41 Shades of Google: Intuition or User Experience Testing?

Years ago, I came across an open letter called Goodbye, Google. The letter was written by a visual designer at Google who got frustrated by the constant level of testing and iteration:

“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 minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.”

While I understand some of this designer’s frustration, I can’t help but wonder why one would not be incredibly excited to have billions of individuals available for user experience testing? What color should we make this button? I don’t know—let’s find out.

A designer’s most powerful assets are the mental constructs he or she creates to arrive at a solution. Each construct, however, is only an intuition, and it should undergo user experience testing to make sure it is indeed the best solution given the information available.

In my formal training as an industrial designer, there are often certifications and regulations set in place to ensure that a product will work as it is intended. In software, teams have quality assurance testers to guarantee that products being shipped are free of defects or errors. Why would we not also have a series of built-in safety gates for any design process? Such safety gates would allow us to determine that the design of a product is on the right track and that the decisions made are indeed the ones preferred by the users. It only makes sense. Why would you bring to market something that your customer doesn’t even want?

What color should a call-to-action button be? My answer is this: whichever color the customers click on the most. By the way, my testing experience—which is apparently more advanced than Google’s—tells me that it’s usually the red button. #smh #irony #usertestfail