Data, not Design, is King at Google

09 Aug 2009|Leigh Marinner

A designer quit Google because every decision was made according to what design changes tested the best. The NYT published this provocative article last May, with a subtitle of “ Should Design be Held Back by the Tyranny of Data?”. Although I am part of an innovation and design firm, I support listening to the data. Google is in the fortunate position of being able to test almost everything, with very little investment. They can try out 3 alternative designs and see which ones generate the most clicks, in one day. Most businesses would love to be able to get actual consumer data that easily. Companies pay lots of money to services like BASES to get forecasts of what consumers will buy. We had a client that was able to do similar tests by trying out products at home shows and changing the value proposition and labels in response to actual consumer sales. It’s rare and valuable to be able to see what consumers will actually buy (either with $ or their time), instead of judgment or projections.

I see the role of design coming in up front, suggesting different alternatives and approaches. But if you have the luxury of reliable testing, why complain about taking advantage of it?

This is not the same as asking customers what they want. It doesn’t work well to ask customers how interested they would be in new products and services that don’t exist. But using actual consumer purchase data ($ or time) is the real thing.

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