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Goodbye Google: "Visual Design Lead" leaves Google (stopdesign.com)
188 points by mrkurt on Mar 20, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

> "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 miniscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle."

That's pretty damning. Google has always had a very developer-centric environment - and backing up design decisions with data definitely seems like a logical extension of that.

> "I can’t fault Google for this reliance on data. And I can’t exactly point to financial failure or a shrinking number of users to prove it has done anything wrong."

It's probably a big reason why Google hasn't had a truly innovative design in a long time. It seems like it's far too safe for them to go with what they know and what's been tested rather than something new and challenging.

A real shame. Google is losing some major talent - which appears to have only been squandered over the last three years.

> A real shame. Google is losing some major talent - which appears to have only been squandered over the last three years.

When I started at Google Nov. '06 Doug had created some awesome Gmail mockups that really took the design and functionality above and beyond and -- having heard about how ground up Goog worked -- I was thinking those designs would be acted upon and built in the coming months and I was excited about using that Gmail.

When I left end of last year, the mockups were still being iterated on, and the only thing that had been built based on those mockups were the buttons. Gmail's just too big, as are search and ads, and UX is too disorganized and outnumbered to have any say.

> A real shame. Google is losing some major talent - which appears to have only been squandered over the last three years.

And Doug Bowman's not the only one - Jeff Veen left recently too, who headed up their UX group after Google acquired Measure Map and applied the lessons learned to gAnalytics.

Are any of those mockups public? I love seeing good design ideas.

No, unfortunately, not that I know of.

It sounds like he's a poor fit for Google. The data-driven decision making process really is central to Google (at least in Search; I dunno how it is in other departments), and if you're working at cross-purposes with that, the culture will and should reject you.

That doesn't mean he's a bad designer - I'm sure he's not. But Google occupies a particular place in the market ecosystem: many of its users want a UI that's clean, spartan, and utilitarian. There're undoubtably market niches for stuff that's more visually stunning (wasn't one of PG's ideas for startups "A form of search that depends upon design"), but people interested in that would be far more economically productive seeking out new markets of people that are underserved by Google's spartan design rather than trying to force something visually impressive upon Google's existing users.

Nowhere does his post imply that the reason he's leaving is because his design aesthetic clashes with Google's desire for "clean, spartan, and utilitarian." It's perfectly possible to meet those goals and not be ugly, like, e.g., iGoogle and Gmail are. I consider most of Apple's designs to be "clean, spartan, and utilitarian".

Requiring user testing for shades of blue and thicknesses of border is the height of silliness. I'm reminded of those room makeover shows they have on TV. At the beginning, the designer tells the couple one of the colors they've chosen. The couple is aghast. "What, I can't stand magenta. No way!" Sometimes, the wife looks like she's about to cry. At the end, magenta is used and the design is breathtaking.

There is no way user testing has gotten efficient enough to beat a designer at that level of detail. Moreover, users often don't know they want something until a designer shows them they do. You can never get to those designs by testing blues and borders.

> Requiring user testing for shades of blue and thicknesses of border is the height of silliness.

No it isn't, if a designers ideas cannot withstand a little objective scientific testing, they aren't worth using.

> Moreover, users often don't know they want something until a designer shows them they do. You can never get to those designs by testing blues and borders.

Which is the whole point of objective testing, do the design, throw it in front of real users and see how it performs next to the original design.

I think what's really going on is that more often than not, designers want what they like rather than what works best. Engineers want what works best, and Google has an engineering culture. Form does and rightfully should take a back seat to function.

From the way I understood it, he was suggesting that testing for shades of blue and border thickness is nitpicking. An equivalent nitpick more familiar to us would be testing whether using tabs or spaces for code indenting improves coding efficiency.

If it affects conversion, then it's not nitpicking, tabs vs spaces isn't a valid comparison because it can't be so easily measured.

I think that's right, but a little overgenerous to engineers. We have our hangups, too.

Say, which do you think is better, emacs or vim?

Even in a data-driven environment oftentimes the argument gets pushed back from "what to do" to "what to measure."

You can't measure emacs vs vim like you can the effect of color or layout on conversion of an app. When measuring is trivial to do and results are easily seen to directly impact revenue, there's just no excuse to not do it.

I agree. I'm just saying this isn't an "engineer" versus "designer" issue. Engineers have just as many "irrational" opinions as designers.

Emacs vs. Vim, Ruby vs. Python, or whatever.

And those things are quantifiable to some extent. Take a random sample of engineers, give them identical tasks to complete, and vary the editor.

Why is that silly? For Google it takes no time to implement and, because of their traffic, no time to test. What's the downside?

You just spent three days of a teams time over what the designer already knew.

The point of the blue-bar incident was that the designer was not correct, and a different shade of blue (which most people inside the Googleplex thought was inferior) generated measurably more revenue - more than the designer's salary, and certainly more than the time spent experimenting with different shades of blue.

The best thing about a data-driven approach is that it gives room to be wrong. And we're proven wrong all the time: basically every meeting, there's some measured data where we go "that can't be right" - and then we either discuss ways in which we might've misinterpreted it or say "Okay, assuming this is right, then what do we do?" It sounds idiotic, but really we're (humanity in general) the idiots.

I wonder if there is any research/reasoning in why one shade of blue would generate more revenue than another?

Malcolm Gladwell had an interesting podcast about people's ability/inability to express what they really mean and feel. He uses the Aeron chair as an example of a product that was despised/considered ugly but eventually embraced for it breakthrough functionality/aesthetic.

I can see how data-backed design decisions can produced locally optimized results, the "ideal" shade of blue, logo size, typography, etc.. But I wonder if on the whole, all those optimizations work together optimally, as a wholistic experience?

[edit] Gladwell's Podcast: http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail230.html

Well, that's the point of multi-level A/B testing. You try all of the combinations to isolate the impact of each varying feature, but you are always testing 'wholistically'. They don't just throw a green bar up there on its own and see who clicks on it.

The original article about the 41 shades of blue says that Google decided to test the 41 shades because another team pushed a slightly different shade and it performed better.

So, it looks like the designer didn't know.

I'd contend that's because most designers don't optimize for performance, they optimize for aesthetic. When those two are in conflict which should win?

It sounds like Bowman thinks the latter, while Google thinks the former. As a stockholder I'm thankful that's the company's attitude.

Assuming the designer is correct, when you have that much traffic and easy access to real data you don't need to make assumptions.

Google search may be clean, spartan, and utilitarian, but I just don't see those adjectives applying to Gmail. OK, I'm not sure, maybe Gmail is utilitarian, but it sure doesn't seem either clean or spartan to me.

> It's probably a big reason why Google hasn't had a truly innovative design in a long time.

I would argue that they do have a truly innovative design. The fact that it doesn't look new and challenging doesn't preclude that. They have a design that's nuanced in thousands of ways to improve their business. Their design is reminiscient of Victorian architecture, every last detail polished off until it was perfect. Having your business fine tuned to that amount of detail is not something most companies can claim.

"Without split-testing, your product tends to get prettier over time. With split-testing, it tends to get more effective." - Eric Ries

I honestly think a lot of their 3px, 4px, or 5px decisions are actually an exercise of finding local maxima for their current design.

If they're looking for interfaces that are truly better, they would do far more testing on innovative/educated directions and iterate each of those to see how good they can get. Instead you just make one version as business-helpful as possible, which may be much weaker than your true potential.

I like the idea of data, but there's only so much progress you can make with the same designs in the same mold, tested pixel by pixel.

I think you are confusing functionality with design - even though two are closely related. Google is a landmark in both functionality and design - but former was the one that hauled latter onto the scene. IMO google has had one of the worst designs/branding ever before gmail era, which is in stark contrast with it's peak in functionality. This makes it a unique blend that stands out.

True -- but design isn't a science... Or it's only part-science anyway...

You might as well say you can take code and with minor increments make it perfect over time.... Sounds logical, but we all know it doesn't work like that.

Sure, tuning will take you a long, long way -- but occasionally you need to break the rules to leap forward.

I don't disagree that sometimes you need to make radical changes to make true progress. But I think those radical changes need to be put through the same testing that small changes are put through.

I would much rather say "We are sacrificing 1% conversion to take a bold new direction with our design" than to say "We are redesigning beacuse our old site looks old and that's bad."

> "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. "

Actually the evolutionist in me thinks this is pretty cool but I can still understand why a designer would want to quit.

From a designer's perspective, this is an example of engineers over-thinking a problem in a space they don't belong. It's absolutely stupid and a complete waste of time for the simple reason that electronic color is not consistent. A majority of the users will see a different shade of blue depending on their display settings. A very small percentage of the population will see the color that's intended.

And if he's just being sarcastic, my opinion still applies. :)

This lack of consistent colour presentation is actually an advantage for Google's approach over the designed based one. Their approach is optimising across the population of 'end colour presentations'. Even if 50% of users happened to see it shades of aqua then the best 'aqua' presentation would also be incorporated into the result with a 50% weighting. A designer would find it very difficult to weight all the of presentations proportionately even if he knew about them whereas Google's method doesn't even need to know about the variations. Let's face it you never really know what peoples internal representations of colours are.

Of course this type of testing only works where you can measure the results and the number of options to be tested are low compared with the number of tests. If you look at the whole layout of a page then then there are just too many dimensions for this type of testing to be practical. A designer could perhaps argue that changing the background colour, the border colour and using a bigger red button would be the best option. A designer could also argue that they are optimising for 'overall experience' rather than some measurable metric like clicks.

I think this all goes to show why both designers and 'measurement geeks' need to work together on these things.

You make good points that I partially agree with, however I still don't believe this is optimal for a few reasons.

End-user design is about creating a usable experience and often deriving an emotion to make them want to do it again, a process that relies on color combinations, layout, typography, etc. -- the complete package. I'm less attached to GOOG webapps because they lack subtle things such as sound feedback. I've found sound to be critical in software usability, far more important than very minor color discrepancies. That is, when software goes outside of very basic operations, and requires more attention from the end-user.

(Fighting about the shade of blue makes me puke in my mouth at the thought of such a corporate cliche).

Furthermore, this type of color testing would need to be extended to cover cultural differences to be truly effective. Colors will trigger completely different responses in China, Japan, France, etc, often the exact opposite of American counterparts.

Honestly, I think the engineers have a place AFTER a design has been released and there is data to mine and analyze that takes into account the entire product presentation as a whole. Interjecting them in the design process too soon and giving their opinion overriding power is a mistake. It's akin to slapping memcache on your back-end before you've done an ounce of optimization on your queries.

> I've found sound to be critical in software usability

Very little is worse than web pages that use sound. It's no accident that most sites don't use sound, your tastes are just way outside the mainstream on this.

> Interjecting them in the design process too soon and giving their opinion overriding power is a mistake.

The success of Google clearly shows it's not a mistake, numbers don't lie, but designers are full of bullshit they can't justify.

Desktop apps are used by more people on a more regular basis than any web app to date. Web apps are getting there, but there not there yet. Sound, when used appropriately, is a very critical component to user experience and more importantly, usability — hence why most operating systems use sound feedback. Apple's new Nano uses sound to extend its usability tremendously, and other examples are endless. (By no means do I assume sound should be forced, always a user-defined option).

Agree or Disagree: Twitter clients are an example of sound feedback hooking users attention (among other things), where the web was failing to do so.

Success of Google and 'design sensibilities' is not really an argument worth correlating; there are companies like Apple that master both engineering and design... tremendously successful. Furthermore, one could argue that Google Calendar is a near exact rip off of iCal, no credit to Google except putting it on the cloud and syncing it with their own software suite. I think influence is great, but goog engineers are not necessarily to credit for design and usability in this and other products.

You're moving the goal post. No one's talking about desktop apps, you said web apps. Web apps are a different space and sound is just not appropriate there, and it likely won't ever be.

There are many cases that justify when to use and when not use sound on the web...

I would say it's the goal of most web-app builders to mimic desktop apps b/c the result is a familiar environment for the end user. Software/UI design is an established practice, with many studied and proven methodologies for handling complex user interaction that has been unfamiliar to the web in former years.

That said, I believe it's inevitable that web-apps will mirror their desktop counter-parts in time (many are doing so already)... the exception being, highly-specialized web apps.

I guess it depends on if you trust the majority making the right decision. I think often that just leads to mediocracy.

41 shades does seem a bit of a gimmick. I doubt it really matters that much, or that most people can even tell the difference.

It's impractical for most businesses, but when you're at Google scale, a 0.1% difference in conversion can be huge.

I guess it depends on if you trust the majority making the right decision.

When you're running a business and the decision is whether or not to convert, trusting the majority is the only decision. If others see it as mediocrity, so be it.

If you can test A and B, you'd test 2 colors. Or maybe 3. But when you have to test many things (not just shades of blue) and you run tests of A, B, C, D, and so on, all the time... I'm sure they could test HUNDREDS of shades if blue just as easily as they can test 3.

I think the point he's making isn't about the correct way to choose a shade of blue, it's that real design work encompasses far more than picking colors.

That's true. Design is not about shades of color and pixel widths. But it also sounds like he resists having his designs put through the ringer of empirical analysis.

It's Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods. Which would you rather be?

Both answers are fine, of course, the important thing is the "why."

> It's probably a big reason why Google hasn't had a truly innovative design in a long time.

I think I'm on the other side of this. In the past, I would have said that Google had the best designed interfaces on the Web. Lately, I find myself wishing there was a way to opt-out of their 'upgrades'.

Most of my complaints are about their recent attempts to improve search results by automatically 'fixing' the queries I enter, but I'm guessing the border in question is the bold blue box surrounding the Gmail message list. I hate it.

Presuming he was the one arguing for making it the way it is (visually bold but distracting and unnecessary), I would side strongly with those who wanted to actually test it on users instead of trusting his judgment.

But therein lies a big danger. Design, why a given design works better, has _also_ to do with the culture and the taste of the many. The taste here not so much in the PG sense, but more in what people are used to. Similar like how the many think PCs cause a lot of problems because Windows has a lot of instabilities (Please, just trying to make a point. You know what I mean, that's enough.). This taste will change with the time, what will Google have as a response? Or: when will PG write of the death of Google's design?

Where do you see yourself in this dichotomy of "measure everything" versus "subjective considerations are important, too"?

As pointed out elsewhere in these comments, Apple represents something like the opposite prioritization of Google. The argument for "subjective" design is that it is impossible to build up a good, coherent design by testing out each aspect empirically then putting all those things together. Consider the classic Slashdot review of iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame." The consideration of each aspect in isolation missed the design trade offs that made the iPod great overall.

I suppose Google misses out on that, but it's not clear that they or their users care. I do think, though, that Google has a unique approach to usability. Which is "Here's a box. Type some stuff in, and we'll figure out what to do with it." Google "search" is actually several different applications, and Google routes to the ones it thinks best suit what you typed. Chrome's single address/search bar follows this philosophy.

It's interesting to think that what distinguishes Apple and Google, more so than the product spaces they operate in, are the balance of empirical and subjective factors in their engineering cultures.

It's not that Apple is subjective. Design isn't and shouldn't be objective.

I see it like this: design-thinking tends to be top-down and borrows from fields like psychology and anthropology, while data-driven-thinking borrows from the harder empirical sciences and is based on continuous measurement.

Neither is "correct" and both can be executed to produce a great company. Apple, as you say, is on one end of the spectrum. Companies like Amazon and Google are on the other end.

It's important to understand how you're making decisions and why you've chosen that process as opposed to some other one.

It sounds like neither Google nor Doug have done that.

Design, for me, is about evoking interesting stories. Data is an excellent tool for honing those stories but data alone isn't that compelling. Much of Google's success has been reliant on utilitarian pages that are designed to redirect users to other places - functionality which often calls for very subtle design treatments. The frustrations i've felt with their user experience is that frequently the details are smart but they miss the big elements connecting their tools into a coherent story. Ever use gmail with igoogle? or attempt to share your google reader with a friend who isn't already in your addressbook? these disconnects eventually add up & it sounds like they lack a system for coherently addressing the gestalt of their overall user experience.

A visual designer friend pointed me to an Einstein quote that i think sums up the frustration of collaboration that occurs with a purely data based approach quite well:

"Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination."

They've got the fast, accurate & stupid down very well. There's a lot to be said for some well thought through inaccurate & slow brilliance though too.

That's what happens when a company has more assets to protect than to conquer...

Success can be a big burden. The biggest advantage a startup has is no legacy.

"The biggest advantage a startup has is no legacy"

very very insightful.

In my last job the charter of the group of which I was a part was to "break the mould" and come up with "radical innovations" but every idea we came up with was shot down with "we've never done anything like that before".

Is it Innovator's Dilemma ?

>"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."

compare that quote with the one from here: http://gawker.com/5162532/marissa-mayer-googles-biggest-fail...

>"In dictating the appearance of Google's Web pages, Mayer freely admits she makes subjective decisions. In more than a decade on the job, she has not yet codified her design instinct into a written style guide. Instead, Mayer's whims, which managers under her must make a study of, are what rule."

Eek a Valleywag link! It shouldn't really be blocked if it has relevant or original articles...

It's easy to criticize a policy like this, but they do have millions of clients and it does work. I'd rather have a clean interface for my google then a creative one. Actually, i'd like more clean interfaces all around. There's no shortage of creativity in web design, but large applications/sites with so many users are not the place to test it.

What makes you think that clean and creative are design attributes in opposition to one another? I've seen a number of comments like yours on this thread, and to be honest I'm quite dubious about this attitude. It smacks of the whole "designers are just here to add visual pizzazz" school of thought, which while true of many bad designers, is not true of good ones like Doug Bowman.

If you have a lot of information to present to a user, then good design is about presenting that information in a comprehensible way, which often involves creating a pretty spartan interface. Doing this is not easy, and requires plenty of creativity.

John Gruber touched on a similar point today, quoting from a NY Times article from 2003 (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/30/magazine/30IPOD.html):

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” - Steve Jobs

[edited formatting (thanks unalone)]

Your line stretches out this page ridiculously.

EDIT: That's one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes. When I was younger and making my first web sites, I thought design was all about making things pretty. Turns out, pretty has almost nothing to do with design (and, in fact most of the design I like the most is aggressively minimal and stripped away). Design's about how things flow.

(I'd also say, speaking as somebody who takes a lot of interest in design, that this makes design incredibly fun once you figure this out. It means that every page you make, even sign-up pages, are wildly different and interesting. I've made something like 6 iterations of my site's log in page, simplifying and condensing it each time, and I get a thrill out of that similar to the one that comes from making code better and more elegant. Not to speak of the notadouche sign up page, which was very very fun to design.)

I'm an engineer by heart, so I make the same mistakes mentioned in the article :) I respect a large system and all the work that it implies, and I believe in incremental and tested changes where the stakes are so high.

Yes, there can be better designs which are just as clean, but to get to the same level with a new concept would take the same amount of work and the same number of mistakes. This I also believe.

As for what I think about designers... truth is, not so much lately. In my freelance experience, working with freelance designers, they are the worst when it comes to deadlines (even very loose ones). But the thing I resent them most for is how often they just "add visual pizzazz". Rarely I see a site layout, or worse, application layout which accounts for future development or development ease or changes of any kind. What I really want is a concept which would allow me to do more, not less with my app. And unfortunately I often get one which looks great, but will break if I want to add a couple of controls or filters.

Maybe you just work with the wrong designers... ? No sane, professional designer I know, works like that.

I like companies that work on big hard problems, not whether a border is 4 or 5 pixels wide. I like companies that encourage top minds to stick around, not with gimmicks like free snacks but by valuing their ideas.

They've got millions of clients, but they have very few designers. I'd be more worried about losing the design leads. (Unless his ideas would have cost the company millions of clients, but it doesn't sound like that's the case -- if it was, they would have just fired him.)

The question of whether it "works" isn't clear-cut to me. Not a day goes by I use a Google service that I don't curse it for something stupid it does. I'm looking forward to what Bowman does next, because if it's any of the Google services I use, I'll jump ship in a heartbeat for something with good design. A lot of their services are almost without competition, because the little guys don't have the guts to stand up to Google, and the big guys who do have even worse design.

Clean and creative aren't mutually exclusive though. It's perhaps too obvious an example, but Apple's design is on the whole pretty clean - and to my eyes at least looks like a lot more care was given to it.

One of my main problem's with Google's design isn't how plain it is, it's just that it looks half finished at times - it doesn't need more, but it doesn't look like it was well thought out.

One of my main problems with Google's design isn't how plain it is, it's just that it looks half finished at times - it doesn't need more, but it doesn't look like it was well thought out.

This could very well be intentional.

Take speaking a foreign language as an example:

1) If you're a novice, a native can tell right off the bat and cuts you some serious slack.

2) Even if you speak their language at an intermediate level, a native can still tell it's not your first tongue and, depending on your demeanor, cuts you some slack.

3) You speak their language fluently and can be considered by any native speaker to have mastered their tongue. However, when you (confidently) mess up in the slightest, you can very well look quite retarded to the natives.

In Google's case, that half-finished look could be very intentional and can look a bit humble, as in "I'm sorry I haven't had time to clean up the place, but please come in and make yourself feel at home".

You can feel a bit better knowing you don't have to be constantly alert as you would around the presence of perceived perfection.

That's an interesting way of looking at it, not something that would have occurred to me at all.

" but large applications/sites with so many users are not the place to test it."

I am not so sure. Why not just A/B test anyway. You just might get stunning non incremental progress.

Or if that is too radical, just focus test. Or something other than just rejecting non incremental designs.

We actually do a/b testing. I don't work with the ui folks much, but we're always running tests like this. It's why you sometimes see some design/functionality feature appear for like one search and then poof you don't see for a while if at all.

If you've got a great designer, you need to let him try what he believes in for an extended period of time. The problem with A/B testing is that they tend to have a short horizon. Facebook's famous newsfeed change pissed off/confused a bunch of people-- but in the long term it was a good thing for Facebook. I wonder if they'd done a 1-2 day A/B test how it would've performed?

And, clearly-- on tiny things like shades of blue and pixel widths, just launch something. With infinite resources it'd be great to test all permutations-- but surely they have more inspiring things to try/test that might move the needle.

Reading this makes me think of all the adwords-driven "brochure" sites with centered text and a 50 foot ribbon of testimonials, all designed that way because the data show that the work. I'm sure they do.

They're pretty different. Adwords-driven brochure sites usually have measurable conversions. You can immediately measure the ROI for left aligned text, and centered text.

If the centered text gets a higher ROI, it'd be pretty weird to go with the left aligned instead.

Design on something like Google isn't quite as easy to measure.

A brochure site is designed to lead to a conversion, and likely to be only used by the user once. Whereas a site like Google may be used day in day out.

You're right, of course, I'm just commenting that result-oriented design and graphic design may not be compatible worldviews.

Congrats for passing 10K karma, tptacek.

Ew. Thanks.

One issue with data-driven design is that it can be incredibly inefficient for developing new behaviors. If you're changing hues, sure, it works. When it comes to building a novel interaction that might really push the needle, users typically won't learn it overnight. You can't test even two or three significant UI changes without incredible patience and inefficiency, because the data effects might not materialize for weeks, and the user re-education costs at each step are very high.

This effect is multiplied when you're trying to test design changes in products where users need to interact with one another (makes testing new design on only a subset of users incredibly difficult). Data-driven design in these contexts will likely just tell you to stick with what already seems to work.

At the moment, it's unclear if Google's really in the business of developing new user behaviors. They're operating a cash machine with reasonably well-understood dynamics, and will probably do pretty well just tuning it. I think this may turn out to be a strategic issue for them in the long run, but for now it seems like the answer is simple: if you're a talented visual or interaction designer, don't expect to have much fun working at Google.

This made me think of a blog post I read a few weeks back by an ex-googler predicting some high profile departures from the UI team - http://tr.im/hBkC

I wonder: are Apple's designs just as data-driven?

My understanding (as an outsider who has heard some UI-related people from Apple talk) is that they iterate on their designs, but it's all in-house. There's no A/B testing going on, they make a decision based on experience and give that decision to the end-user.

This is exactly the reason Apple's products have been so successful throughout the years.

Not only that, but they are masters of creating a 'design ecosystem'. Browse apple.com, then head to the apple store, its a seamless experience. This is arguably one of the competitive advantages that has helped Apple maintain it's position in the market and with consumers everywhere.

Microsoft products have also been successful through the years, as have Google's. And neither of them has a keen sense of design.

The reason Apple's been successful is that they occupy a small but passionate niche of customers that are completely underserved by Microsoft. Most users don't care about design - but the ones that do care a lot, and will pay a premium for something that pays attention to their needs. There's probably room for a similar competitor to Google, but nobody's found it yet.

I agree with some of what you're saying. However, I don't think Apple is playing the position of scooping up customers who are 'underserved by Microsoft'. They are playing the position of making intuitive, well designed products that anyone can use while locking you into their ecosystem.

Most users don't care about design? I think the number of the different Apple products sold say otherwise. A phone that anyone can pick up and use many of the features without reading a manual, thats a byproduct of brilliant design on many levels. Whether people care or not, they connect with it and are put in a position where they now have feelings for a piece of technology. When they then decide to make that purchase they very much care about design.

Microsoft products have indeed been successful, but other than the xbox (and we're talking consumer electronics here not OS's) what has been the other runaway hit they've made? The zune is a great media player, but came about after msft assembled a team and put them in a room with an ipod and told them to make something better.

The growth in sales from Apples products combined with their increasing marketshare in the desktop and mobile spaces are very indicative of consumers demanding better designed stuff. Apple's in-house iterative process is best positioned and most efficient at making products that are in line with that.

I think the critical portions of their design have been Jobs-driven for quite some years now.

A friend of mine, now an Apple emeritus distinguished engineer, said that during the engineering redesign of the Apple UI elements for Leopard (10.5) (which ended up looking nearly the same as 10.4), the engineers would have a weekly meeting, where they'd present just a few buttons. Jobs would walk in and say "yes" or "no" and walk out. Took quite a few iterations. ;-)

(To be clear, this was the internal re-engineering effort to make the Aqua UI resolution-independent. Inside of 10.5 is a huge set of tools that accomplish that fact, but it still had to look the same at current resolutions, and also look good at higher, which we haven't seen yet. The good results is that they can deploy a whole new system-wide, resolution-independent look & feel by replacing some XML and PNG files in the Appearance internal framework, and with no code changes. I suspect we're going to see that used in 10.6 very late in the cycle so there are no leaks.)

No, at least not for their hardware lines, for which the feedback loops are longer and the opportunities for multivariate testing are fewer.

If Google applied this to PageRank, they wouldn't have started.

In the beginning, Google was Ark A. Then it was Ark C. Now it's Ark B (tRatEotU - DNA)

But I have to admit, being able to precisely exactly quantify the beauty and usability of a design is irresistibly compelling to me. Especially when billions of dollars hinge on it (and you can measure them).

Google clearly has a visual design lead. Her name has always been Marissa Miller.

That's her quite distinctive style stamped across all those Google properties, and she makes no bones about it.

He got the lead job at Twitter. Don't ask how I know.

Ha, no, but I guess I wasn't breaking any story then.

He got sick of people asking him if he could make the buttons cornflower blue.

It may be entertaining to read internal laundry gripes about a company. But trashing your employer on the way out the door is bad form.

I didn't get "trashing". I got frustration and cultural mis-match. If I were looking to hire the guy, I'd appreciate the insight into the culture he would fit in. If I were at Google, I would know that there is no way he should come back.

In major culture mis-matches, both parties know there is no returning anyway. I've had that experience, and I know I can never return.

I'm 99% certain he's moving on to Twitter, plus he had a very successful freelance career b/f Google, so I see it less as "trashing" and more as freedom to be honest.

This doesn't seem so much a trashing to me, as pointing out a poor fit.

In other words, if other companies with an approach to design similar to Google's don't want to hire him in the future, that's probably fine with him.

Trashing may be too strong a word, granted. But it's making public unflattering internal details about a company that employed him. I would be personally irritated if I was this guy's manager.

Coming across material like that when researching someone for a job would probably be a no-hire flag for me - and many others. I'm sure he's a great designer, but does a post like that expand or limit the number of future gigs he might get? You could say "he wouldn't want to work at places like that anyway", but I'd rather have that decision left to me rather than a lack of response when I'm looking for work.

Offering this in the spirit of advice. I've been hiring people in the valley for 10+ years. I used dejanews to screen applicants prior to google... today yes we will read your tweets, find your blog, and skim it all to get a sense of who you are. Be thoughtful about what you post.

This sounds like you have no clue of who the guy is. I don't think there's a single company or start-up that wouldn't hire him.

You're talking about a guy who talks at numerous conferences every year (or at least did), who designed Blogger templates before being employed by Google, who designed Webmonkey, Wired, etc. (http://stopdesign.com/about)

Besides, he was simply pointing out that this was a complete mismatch for him and I can understand his "frustration", given the fact that he was supposed to be a UI Lead at Google. He wasn't hired to be some low-level pixel pusher.

I would be personally irritated if I was this guy's manager.

Who cares about some middle manager's opinion?

Offering this in the spirit of advice. I've been hiring people in the valley for 10+ years. I used dejanews to screen applicants prior to google... today yes we will read your tweets, find your blog, and skim it all to get a sense of who you are. Be thoughtful about what you post.

It sounds like you are looking for people who will shut up and churn out mediocre code for 8 hours a day. There's certainly a market for that, but I doubt the author of this article is interested.

If I write a blog post about how much I hate cleaning up toxic waste, that will limit my opportunities for employment cleaning up toxic waste. But who cares, I would never do that anyway.

It's bad form to diss your employer, current or former, in public.

Even more so for a senior guy like that. He's leaving one hot company to go work at another - he can talk about the great opportunity at Twitter. He doesn't need to gripe about the job he's leaving.

His post spawned a bunch of mildly unfavorable press, which is currently #1 on Techmeme. Bad form.

Bad form.

You keep saying this. Perhaps you'd like to explain why.

Paul Graham once wrote that "unprofessional" was the null criticism. It says nothing other than expresses your distaste. I wonder if "bad form" is the same thing, spoken with a slightly English Public School accent?

10 days ago I suggested Google in a Grid re-design. I suggested one optional button to switch from normal to grid mode. I realized that the people are very very protective about Google. 70% without any particular reason hated the idea of any kind of Google redesign. Even do my arguments were stable "The Grid can hold much more information, more photos and videos and can contribute for better visible experience" almost nobody bother to discus with real arguments. My post (http://www.vcarrer.com/2009/03/google-redesign-google-in-gri...)

I'm first developer then designer and I do believe that one product should constantly be developed in bought direction. In the case of Google they have excellent query search result but can do much much better visual experience. I'm not talking about rebuilding everything but sometimes one pixel can make great difference.

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