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.
I love this farewell post by Google’s visual design lead because it confirms a theory I’ve long held: that Google is a company where engineers are the ruling class, while at Apple it’s designers. This is by no means meant to denigrate the work of some talented designers I know at Google, and certainly is no knock on some of the incredible engineers I worked with at Apple—there are great people on both sides in both places. But I think a useful way to think about the difference between the two companies is: how likely is an individual contributor from each category to be present in a meeting with the CEO? Based on my experience at Apple, I’d say the answer is: pretty unlikely for an engineer, far more likely for a designer. I don’t have any direct experience with Google, but I suspect just the opposite would be true there.
This is, I believe, why Google’s products (many of which are great and innovative—I remain a devoted Gmail fan, for example) will always fall short of achieving the emotional connection that people feel to an iPhone. There’s no one with real power there who has a good sense of what makes a product beautiful or when it feels “electric.” You can’t quantify that sort of thing through study or harness collective brainpower to coerce it—someone just has to know it when they see it.