You’d think it’s the title of an Onion article, but in fact, it’s true. Over the past 24 hours, I’ve seen an image displaying the mysterious “GMail gray box” make the Digg homepage, followed up by a TechCrunchIT article, and an open solicitation for possible explanations.

Really, I find this fascinating. Google has established such a strong brand around their minimalist design style, that something as small as this is (a) considered newsworthy, and (b) warrants an “official Google response” (according to the TechCrunchIT article).

This leads to an interesting task for the non-Googlers in the audience. Take this news back to your company, and ask: Is our design philosophy so firmly ingrained in the minds of our customers, that straying from it is newsworthy? Maybe being newsworthy isn’t the goal, but it says something about how solid your design is if your customers can recognize what does and doesn’t belong.

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