Data does design at Google

Douglas Bowman, (former) Visual Design Lead at Google, recently left the company, leaving a post on his blog explaining the reasons behind his departure. It’s worth a read, even for people like me who are uneducated in design. Here is what Bowman had to say about Google’s design philosophy:

When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it sounds painful, even to the eyes of a layman. Putting to test fourty-one gradations between two hues of blue to see which one is popular would likely dump any designer into despair, since it obsoletes the designer’s intuition into something useless, regardless of the intentions (ironically, that example is what Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Search Product and User Experience, boasted about on a New York Times interview, on behalf of Google’s corporate culture). Why hire a designer at all if reducing design decisions to miniscule bits of data and measuring them would solve every problems? Unfortunately such an intense dependence on quantifiable data seems to be prevalent in Google, which effectively exempts itself from a designer’s ideal workplace.

Well, with one man’s job aside, Bowman’s case had me rethink over some of implicit myths on Google. However omnipotent and philanthropic it may appear, it is after all a limited entity, like its competitors Microsoft and Yahoo!, bound by its own legacies and hence constraints that it may not be able to break out from. Though we are not likely to see Google collapsing from its throne any time soon, this very culture of its may turn out to be its weakness perhaps.

Update: Bowman has secured a job at Twitter as its Creative Director, and announced it on his blog. It seems to be a wise decision, since Twitter seems to appear as the latest cool thing on the Internet right now.


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