printed filaments made from old fishing nets and particleboard crafted from dead sea grass, hinting at a future of greener products from Google. Later, a pair of designers enter the library, asking Somerville for a material that feels like the foam you'd find in the bottom of a fake flower bouquet. One holds a soft swatch up to her forehead, possibly imagining an iteration of Google Glass, the Daydream VR headset, or any number of unreleased, unannounced products to come.
[Photo: Cody Pickens]

And for all the lab's welcoming aesthetic, it's still a top-secret space. Google's future hardware designs are valuable IP in the highly competitive world of smartphones and voice assistants. Most days, the building's tight security means that the prototypes can live out as an open secret, for designers to peruse and consider at will. But for my visit, they're covered in charcoal drop cloths.

A pair of mesh Adidas by Stella McCartney Pureboost sneakers are on display in the Materials room. [Photo: Cody Pickens]
The "Human Refueling Stations" by Tune Studio are one space where I am allowed to wander freely. The lab is designed to drive creative inspiration—to ensure Google's designers stay open-minded to new ideas and aesthetics. The refueling station is the clearest embodiment of that approach. After selecting the way I'd like to feel in an app (I believe I chose "energize"), I lie down on a leather pad, don headphones, and close my eyes, listening to a soothing world beat with a strong Om undercurrent. Ross is a big believer in the healing power of color and sound. (Her team went so far as to develop an installation at Milan that demonstrated how just sitting in different rooms can affect your core physiology.) For 15 minutes I wonder what I'm doing, wasting time on this silly bed. Then I stand up, eyes suddenly alert with a skip in my step. It's easy to imagine how this meditation space in the Design Lab is meant to spark creativity in the design team. But it's also easy to imagine this as a sort of prototype of how Google's product design team is thinking about affecting human physiology with design.

One thing you won't find many of in the lab are conference rooms. Most business meetings take place in other buildings. The lab, Ross stresses, "is a sanctuary to get the design work done."

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A version of this article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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