Google's A/B Test Is Hinting That Labels With Icons Are Better Than Labels Alone
Take a look at these two screenshots, both taken on May 15, 2019. With some cookie clearing magic in between it's pretty clear that Google ran an icon experiment on their search results page. The control version had labels only in the top nav, whereas the variant contained icons in addition to the labels. The variation was implemented a month later in June.
Highlighted UI Changes From This Leak
Labels With Icons
Luckily, the addition of icons on top of the existing navigation text labels was the only change in this experiment. Although we can infer that this version is better, we can only speculate as to why this might have been so.
One such explanation is perhaps that the icons simply increased the visibility of the navigation links (assuming that it's a good metric to have more people visit the subsections such as: Images, Shopping, News and More).
Another similar reason is perhaps that the icon labels increased the clickable surface area of the navigation links. Usually larger clickable areas might lead to more clicks (with or without intent).
Finally, we also have a series of experiments comparing icons vs labels right here - hinting that labels are slightly superior.
Do you have any other explanations as to why version B with the icons might have been better? Please share. :)