Ex-Googler Describes Company’s Obsession With Data

Tests on 41 shades of blue drove away visual design lead

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While you’ve probably never stopped to consider the height of the "more options" arrow on Google’s homepage, it’s apparently quite possible that hundreds of man-hours were put into determining its size.  Google’s visual design lead announced today that he’s leaving the company, and minutiae like this drove him to the decision.

Douglas Bowman
  Douglas Bowman

Douglas Bowman started at Google in 2006.  His job involved "helping the company establish a common visual language across all their collaborative and communication products," which sounds like a reasonable enough task.  Make sure everybody uses the same fonts, color palette, and so on.

Only Bowman wrote earlier, "[I]t’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."  Also, "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."

So he’s off to another (as-of-yet-unnamed) company.

We’ll leave that matter alone for the moment.  What’s really interesting is the evidence of how Google tries so hard to optimize every single little thing.  Given how successful the company’s been, the strategy appears to be working.

It’s hard not to wonder whether Yahoo and Microsoft – and AIG, Chrysler, and GM, for that matter – won’t start collecting exhaustive amounts of data about visual elements, too, now.

Ex-Googler Describes Company’s Obsession With Data
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  • Joseph

    I think you should pass my email to that team, seems I would be a perfect fit,

    I actually tweak sizes of things on my site over and over as well as fonts and colors.

    Man, see just when I thought I was “weird” because I have made 23headers so far this year.

    Nope, I am just missing my calling!

    Thanks for the article !

    Good Read Indeed!

  • http://www.minneapolisfinder.com Minneapolis Marketing

    Can hardly blame Google for going the extra miles in their design. Given the number of users they have, even the slightest error can turn away many people. I read that Google spent a lot of time designing the placement of their “sponsored ads”. This was very tricky for Google because it didn’t want to irritate loyal users.

    I have seen different versions of Yahoo and MSN home pages, but no matter what they do, both are so cluttered with all sorts of info. I bet Google must have done a lot of eye-tracking studies to see what people are paying attention to.

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