Doug Bowman is without a doubt an extraordinary designer. Doug and I were “peers” in Google’s User Experience organization before his departure last week. I say “peers” in quotes because, while technically we were peers in that we reported to the same director, my capabilities and talent pale in comparison. It was certainly an honor to be within the same team as Doug and to benefit from the fruits of his work. We will miss him and his contributions dearly.
Doug’s recent article about his departure from Google contains many truths. Of course Google is a company run by engineers. Yes many design decisions are driven by data. But Doug’s description of how design is viewed at Google is an oversimplification.
While there are many teams within Google that view design process as a problem in logic requiring data to solve, there are others that do not. While there are many Googlers who view designers as people who tinker with link color and border widths, many do not. Doug’s experience was unfortunately clouded by the teams and executives he was asked to work with.
My experience has been different.
I oversee the work of a team of designers focused on Google’s advertiser and publisher products – known within Google as simply “Ads”. As Doug mentioned, the talent and intelligence of designers at Google is incredible and the Ads team is no exception. To highlight a few: Google Analytics’ Doug van der Molen is a brilliant design leader with remarkable vision and entrepreneurial spirit. Feedburner’s Matt Shobe – who now applies his talents to new publisher products – breathes life into his products by injecting them with personality. And Ad Planner’s Ken Moore has talents that only a select few can truly appreciate.
Within Ads, we don’t work on projects which aim to determine the highest monetizing shade of blue. Nor do we focus on tweaking border widths. Rather, we work on complex, large-scale redesigns such as the soon-to-be-announced new AdWords interface. Or major feature upgrades to Google Analytics. Or new product designs for … well, I can’t talk about that just yet.
To design successfully in this environment, we simply must partner closely with product management and engineering. And we do. PMs and engineers understand that designing usable interfaces to support complex workflows for our advertisers and publishers requires something more than opinion and data. It requires skills that only designers can bring to bare. Skills that go beyond color theory and making things look “pretty”. Yes we use data to assist in decision-making, but data takes a back seat when teams develop the kinds of design innovations you experience in Google Analytics, the new AdWords UI, and other products delivered by the Ads team.
It’s not all perfect of course. There are certainly times when designers are somewhat marginalized, or when engineers or PMs pull rank when a decision has to be made. But these times are rare.
Perhaps what differentiates this team of designers is that we don’t expect the rest of the company to bow down to our design wisdom. We earn respect by demonstrating the value of good design through our work day in and day out. By working with our partners, not in spite of them.
Some may give up when faced with an organization less aligned with their discipline than they would like. Some say goodbye. We say otherwise.