Why Google Lacks Creativity

In primary school, I liked maths. I played chess. But I also liked art. And played football.

In secondary school, my favourite subjects were English and Physics. I still liked art … but gradually grew weaker at maths, and lost interest. (I eventually lost interest in school generally, and was more concerned about the indie band I had joined, but that’s another story.)

I did media studies in college, but I always felt that our subjects were based too much on wishy-washy academic theories, not hard science.

When I started working in a media environments like local radio and magazines, colleagues viewed me as a “tecchie” because I had liked working with computers. When I changed career track and started working with an IT consulting company, I was mocked for being an “artiste”.

In truth, my passions have always straddled both worlds — the creative and the technical. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive.

I admire Google for brining science to web design and development. Google Analytics, for example, allows you to do A/B testing — e.g. you can try out two different versions of a homepage on alternate days, and see which one users best respond to.

Google’s Achilles heel, however, is that it doesn’t have any sense of creativity. It sees web design purely in engineering terms. But web design is not only engineering; web design is also an art form. A true “web master” is someone who can strike the balance between the science of web design (semantic markup; usable interface design; etc.) and the art of web design (web pages that look and feel beautiful, or in other ways make you fall in love with them).

My suspicion about Google’s lack of artistic understanding was confirmed in a revealing blog post by Douglas Bowman, in which he explains why he has quit his position as Visual Design Lead at Google.

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 minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

As Tim Van Damme comments, Bowman shouldn’t be made to justify the width of a border. As a creative designer, when it’s right, you know it’s right — you _feel _it’s right. All the stats in the world will never give that same gut feeling.