I’m sure Douglas Bowman’s blog last week was widely read. His post was a kind of public exit interview, titled Goodbye Google.
As Bowman left Google, he pointed out the pro-engineering bias in its approach to problem solving—including problems of design. Two of several examples he gives:
[…] 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. […]
Bowman would like to see more weight put on design principles. His blog includes a link to Wikipedia’s article on design elements and principles, which lists:
|•||balance||•||repetition, rhythm, pattern||•||variety, alternation|
|•||emphasis, dominance, focal point||•||proportion, scale||•||functionality|
|•||attraction||•||artistic unity||•||genuineness in media and form|
I don’t think design principles are beyond an engineer. I do think engineers need to be taught how—and when—to think about these details.
As we discovered during the development of Five Sketches™, this kind of detail is often outside the comfort zone of an engineer. However, I can affirm that even engineers who initially produce work with little design insight or creativity have managed to astonish me with amazing design results within a year. And that’s after only occasional participation in Five Sketches™ design sessions.
So, yes, engineers can learn to participate in design, with success and predictability, though I would caution that Five Sketches™ works for engineers because it was developed for and with them, to meet their needs.
At Google, to bring about such a cultural change, Bowman would have needed the unwavering support of at least one senior executive. Even then, as Bowman himself acknowledged in his goodbye message, a company as large as Google does not change direction easily.
If you liked this post, read about how a company’s use of social media influences its corporate culture.