Relevancy and pleasancy
Do people care about the look-and-feel of search?
If you look at Google, apparently not. Its interface is very usable and intuitive. But it’s hardly visually creative is it? There is little visual separation between the various elements—header links, main results, related searches, sponsored links, footer links—beyond their relative positions on the page. No treatment has been done to indicate behaviours on hover (links are already underlined) and generally, it’s a rather flat experience.
Bing, however, is a bit richer. You’re presented with a default background image (mine is of a lovely sea-front in what might be Morocco—Agadir?), a theme that is maintained to a lesser degree on the search results page. The left-hand navigation has some colour, and the search results enjoy a very subtle treatment on hover, getting a rather odd “bar with a ball” on their right. Hover over the ball and you’re presented with a further excerpt from the destination page.
Admittedly, the vast majority of the look-and-feel draws straight from Google: all Arial; blue, clickable search titles, black summaries and green non-clickable URLs. The cached page link on Google is a soft blue, compared to Microsoft’s soft grey, but that’s the only notable difference between the rivals’ main results. (Sorry, did I say “draws straight from Google”? I meant “coincidentally shares almost all of its features with Google, having been defined through focus groups and independent design, as opposed to copying its main competitor.)
Do people care that much about the look-and-feel of search? It’s a means to an end, its main job being to get you out of there as soon as possible. So why bother stylin’? And maybe Google doesn’t go heavy on visuals out of fear for the consequences: if we add a background image or background-colour search results on hover with a lovely pastel shade, will we suddenly lose 20% of our market share?
Bing has gone some way towards making the interface pleasant as well as the results relevant. But I doubt the former will do much to attract swathes of customers. And its lack of an I’m Feeling Lucky equivalent maybe indicates a lack of confidence in the latter. It will be interesting how things play out.