Marissa Mayer of Google, who claims her data- and research-backed design decisions are right 80% of the time, is an invited speaker at Make/Think, one stream of the AIGA’s biannual design conference. What’s she going to talk about?

The Design of Google

With billions of searches per day, Google.com brings real meaning to designing at scale. Just as important are the human touches – such as Google Doodles – which serve Google’s fundamental design mission, to delight its users. As its products reach people from 150 countries speaking more than 100 languages, Google’s design team has had to develop a unique philosophy for user-centred design. Marissa Mayer, who guides the user experience on Google.com and several other properties, will explore how both empiricism and personality are essential to good design.

First, do you think Google actually has “design” or “human touches”? But in case you’re new to this whole issue, allow me to recap:

Shorter Marissa Mayer: We’d prefer to vacuum up the legal rights to contributors’ artworks than listen to informed advice from the designer we hired.

This is AIGA’s fault

Design conferences like these are an exercise in hero worship. In the same program in which Mayer will speak are established designers like Stefan Bucher and Carin Goldberg, plus a few newbies thrown in as ringers. There is an implied endorsement of the speaker, though I wouldn’t say there is an equivalent implied endorsement of the speaker’s ultimate onstage remarks.

What’s being endorsed is everything that made the speaker famous enough to get invited to a design conference in the first place. What Mayer is actually famous for is impeding Web design under cover of quantifying it. As such, I view it as a minor scandal that AIGA would ask a known enemy of actual graphic design onto its dais.

I also note an undercurrent of what Americans call affirmative action. The computer, the search engine, the typeface, the layout, the CSS do not know you’re a girl, but conference organizing committees sure as hell do. In a perpetuation of the myth that women are disadvantaged in graphic design (they aren’t), Mayer’s bio explicitly lists her as Google’s “first female engineer,” an implied qualification to speak about a field that isn’t engineering.

Who’d have expected that mild-mannered designer dad Doug Bowman would have this much impact? Marissa Mayer goes on TV, and now infiltrates the enemy on the enemy’s watch, in a publicity offensive to distract people from the truth: Google is engaged in a campaign to discredit the field of graphic design by quantifying it out of existence.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.07.15 15:23. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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