Google produces exceptional interfaces, but their aesthetic is famously unhip. It's not surprising: They're an engineering-first company that took 7 years to hire its first visual designer. To Google, the wrapping paper has always been less important than the gift inside. But their promising new look could change that reputation.
Coinciding with the release of the handsome Google+, their Facebook competitor, Google has started to roll out a matching theme for their search pages. The unifying elements are two toolbars at the top of the page: one with links to other Google properties, one with the search box and other important interface elements.
It's graceful but clear, with lovely shades of grey providing just enough contrast while maintaining harmony. Clean, well-spaced type dictates the page's structure. Simplicity is the rule, in true Google fashion. Even seemingly strange decisions, like the short bottom margin below the results count, have strong justification: They wanted the search box centered vertically in its bar. It's not perfect (the results themselves need some attention, particularly the overwhelming magnifying glass icons), but it's a great start unlike anything we've seen from Google before.
Meanwhile, Google Apps is undergoing an even more dramatic overhaul. The in-progress new look for Gmail looks strikingly like a theme called Helvetimail, which designers fawned over when it was released in 2009.
The newfound focus on aesthetic detail is wise. With the addition of Google+, the company has passed the threshold of ubiquity: They're search, mail, calendar, documents, social and more, under one roof. The new design is reflective of a still-growing global company that's now as much about brand as it is about features. It's clear, flexible, scalable, and multilingual. The Google Web needs a Google look, and it seems they're on their way.