Google Design (or lack thereof)

"When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems."

Google's lead designer is leaving. When I first heard this I thought... "Google has a designer?"

Indeed they do, or did. (I"m sure they still have pleanty of designers.) But, their lead diesigner is leaving and has posted something I didn't expect from anyone associated with Google and design, a thoughful post on how anyaytics and performance based testing can strip away both the aesthetics and the humany from an interface.

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’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 minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong. Billions of shareholder dollars are at stake. The company has millions of users around the world to please. That’s no easy task. Google has momentum, and its leadership found a path that works very well. When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction. But I learned that Google had set its course long before I arrived. Google was a massive aircraft carrier, and I was just a small dinghy trying to push it a few degrees North.

So true it makes me wonder how the guy survived as long as he did. The amazing success that Google has shown has been without any aesthetic that's recognizable at all. Two things are for sure; Google is not Apple, and when a company is ruled by engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems.