back to article Google designer quits over performance obsession

Google’s visual design leader quit the company on Friday because he was irked by the web giant’s obsession with performance data. Douglas Bowman said in a blog post on 20 March that he had “grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions” after a team at Google couldn’t choose between two blues. Instead they decided to …


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  1. nicholas22
    Thumb Up



    nice one!

  2. Charlie Mason

    Sword of data?

    Data had a phaser not a sword.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes nothing like choosing

    the colour for the bike shed to really get out all those underlying tensions :)

  4. neil hanvey

    wont somebody think of the hex codes!

    sorry, i don't have a comment, i just wanted to shout the title. seriously though, no wonder nothing ever makes it out of beta

  5. David Kelly
    Thumb Up

    Good Riddance

    Hasn't passed without notice how lean and functional Google keeps their site. No matter how fast computers or broadband gets to be, many of us do not like Javascript, FLASH, etc. My respect for Google has increased upon learning they are actually watching performance of every detail.

  6. Pete Silver badge

    one less prima-donna to worry about

    Somehow I suspect there's more to this guys departure than which shade of blue to use. When we get defensive, we all cite the most absurd examples [of the other guy's behaviour] that show us to be level-headed, mature, professional and flexible.

    That it came down to questioning his decisions about shades, or pixel-widths make me think that maybe there's things here that we aren't being told. For example, does Google have standards for these things? Do they, for example, state that lines should be 5 pixels wide, and our unemployed friend went all luvvie and decided he must have (darlink!) lines 3 pixels wide - for artistic reasons?

    Personally, if these were the biggest differences of opinion, and these make his job unbearable, it sounds like they're well-rid of him.

  7. Simon

    This is presicely the kind of thing we need to know . . .

    do people want scroll bars that can be fitted nasaly?

  8. Nick Palmer
    Thumb Up

    You no can has title

  9. Hollerith

    Not so much getting user buy-in than too afreaid to make a decision

    I've seen whole meetings come to a halt while senior managers fight over their favorite colour combinations. Users don't actually care that much, as long as it's not hideous and they can do what they want to do. But I've also seen senior managers so afraid of making a 'wrong' decision (as if two closely-related blues or greens is goign to make or break a website) that we went out to huge user testing etc. just because someone who gets paid shedloads of money to lead didn't have the cojones to make a choice.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    good to see..

    ..that even Google waste their time with pointless management meetings.

  11. Michael Sheils
    Thumb Up


    Nice to know Google won't be pandering to the artsy crowd.

  12. theotherone


    was he the git responsible for the terrible logos Google displays every time there's a western white man's event/holiday/anniversary?

    good riddance ....

  13. Pink Duck
    Thumb Down

    Witnessed Before

    Google's need for speed is also the reason why they don't support XHTML.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The other kind of bloat...

    This is the problem with huge corporations. They think they have to answer every criticism. So long as design is performance focussed, there's no need for the kind of metric mentioned in the article.

    Yes, Google Streetview might be fast (ish), but if the content only covers the areas that people know anyway, what's the point? I recently used Streetview to find my new dentist, and couldn't read the street numbers or business names because the data wasn't high enough resolution, so I *still* had to drive slowly, overshoot, and make a U-turn before I found the place. So while it's pretty interesting, it's still a failed effort.

    I have a Webmail account that uses Squirrelmail, and it's just as effective as Gmail. Again: interesting, but what's the point?

  15. Tom

    @David Kelly

    Actually Google uses JavaScript on pretty much every single page to one extent or another. Even their home page included a large chunk of JavaScript, so if you claim you dont like JavaScript, perhaps what you really mean is, you dont like non optimised JavaScript. When it is written well it should be fast and unobtrusive.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everyone knows their job better than me

    It seems to me that when my project is a success, suddenly all managers want to be involved in the parts that they can easily understand. They feel the need to impart their 'wisdom' on the successful project and share their 'experience' with me.

    On the other hand when a project is a failure, I am given total leeway, I can do whatever is necessary to turn it around, and nobody complains and nobody wants to be associated with it because it is a perceived failure.

    Things are getting worse, now that managers fear for their jobs, and try to attach themselves more closely to winning projects like mine.

    Suddenly all programmers know my job better than me, and all my choices were "lucky guesses", that would be "perfect choices" if only these managers and programmers had had more involvement earlier on.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    fair enough

    As a fellow designer I can totally understand why he quit.

    And... massive LOL @ Charlie Mason's comment

  18. Another Anonymous Coward

    Standard designer problem...

    Is that absolutely everyone and their dog believes that they are a graphic designer and can be really good at it, especially the CEOs with nothing better to do than twiddle their thumbs at meetings and nitpick.

    Always happens, just look at the London 2012 logo, not the fault of designers who probably created hundreds of different designs, only for the complete goits at the top to decide that one of the worst ones was the best choice, and to then offer their own amateur suggestions (translation - you're changing it this way or you're getting fired) to "improve" it.

    Design is a rough job, and as the head of the team, I suspect this guy is good enough to easily find a less-stressful position where the dorks from management and the labs will leave him alone. :)

  19. Juan Inamillion
    Thumb Down

    'Twas ever thus

    As a recording engineer years ago I remember dreading a client coming in to do ad jingle. I could record it a 10 second jingle in an hour or so, then for 7 hours sit in the control room with 3 or 4 'art directors' who'd be trying to make a decision about some seriously inconsequential detail.

    This guy sounds like a right pillock though. I agree with the other poster here who thinks maybe he didn't agree with the Google style book.

  20. James Hughes


    So, StreetView is a failure, on the basic of one sample? Methinks you should try it a bit more before going the branding route. And the statement "Only covers the bits people know"? What? So, presumably, you know London, Cambridge, Oxford etc well enough already? I've already found/been shown places in Cambridge I didn't know about and I've lived around here for 30 years.

  21. Robinson
    Paris Hilton

    Did I miss something?

    This guy quit because google want him to provide performance data to back up the design choices he makes. Is this WRONG? No, of course it isn't. There are too many idiot designers out there who think they know best, when actually their red text on a green background is a pig. Performance data in user interface design is extremely useful. I only wish the company I work for had the time and resources to test such things with users.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really quite simple

    The true professional designers have the ability to compromise and understand that at the end of the day a company like Google has to balance and optimize everything for speed. If their site or their products aren't as responsive as the competition then folks will begin to migrate elsewhere, thus is the nature of the fickle web culture. Having said that however. If they were indeed running test on 41 different shades of blue to try and determine which one would render faster, then I admit that is getting to be a bit much. After all there is sweating the details and then there is being utterly and completely anal retentive.

    I've never worked with Google so can't say which is the case. However I suspect that it comes down to a bureaucratic level of management at google that even the government would be proud of, and an inflexible designer with the inability to work within that system.

  23. Dale


    I thought the problem with huge corporations was that they think they DON'T have to answer any criticisms. Something else for their committees to debate?

  24. Seán


    There are buttons to click which would have resolved your "issues", you're just a bit inattentive. Leave computers alone, you're not cut out for it.

  25. Graham Marsden

    Did they land on the B-Ark?

    "And the wheel," said the Captain, "What about this wheel thingy? It sounds a terribly interesting project."

    "Ah," said the marketing girl, "Well, we're having a little difficulty there."

    "Difficulty?" exclaimed Ford. "Difficulty? What do you mean, difficulty? It's the single simplest machine in the entire Universe!"

    The marketing girl soured him with a look.

    "Alright, Mr. Wiseguy," she said, "if you're so clever, you tell us what colour it should be."

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Anonymous Coward

    which blue performs best

    wow - i didn't know that #0000ff came down the internet pipe at a different speed to #1122dd!

  28. Eddy Ito
    Paris Hilton

    Scatological performance data

    May I be the first to call bullshit? It is not only improbable but inconceivable that The Goog is trying to determine the "performance" of blue or border width based on page load times or some other speed related metric. If they are at the point where 0000e8 and 0000f6 provide any measurable difference in web browsing speed, then they should start passing their drugs around to the rest of us. This car goes faster because the width of the racing stripe is 1/2 linguine... cow chips!

    So what else might performance measure. How about the ayes and nays of a focus group? A lawyer performs by conning a small group of disinterested half wits in a forced focus group to believe his client over the other guys client, but it doesn't really matter how fast he gets it done.

  29. J

    Been there...

    Trying to appease the marketing department can be a chore. On many occasion they somehow get past the bear trap I have in front of my office and stand behind me while I am working on my latest creative for whatever marketing ploy they have devised. Then they'll inevitably say "Would that title look a little better if it was 1/2 millimeter further from the top? Oh, and could you change that font to times new roman? The font you have selected looks too ... new. Oh, and could you move the logo from the right corner to the left?"

    When the creative is done and tossed around ... to hear the marketing say "Yeah, I don't know why he put it in the left corner ... and, your right, that font does look too old".


  30. Kobus Botes

    Sssooooo...... Which

    shade of blue did they choose in the end - Vooloovoo?

    Answers please - people want to know!

    The tech guy, as it is the only one that is blue.

  31. Kobus Botes


    HOOLOOVOO - it should have been Hooloovoo!!!

    And I am not even a particularly great admirer of ABBA!

  32. Dan Paul

    Reminds me of my Strength of Materials Prof.....

    This reminds me of what my Strength of Materials professor said in class one day...

    "The only thing an "Architect" should be allowed to do, is pick the paint color and wallpaper, that is AFTER the Mechanical Engineers design and build the building".

    Fact is your typical "Marketing" and "Mid Level Management" people suck the butts of monkeys and are as useless as teats on a Boar hog. Too bad they don't get let go before the productive members of a corporation do.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I take it you've never worked with google?

    Seriously , (as an outside contractor)

    on technical meetings they are great, they send in a load of techs have a one hour meeting (the techs have a bit of superiority complex because they work for google but not too bad) 1 hour meeting, everyone goes away does their bit and collaborates all through the process, job done!

    UAT, marketing, Adwords (*sob sob*) etc. 4 hour mettings begining at 5 pm or 6 pm (EMEA, no MV included) while everyone tries to score points, figure out WTF anyone is talking about, or discuss the most mundane details LIKE colour choice and, I kid you not "border control" for the size of margins, borders etc.

    Or their favouritew trick on conf calls is to not pay any attention to the meeting, say the have no comments at the end of a call, okay everything and then throw a poo fit when 2 weeks later they don't like what you've put in the prduction environment.

  34. E


    If you'd *get out of your car* that would be less of a problem!

  35. Grant

    @ Eddy Ito

    Performance is not just about speed or focus groups. We are talking about Google here - and I presume evidence based decisions.

    The creative arty types will no doubt hate it, but somebody like google could do 100,000 A/B tests a day; i.e. switch some subtle details and observe the results. For instance, in 10% of sessions hitting the site, move the results 3 pixels to the left, in another 10%, move them to the right. Crunch some stats on what people do next & see if there is a statistically significant difference.

    You might get your arty director types wanting a lovely subtle battle-ship gray text on a pinkish dove gray background, but find that real evidence from actual consumers of the service is that they like the black text on white background & react faster on clicking links. How annoying would that be?

    Reminds me of reading about Frank Lloyd Wright & his attempts at artistic architecture perfection being ruined by real people actually wanting to have comfortable furniture, curtains and light-shades...

    Personally I am happy for Google to keep putting performance (no matter how it is measured) first. Maybe Microsoft could learn from this as well (why, yes, I am posting this from a Vista box..)

  36. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    I thought most sites could fine-tune themselves these days.

    Rounded or square corners on dialog boxes? This blue or that blue? This font or that one? Set the server to give half the users one and half the other. See which gets more click throughs/return visits/purchases/other measure of success. Ditch the other one, rinse and repeat.

  37. TeeCee Gold badge

    Is he trying to say....

    ......that Google are a bunch of Blue Meanies?

    Odd that. I'd always had this strange mental image that the Googleplex appeared internally as something out of the Yellow Submarine cartoon..... No, I don't know why, I think it's the little white ones (Wuh, Wuh for White) that do it for me.....

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Charlie Mason

    I believe Counselor Troi would disagree with that.

    Paris, because she'd disagree too.

  39. Heinz
    Jobs Horns

    Attention to design details is a reason for the success of APPLE,

    There are reports about the obsession of Steve Jobs with every design aspect of Apple products. (e.g. in WIRED)

    Be it on screen or details of the casing of the MacPro.

    It may be annoying for a developer, but the cosnumer values it.


  40. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    'the little white ones (Wuh, Wuh for White)'

    ...five milligrammes?

    taken with a 'Glass of water'? ( I've just discovered I can't do echoey writing :)

    10/10 for the obscure reference

    do I get a plane for spotting it?

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