Ex-Googler: Google Depends Too Much On Data Over Instinct For Design

Does Google depend too much on data over design instinct? Yes, says former Googler Douglas Bowman, who posted a goodbye note to the company on his last day there today. From his post:

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? ….

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such miniscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

Postscript from Matt: For those who may not know, Doug Bowman is a star in the web design world. You’ve probably seen a lot of his work without realizing it — he created several of the most popular Blogger templates after Google bought the popular blogging platform software, and led the redesign of Blogger itself, too. He also helped design/develop Google Calendar, among other Google products.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Google: Employees | Google: User Interface

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://www.pedrosttau.com pedrosttau

    Having been in front of creating teams in the past I can see why the width of a border in a design at Google would be an important issue.

    First of all lets take into account that Google IS Data and interface, there isn’t a lot of place for elaborated graphics, and here isn’t a lot to play with, so elements like table borders have a huge impact on the general feel of the design.

    Take the following example:
    Example 1
    http://www.pedrosttau.com/fat-border.png
    Example 2
    http://www.pedrosttau.com/thin-border.png

    On the first example a single increase in the border width of a table changes the entire design completely, focusing the users attention on that particular table.

    On the example 2 we have the current Analytics design, that also tries to cache the users attention to that specific table, but by simply using a different light background on that very same table.

    So these small details play a crucial role on the usability of Googles Applications.

    I am very surprised that an experienced designer like Doublas would expect things to be different.

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