Googles Data Culture Drives Designer Crazy and Out


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Douglas Bowman, visual design lead at Google, says he’s leaving the company because an obsessive, engineer-heavy, data driven-culture made it impossible for him to work there anymore.

After nearly three years at Google, where he built the design team that remains, Bowman admits that he does have something else lined up. But in a candid blog post headlined “Goodbye Google" he says he got fed up with constant pushback from a bureaucracy that seeks empirical justifications for choices made within what is essentially is an art form — and often about relatively insignificant details.

“I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case," said Bowman. “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."

He also brings up an anecdote mentioned in a recent New York Times article on Google's vice president of search and user experience, Marissa Mayer, where Google couldn’t decide between two blue colors and — so they conducted testing of 41 shades to see which performed better.

Despite her affinity for design, her background is in engineering, a common characteristic of Google staffers that Bowman openly criticizes.

“When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem," he writes. “And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions."

Bowman is an award winning designer who worked for Wired, and redesigned the website back in 2002. His work won him the attention and commissions to start up his own San Francisco-based design firm, Stopdesign, but put this work on hold in 2006 to work full time for Google. His work there included the design of Google Calendar, which he says was

a design that hinted heavily in Gmail’s direction (so that Google Calendar would feel like a brand extension of Gmail). But it also consisted of design components and features that Google had never offered before. Consistent with Google’s product philosophy, Google Calendar sought to be a game-changing web app that made online calendar creation, sharing, and publishing super simple.

The potential to impact the Internet giant’s millions of users motivated him to make the switch, he says, but he found that there was little wiggle room for change. “When I joined, I thought there was potential to help the company change course in its design direction," he said. “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."

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