What Google Web Designers Hate About Google

A rash of Web designers quit Google in recent months.

One of their common complaints is that Google — and specifically Marissa Mayer, VP for search products & user experience — rely too much on data when making design decisions.

Doug Bowman, who used to be Google’s top designer before he quit to join Twitter, explained:

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 favour? 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.

Marissa hasn’t responded to these criticisms, but at a Stanford talk in 2006, she did explain how the company uses data to make its design decisions.

Here’s the key quote from the talk, and below that a clip:

When I do user-interface design, the designer would come to me and would say there’s this green or that green. And we don’t need to make an arbitrary decision because we’ll just run both of them on the site, watch the data and the metrics that come out of that and we’ll be able to scientifically and mathematically prove which on the users actually seem to be responding to better. 

For us, one telling detail is that Marissa and Google (GOOG) prefer to make decisions based on data because that makes the “the way people relate to each other is a lot less political.” When Marissa says “a lot less political,” we hear less subjective, but also less human and creative.

Mostly we agree that it makes sense for Google to steer away from those attributes when making decisions on the kerning between blue links on a search results page.

But yesterday, when Google laid off hundreds in marketing and sales because its been unable to lure big brand advertisers and their agencies, we couldn’t help wonder: Might that failure be in part due to the fact that to make those kinds of sales, lots of subjective human creativity is required — and Google’s trained itself not to be that kind of company?

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