Monday, May 11, 2009

Data versus Instinct in Design

In “Data, Not Design, Is King in the Age of Google,” (New York Times, May 10, 2009) Miguel Helft reports the very public departure of Douglas Bowman as Google’s top visual designer. In his blog, Bowman explained that he left Google because:

Google was not friendly to designers.

Mr. Bowman’s main complaint is that in Google’s engineering-driven culture, data trumps everything else. When he would come up with a design decision, no matter how minute, he was asked to back it up with data. Before he could decide whether a line on a Web page should be three, four or five pixels wide, for example, he had to put up test versions of all three pages on the Web. Different groups of users would see different versions, and their clicking behavior, or the amount of time they spent on a page, would help pick a winner.

The article then explores the tenuous relationship between data and instinct in making design decisions and considers the limits of user data in making design decisions.

On a personal note, I’ve seen articles exploring the same issue in Business Week (which covers design better than any business publication), which provide examples from the auto industry of the limits of consumer data in making design decisions. Even soap operas (readers would know I would have to bring this up some time) have failed, in part, because they’re being written to please focus groups, rather than to surprise viewers.

Read the full article at

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