Google’s Visual Design Leader announced he’s leaving the company on his Stopdesign blog, suggesting the engineer-driven company had become too difficult to work for:

Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?”

When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’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. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case.

Ouch.

It’s an interesting glimpse inside Google – and a good illustration of the difficulties faced by creatives in technology driven environments.

Freelance writers find themselves operating in similarly difficult environments; without fulltime access to managers or an in-house champion, credibility can be hard to grow.

During the dot-com boom years, inexperienced marketing managers often forced me to justify even the most basic marketing decisions.

In one instance, a novice marketing manager challenged me to “prove” (on the spot) a benefit-driven ad concept would outperform the pun-based headline he favored.

In another, a manager said copying the competition’s materials and message allowed us to “piggyback” our efforts atop their marketing budgets.

Oy.

In another, I suggested testing direct response offers. That night, the engineer/founder of the company stayed up late and – intrigued by the testing grid I’d sketched – crafted a program testing several dozen attributes, including slight variations in typeface, color and similarly unimportant factors.

The last scenario was more amusing than difficult (at the very least, the founder was engaged). The first two instances were more problematic, and in those situations, it’s easy to get frustrated.

Life grows complicated when the marketing process becomes a power struggle instead of quest for results, and you may ultimately decide those environments don’t work for you.

Still, sucking it up and attempting to educate the client remains the best path. At the very least, forwarding interesting articles, links and tidbits builds credibility.

And yes – at some point, a client should become comfortable with your decisions. If that day never comes, then consider – as Douglas Bowman did – simply moving on (or tacking a 30% “hassle factor” fee to your estimates).

As for Mr. Bowman, don’t work up any tears. He just began his new job as Twitter’s Creative Director.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.

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