Google launched newly redesigned search results yesterday. We won’t fault you if you didn’t notice the changes – they’re pretty subtle. But, the small tweaks made to the search results display could mean big things in terms of web design trends.
Google has gotten rid of that weird, light yellow colored box behind the ads. They also increased font sizes slightly. Most importantly, they completely nixed underlined hyperlinks. While removing underlines may seem like a small thing, in the world of the web, it’s a pretty huge deal. Underlined hyperlinks are so iconic, so much a part of traditional online user experience, that most web browsers underling links by default so that web designers have to use code to make sure underlines don’t show up where unwanted.
Of course, Google isn’t the first high-profile organization to remove underlines from hyperlinks. Bing still uses underlines, as do many mainstream companies. But, for many web designers, underlines are no longer a necessary evil.
We don’t want to hate on the underlined links. After all, there were definitely solid reasons to underline links. Even in the 1960s, hyperlinks started popping up to reference electronic documentation. Hyperlinks then carried over to the world’s first e-book, “HyperTIES,” and to the first Macintosh computer’s software. Microsoft then adopted the underlined hyperlink for its Windows 3.0 help file. So, it’s no wonder that when the new World Wide Web needed a way to distinguish regular text from links, designers fell into the comforting embrace of underlined hyperlinks.
Underlined hyperlinks were really a Band-Aid solution gone too far. They’re far from a perfect solution for differentiation. Underlined hyperlinks have been found to hurt reading comprehension. Plus, in a world increasingly craving simpler, cleaner design, underlined hyperlinks are an eyesore that can clutter a perfectly usable design. Properly set typography can do the job of differentiation much better than a poor underline ever could.
Google’s dismissal of the underlined hyperlink proves that Google’s new design initiative, headed by Larry Page, is permeating Google’s foundational design. The quintessential Google product, its search results, now have a design that values UX over testing data.
Of course, we know that Google must have tested the plain links. There’s no way they would have launched search results without underlined hyperlinks if they hadn’t tested to make sure that the new design wouldn’t impact clicks. We can assume that people now understand Google’s search results and don’t need the underlines to understand that which text is linked.
The larger takeaway is that Internet is starting to become more beautiful. The web is moving away from a series of indexed hyperlinks to an experienced based place where text and images blend together seamlessly. People will increasingly use their fingertips and even eyes to navigate content, and the changing user experience will definitely affect UX design.