Why it’s a Good Thing That Google’s Data Fetish Drove Away Its Top Designer

April 4, 2009
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Artist Painting at EaselFull disclosure: I am long Google.

Here are a few of the headlines regarding Doug Bowman’s departure from Google:

Bowman writes on his blog, “When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems … I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data”.

The press coverage of Bowman’s departure suggests that it signals a systemic problem at Google.  That’s just wrong. If it signals anything, it’s that Google is sticking to its guns.  It signals that data analysis remains thoroughly ingrained in its culture and decision-making process.  And Bowman even admits that he “…can’t fault Google for this reliance on data”.  Google is simply no longer the right fit for him.

I love great design.  I also understand the perils of “design by committee”.  But while great designers can deliver inspired work without user testing, great designers test their designs.  Experimentation and prototyping are central to the design approaches of great design firms like IDEO, frog design, and Continuum.  And while testing 41 shades of blue seems excessive, Google’

Artist Painting at EaselFull disclosure: I am long Google.

Here are a few of the headlines regarding Doug Bowman’s departure from Google:

Bowman writes on his blog, “When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems … I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data”.

The press coverage of Bowman’s departure suggests that it signals a systemic problem at Google.  That’s just wrong. If it signals anything, it’s that Google is sticking to its guns.  It signals that data analysis remains thoroughly ingrained in its culture and decision-making process.  And Bowman even admits that he “…can’t fault Google for this reliance on data”.  Google is simply no longer the right fit for him.

I love great design.  I also understand the perils of “design by committee”.  But while great designers can deliver inspired work without user testing, great designers test their designs.  Experimentation and prototyping are central to the design approaches of great design firms like IDEO, frog design, and Continuum.  And while testing 41 shades of blue seems excessive, Google’s use of split A/B testing to measure exactly what changes it should make to its website is a best-practice that I’d hate to see them give up.  Google’s data-driven culture is one of their key sources of competitive advantage.

Photo credit:  Sebastiano Pitruzzello