Douglas Bowman, the visual design lead at Google, recently left his post to pursue greener pastures. In a farewell blog post, he cited a profound reason for leaving (emphasis mine). You can read the entire post here.
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.
From an engineering perspective, testing multiple colors, recording outcomes and making sound empirical judgments makes all the sense in the world. If this is done correctly, eventually you will end up with the most effective design implemented.
However, from a design perspective, this tactic may be lacking some things the design world relies upon on a regular basis.
Like master mechanics who are able to diagnose many car problems by simply listening to the engine, seasoned designers can solve web design problems in a similar fashion. They can look at an obstacle or task and solve it almost instinctively.
They could, of course, perform user experience testing to dissect the problem and solve it in a very methodical way. However, accumulated years of design experience give them an almost intuitive knowledge to see the most effective solution without much testing at all.
These are the beautiful accidents that designers stumble upon when looking for something else. They may be attempting to solve a complicated navigation issue and stumble upon a great idea for handling web forms.
The world of technology and invention is rife with happy accidents that have created new products or changed humanity in some significant way. A vital part of the creative process is lost when designers are forced to operate in a rigid environment that relies heavily upon empirical engineering data.
Could these happy accidents still occur in an environment like this? Probably…
However, I think it is much less likely to happen. And when it does happen, it is more likely to be ignored because the idea has not gone through the rigors of testing yet. Or perhaps the idea was so different it didn’t get the consideration it deserves.
Google was built by engineers and has become the largest property on the internet due to the policies and guidance from these early engineers. It would be silly to say their method of design doesn’t work. However, this environment might not work for everyone…especially creative people who need to challenge themselves with big ideas and sweeping changes.
So, designers, what do you think?