Google engineers drive designer nuts

I had to laugh about this article when I read it.  Seems Douglas Bowman, a visual designer at Google, is tired of having to explain why he designs things the way he does. Seems he feels that Google has too many engineers, asking engineer type questions and viewing the world through engineer tinted glasses.  Sounds like he’s a bit bitter about their not respecting the “artiste” to me.

On one hand, I kind of get where he’s coming from, since he considers himself an artist, and his product, art.  I’m sure Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have people asking him why he was painting the Mona Lisa with an undecipherable expression (though I’m sure they asked him once it was done, when it was too late to change!  Ok, yeah, he could always slap more paint on, but really?).  He’s trying to use emotion (I am guessing, but the best art involves emotion) and style to try and explain his design choices.  In the art world (in my limited experience), this is how artists convey their ideas.

However, in a web-based business that is driven on exacting metrics and yes, contains a LARGE number of engineers, trying to explain your artistic reasons for designing something the way you did is akin to black magic.  It’s an unknown, and engineers don’t like unknown.  They want to know WHY and HOW.  If you don’t have an answer, they will want to run experiments to determine the answer (reference the 41 shades of blue in the original article), or find similar items and gather data about it.  This allows them to feel confidence in their product.  Be thankful that software engineers do not require licensure…if they did, designs would require extensive testing (think normal testing * 100) and documentation before being released, as well as review boards, ethics and all the other trappings that civil and mechanical engineers deal with.

My final thought is this:  Is Google trying to be known for radical or interesting design?  My take is no.  Instead, I think they place function over form, and that the form only needs to be good enough to allow the functions to work.  By keeping it minimal, they have built an ubiquitous suite of tools that are used by millions every day.  Unfortunately for Mr. Bowman, I don’t think Google will be missing him.

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