Visual Design Lead Leaves Google: Couldn’t Stand Design by Numbers
26 Mar 2009

Visual Design Lead Leaves Google: Couldn’t Stand Design by Numbers

26 Mar 2009

Douglas Bowman, largely credited with building the visual design team at Google, left the company on Friday, March 20. On his last day he wrote his reasons for leaving on his blog, Stopdesign. In the post he states his frustration with data dictating design and leaving barely any room for creativity. Bowman writes:

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.

Bowman further writes that in a company such as Google decisions are reduced to simple logic problems relying solely on data for solutions. However, he see the data acting like a crutch, “paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.”

He closes by saying that although he “can’t fault Google for this reliance on data… [he] won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.”

Bowman and other visual designers’ recent departures from Google have created somewhat of a stir. Many take issue with the role and respect that visual designers have within a data-driven culture such as Google. However, for me, this has rehashed an everlasting debate that I have had many times with some brilliant individuals about the roles of art and science in functional design. When and to what extent should design be dictated by creativity, uniqueness, divergence as well as art, and when should it be dictated by empirical data and methodologies?

We founded Montparnas on the steadfast belief that data-driven design results in optimal user experiences. I stand by this assertion. However, I also value uniqueness and aesthetics as integral parts of any experience and realize that some projects require more art and less science to create experiences that are emotionally captivating. And while it is easy to measure click-through rates, it is much more difficult to measure brand loyalty and the value of brand fanatics such as many BMW owners.

This is a huge question without a simple answer – only beliefs and stances.

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