Google and the Iceberg Principle of Design

A lot has already been said about Douglas Bowman’s decision to leave Google. From what I understand, he was the company’s first visual designer. I don’t know the man, but I think we can take his perspective, at least, at face value.

In his goodbye post, he offers a glimpse of the design culture at the now monolithic corporate giant — a rant which has so far caught a lot of traction on the blogosphere.

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. 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.

This statement, assuming again it’s true, reminded me of the analogy that Bill Moggridge, co-founder of IDEO and author of Designing Interactions, came up with for design, comparing it to an iceberg. Basically, if we can imagine that the smaller, exposed part of the iceberg, contains the quantitative, the objective, and the analytical, it only goes to follow that the much larger underwater part contains the qualitative, the subjective, and the aesthetic.

The bottom part, Moggridge argues, is the playground for unconscious, intuitive design.

Clearly, Google is a company that only wants to operate at the top of the iceberg. I wonder, though, how long it can continue to thrive when so much unmined territory goes waiting for others to explore.

Good luck to you, Douglas.