Artistic Engineering

23 Mar 2009

Last week Google lost a great designer. On his site, Douglas Bowman announced that last Friday would be his last day at Google. I was sad to hear that such a power couple like Bowman and Google were breaking up, but I knew Bowman must be moving on to something better (which he says he’ll write about in the near future).

As many followers and fans of Bowman and his work at Google wished him well, and contemplated the effect that the loss may have on Google’s applications that we’ve come to know and love, others took offense to his candor about why he left and the venom spewing followed soon after.

While many of the comments clearly displayed a lack of education on the top (ex. Never read Bowman’s original post), nearly all of those that took an objection to Bowman’s reasons for leaving Google had a clear engineering bias. But why did it have to be that way? Is it really that hard to believe that engineering and design can co-exist together peacefully? I think the remainder of the spiteful comments were from engineers that don’t understand that not all “art” is fit to be hung on a wall. And that design, while an artistic endeavor, can compliment an expertly engineered product.

Today, Scott Stevenson posted some insightful commentary that seeks to explain and dispel some of the ignorance that Bowman’s departure has unearthed. As well as outline some of the consequences for a company that attempts to integrate a designer into it’s engineering culture.

The bottom line is this. Great engineers and great designers are just that, great. Google has great success basing their design decisions on the data of their engineering culture. Apple has great success basing their design decisions on the expertise of their design culture. And they’ve both been models for thousands of other companies. You can describe either as flawed in that respect. But you also can’t expect a designer to thrive in Google’s environment, or an engineer to thrive in Apple’s environment.

That being said, Google should be commended for bringing in one of the best designers, attempting to better their products through his wealth of knowledge and experience, and hoping that he could help improve the company. It’s just too bad it didn’t work out.

Update: As many now know, Bowman has confirmed the speculation that his new employer is none other than Twitter.