A virtual roundtable at Google’s Munich office

Data security is a central topic of digitalisation. How much the development of individualised applications and devices in particular influence the interplay between design and data security, what the current state of development is at Google and what possible future scenarios are, became clear in a conversation with a group of leading heads from various departments of the Google Safety Engineering Center in Munich. Ja vier López is a designe r working on the Ma terial Design team at Google, creating visual and in teraction systems. Anneke Rietzel leads a multi-disciplinary team of designers, researchers and writers spearheading new internal facing concepts for strategic planning, work alignment and collaboration at Google scale. Kalle Buschman is a designer, strategist and leader, helping brands to deliver delightful experiences to their customers. He is a U X lead in the Google S afety Engineering Center, focusing with his t eam on the Use r Privacy Experience. And finally, Jonathan Aroner who leads a c reative team envisioning the future of safety on the web for Google Chrome.

»I’ll just search on Google for this« – who hasn’t heard that or said it themselves? However, if you approach the Google cosmos beyond the mere search engine function, a few surprises await you: From the development of the AndroidAutomotive platform, to the Pixel smartphone, Google for Startups, Google Maps and much more, to Youtube – the range of products Google develops and offers is enormous.

During the virtual roundtable, it quickly became clear to what extent the technological developments of the last two decades have brought new corporate horizons, but also challenges. Particularly when it comes to data security or participation. And finally, all of this also has an effect on the concept of design, where topics such as user guidance and individualisation of user interfaces are becoming more and more important in the sign of digitization and, incidentally, the question is also raised as to what extent an algorithm can already be design. Google’s core mission is still »to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful« – a high standard that entails great responsibility.

Safety first

Google has been present in Munich since 2006. Since 2020, it has already had 1,200 employees; by 2023, the number is expected to rise to 1,500 – and the trend is still rising. And that’s with people from 60 nations. What makes the Munich location so special, however, is not only its internationality, but also the Google Safety Engineering Center – GSEC for short – that has been established here. It is a global privacy and security engineering hub.

»Here, we ensure that users understand what their data is being used for and that their data remains private and protected«, explains Kalle Buschmann one of the key aspects of the teams at GSCE. Trust in the reliability of the company also stands and falls with the successful defense against cybercrime.

The dimensions of the task of protecting the data that users entrust to Google are made immediately clear by a look at the statistics: Google’s spam-filtering capabilities block nearly 10 million spam emails every minute. Google’s Safe Browsing helps protect over four billion devices every day by showing warnings to users when they attempt to navigate to dangerous sites or download dangerous files. These are impressive numbers – and the more the use of Google products becomes individualised and thus differentiated, the greater the need for comprehensive data security.

Material You: The Role of Design in Times of Inclusion and Individualisation

»Today, it’s more and more about helping people organise their own information and crosslink to our many different digital services. For example, if I’m looking for vacation information that matches my own personal interests, and I might want to link that to a map. And then I might also want to search for a suitable flight at the same time.« Individualisation and participation are central themes at Google, and this has a direct impact on product design, as Javier López explains.

»Things like inclusion and individualisation are at the top of people’s agendas today, and design is starting to take on whole new roles in that. So it can also be about designing how to solve a particular problem and not just designing the aesthetics of a user interface. I think we’re entering a period where design is becoming more democratic. It’s less about a single company imposing a particular solution on a group of people, and more about participation, flexibility and talking to our users.«

The design process is correspondingly complex, with specialists from the fields of user experience, technology, product management and design working together. A static conception of design with a clearly defined product as the result is increasingly giving way to a mobile, dynamic and individual design, as López explains using the example of the color function of the latest Google smartphones: »Users can change their background images, but on the basis of this background image, the system now generates a new color scheme that is used not only for this smartphone, but for Google products like Gmail, Drive, Photos, Maps, Translate,Dialer, and Clock. This seems to me to open up a whole new way of thinking about what our role is in the design process, where more and more user input is becoming essential.« Such a flexible approach to design also comes to bear on the big issue of neurodiversity. This opens up a future perspective of digital design, in which adaptive systems and AI play an increasingly central role. Intensive work is already being done on a nuanced inclusion of the different cognitive abilities of users in the design – this future has also already begun at Google.

Googol  is called a one with a hundred zeros in mathematics. The practical use of this number is said to be small. However, for Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who named their company Google after this number when they founded it in a garage in 1998, it has more than paid off. Today, Google is the global market leader when it comes to Internet searches. But the Californian tech giant, which has been a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. since 2015, has long since opened up other fields of activity and markets for itself under the sign of digitalization and is one of the so-called Big Five of the IT industry.

The conversation with Google Munich was first published in the mcbw MAG as part of mcbw 2022.