After three years as visual design lead at Google, designer Doug Bowman consumed his last free lunch at the Googleplex on Friday, and the word on the street is that he’s heading to Twitter. But why leave Google, with an audience of millions, afternoon massages and Krispy Kreme bacon cheeseburgers? Bowman lashes out on his blog at the search giant’s over-analytical culture that relies on data and testing over the instincts of its own design team.
Bowman was the first “classically trained” designer the company hired in 2006 (most designers hired before had backgrounds in interaction and none were in a leadership position). So he saw Google’s choice to hire him as a huge committment to design. Unfortunately, Bowman found that the data-centric culture was so deeply engrained, he couldn’t make much headway:
Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design,
a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With
every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt
creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” 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.
And the tale that Google couldn’t choose between two shades of blue so they’re testing 41 shades to see what the numbers say? All true, says Bowman: “I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4, or 5 pixels wide and was asked to prove my case.” Which could mean he was locking horns directly with Google’s VP of search products & user experience Marissa Mayer, whose strict minimalist sensibility and over-reliance on testing is well-known in Silicon Valley circles.