20 Mar 2009 10 am eastern

41 Shades of Blue

The great Douglas Bowman leaves Google:

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

[tags]DouglasBowman, Google, design[/tags]

Filed under: business, Design, development, experience, people

39 Responses to “41 Shades of Blue”

  1. RayMcK said on

    Cool. I love hearing about stuff like this because it normalizes things for the rest of us.

  2. John Lascurettes said on

    So I stand by my earlier statement about Google’s standards support. Good luck to Bowman! Joe Clark kind of let the cat out of the bag early on this.

  3. Chad M said on

    I can feel his pain.

  4. Damjan Mozetič said on

    They’ve got the means to “play around”, that’s for sure. I’d be happy to read on the results of such studies.

  5. Jeffrey Zeldman said on
  6. Thorvald said on

    I can feel his pain, too. And Joe Clark’s post is really great. :-)

  7. Matt Robin said on

    Good for Doug…best of luck to him in what he does next (Google’s loss!)

  8. Eric Etheridge said on

    Bowman’s account of his Google time sounds very much like my experience at Microsoft in the ’90s working on Sidewalk. Trying to talk design with engineers is crazy making.

  9. Mr.Designer said on

    Sometimes when a small issue like the shade of blue is a problem, it might mean there are bigger problems with the design that the color blue won’t solve.

  10. Alessandro said on

    Great post of Joe Clark, but his website needs a redesign to make him more credible on this topic.

  11. Scott Lenger said on

    Reminds me of back when I worked at Duke Univ. where anything with blue in it had to pass the ‘Duke Blue vs UNC Blue’ test.

    “…we need to change it because on my screen it looks too much like ‘UNC Blue’”

  12. Joe Clark said on

    Alessandro, my “website” (I assume you refer only to the blog) has been ruthlessly anti-designed for five straight years as I remove one item after another that doesn’t need to be there. When a head of state passes a law giving you power over my personal site, you may exercise that power. Until then, do something else, like actually researching the fact that I have consistently denied being a graphic designer.

  13. Bowman quits Google said on

    [...] March 20th, 2009 I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to work at Google. I learned more than I thought I would…. But I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data. And with that Douglas Bowman, the great web designer and CSS guru whose hiring was considered a big coup three years ago, quits Google for Twitter. (MeFi’s own) Joe Clark approves. Bowman also confirms the "41 shades of blue" story is true — Google can’t decide on one shade of blue to use on the site, so they’re experimenting with 41. (via Zeldman) [...]

  14. Adrian Cooke said on

    Alessandro, even if you didn’t already know about Joe what Joe told you below**, you are mistaken to say his argument is less credible because of the way his site looks. This would remain true even if his post was rendered in Comic Sans (which, incidentally, would not imply that it was sans comedy).

    ** I am not a poet.

  15. Michaël Guitton said on

    These are excellent news! :-) I’m an old fan of Douglas Bowman’s work and I was wondering why I couln’t spot his hand in any of the numerous web applications and services that Google now offer. Looks like I have my answer… Welcome back Douglas.

  16. Anon Designer said on

    Alessandro, you need to know Joe Clark more to be credible on this topic :-)

    I experienced (on a much smaller scale) what Bowman describes in his blog post.
    As a designer, it’s interesting and challenging in the beginning.
    After a while you just feel powerless, everything is shaped according to Google analytics and score.
    Every problem is reduced into smaller – easy to solve – tasks. 0 or 1. Engineer approach for every decision.
    You (and the rest of the team) end up loosing the big picture.

    The design then becomes just small pieces loosely joined.

  17. George Girton said on

    I read a story in WSJ about Irene Au, and the incidents portrayed there made sense from a design standpoint. She did not seem an opponent of web design at all. I can’t really agree with Joe Clark’s criticism. In fact, his blog page shares with Google’s search page a plain and spare utilitarianism that, along with a touch of whimsy, has its own beauty.

    Fire’s hot, and ice is not.

  18. Thiago Cavalcanti said on

    Douglas left Google?

    Bad for Google.

    Huge companies make huge poop, it would seem…

  19. Sean McCambridge said on

    That’s like asking an architect to prove whether a room should have 8′ 10″, 9′ 0″ or 9′ 2″ ceilings. Yes, there is a difference. No, that difference will not make a difference. Ugh.

  20. Tony Boludo said on

    Too bad Google didn’t learn anything from Bowman.

    And, honestly, Alessandro’s right about Joe Clark’s web site…. just saying, for those of us (the majority on the web) that don’t know Joe Clark from Joe the Plumber, his site doesn’t give any indication that he knows anything about graphic design or typography…two topics that he writes about…that anti-design approach is a cop-out, an instance of a lame excuse to justify one’s own lack of design skills. And that’s okay, no need to make excuses or be snide. Most people are not graphic designers…that’s why there are plenty of free, nicely designed themes out there or you can hire a freelance designer. Or, if you’re a company like Google, hire the best designer you can but then you have to LISTEN to that designer.

  21. Brade said on

    Speaking of popular web designers who have recently redesigned their sites, when can we expect a Zeldman.com redux???

  22. Richard said on

    Good luck to Bowman. Google’s loss.

  23. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Speaking of popular web designers who have recently redesigned their sites, when can we expect a Zeldman.com redux???

    Sounds like a cop-out, but soon—as soon as I get a moment to breathe. It’s long overdue, and I have many ideas … but with Happy Cog, A List Apart, An Event Apart. and a DWWS 3rd edition all in full swing, it’s hard to find time.

    But it is coming this year. Thank you for asking! :)

  24. Alessandro said on

    @ Joe Clark
    Yes, i refer to your weblog, and I didn’t really want to say that you are not credible on this topic. I already said that your post is great. Reading other contents of your blog, I think that many of your posts are great.
    Anyway, in that post you are talking about graphic design, and I continue to think that reading so great words about graphic design inside your blog template it’s just like to see Donald Trump talking about hairdressing.

  25. Richard Fink said on

    @alessandro
    Design should support and reinforce the message right? Well, when I go to Joe Clark’s site I get to read a message from Joe Clark. That’s it.
    What other stuff would you like there to be? What do you consider “design”?
    I get a few well-written paragraphs in a font size that’s readable without my having to fiddle with zoom levels; with a font-family, column width, and line-height that’s right on the money without a lot of other baloney floating around trying to grab my attention.
    Quite good design, I would say.

  26. Jason Scott said on
  27. Karen Oleri said on

    Good lord… this reminds me of my first project as design lead at my company. We had an internal client that could not decide on the shade of slate blue they wanted for their brochure site. They kept coming back saying it wasn’t blue enough, then that it wasn’t grey enough, then not blue enough… and around and around again. Eventually I got fed up and ended up mocking the design with 20 different shades of blue and projecting them all onto a screen in front of them. Then I sat back and watched them heatedly debate the choices. Now I both laugh and cringe when I think about it years later.

  28. How much testing is too much testing? said on

    [...] after Bowan’s announcement, such diverse outlets as Jeffrey Zeldman, Joe Clark and CNNMoney’s Jon Fortt questioned whether Google’s process is killing [...]

  29. alessandro said on

    @ Richard Fink
    I agree, design should support and reinforce the message and has not to be invasive. I think that Joe Clark’s weblog design is invasive and doesn’t reinforce the message – especially if the message is about visual design – because it’s ugly. The blog looks almost better if you disable all styles (try, maybe the column width is too large in this way, but if you resize the browser window is perfect).. If you read the same message in google reader is still much better than in his weblog, in my opinion.

  30. mschindler.com » Blog Archive » The Iceberg Principle said on

    [...] 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 [...]

  31. Brade said on

    @ Zeldman

    glad to hear it!

  32. Rich Internet Apps » Data Driven Design and the Culture at Google » Pathfinder Development said on

    [...] regarding interface decisions is definitely a good thing, Google has reached the point where it has become a crutch, and without leadership from people that understand visual design principles there is a creative [...]

  33. Todd said on

    This was nothing to be shocked at myself, speaking of how Google looks at things analytically and not through a design sense. I was fortunate enough to meet Doug @ AEA in Boston last year and he is a terrific person, splendid to talk to. Glad that he is finally as Joe Clark said;

    welcome (him) back to a world where he is actually wanted.

    I wish Doug nothing but the best and Jeffrey, I’m looking forward to not only DWWS 3E but the new design as well!

  34. Twitter | QuikPolls.org said on

    [...] can’t decide on one shade of blue to use on the site, so they’re experimenting with 41. (via Zeldman) [...]

  35. coskunlar vinc said on

    They’ve got the means to “play around”, that’s for sure. I’d be happy to read on the results of such studies.

  36. mschindler.com – Google and the Iceberg Principle of Design said on

    [...] 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 [...]

  37. Shades of Blue | Reference.com said on

    [...] 41 Shades of Blue – Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report 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. [...]

  38. Google’s new font size said on

    [...] Knowing Google you can bet they spent a long time and a lot of money on the user research for this too (remember "41 shades of blue-gate"?). [...]

  39. Media bouwen: Media en innovatie: kunnen mediabedrijven de Fuji berg verplaatsen? said on

    [...] is over welke tint blauw er op een pagina gebruikt moet worden, en hoe dik een lijn moet zijn, dan testen ze de (41) varianten toch gewoon even uit op telkens enkele duizenden gebruikers, en zo lopen er elke dag wel tests op kleine steekproeven van gebruikers. Als je tussen [...]

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