Got Culture?

Douglas Bowman, a damned fine designer, just quit his job at Google due to basic, deep-set cultural differences:

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.

Back when we did a project in cooperation with Microsoft, they were desperately seeking visual designers, they made me an offer, and I briefly considered a move to Seattle. What stopped me pretty quickly was the realisation that they’re a mountain of engineers, and being a singular designer under that mountain would make me about as effective as being under Mt. Rainier. Their culture relegates design to mere decoration, and there’s little to no chance they will ever understand what design is and what it can do at a deep, cultural level.

If companies have such a deep and immutable culture (Google = engineers, Apple = design) how can they include and learn from the other? Should they even try? Maybe they are what they are, and so successful at it, because of the concentration and blindness to any other way to do things? When all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, but you also get really good at banging nails.

I wish Doug an environment where design is an ingredient of the culture and where his considerable talents will be taken full advantage of!