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A response to "The Extreme Google Brain"

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A blogger named Joe Clark just made a post called The Extreme Google Brain. In it, he takes a side on the recent tiff between lead designer Douglas Bowman and Google, where the former left the latter out of frustration at having to prove every design decision with real-world test data.

Joe Clark whole-heartedly agrees with Bowman, as many others do (I myself am somewhat torn). However, I find Clark’s article to be a ridiculous rant, full of stereotyping, fact-inventing, name-calling, and other marks of awful opinion pieces.

One frequently-used tactic in his piece is the inventing of a fact, followed by a single related fact that’s supposed to prove it. Case in point:

Some of these boys and men exhibit extreme-male-brain tendencies, including an ability to focus obsessively for long periods of time, often on inanimate objects or abstractions (hence male domination of engineering and high-end law).

Yes, males dominate engineering and high-end law. However, the cause is the topic of endless debates, and yet Clark claims it’s due to “extreme-male-brain tendencies” like he read it in a science textbook. This “here’s a fact I made up (hence an already-known, tangentially-related fact)” pattern repeats itself a few times.

When he’s not making up facts, he’s stereotyping a group of tens of thousands of people based on the few he knows.

Apart from Bowman, I can think of only two Google employees I could stand to be around for longer than an elevator ride. My impression of “Googlers,” which I concede is based on little direct knowledge and is prejudicial on its face [note: apologizing in advance does not make it okay to say something idiotic], is one of undersocialized, uncultured, pampered, arrogant faux-savants who have cultivated an arrested adolescence that the Google working environment further nurtures. Their computer-programming skills, the sole skills valued by the company, camouflage the flaws of their neuroanatomy. Their brains are beautifully suited to the genteel eugenics program that is the Google hiring process but are broken for real-world use.

You get the picture. Throughout the rest of the article, he:

  • Contends that A/B testing has no value.
  • Makes up scenarios that he believes (and “speculate[s] that Bowman would not disagree”) accurately represent Google meetings.
  • Tells us that we can’t disagree with Bowman and still feel that technology juggernauts are becoming better at visual design.
  • Says that when a company uses anti-design (extremely minimal and not-necessarily-beautiful designs such as Google or Craigslist) and succeeds, they’re succeeding despite the anti-design. He then concedes that can’t prove it, but assures that if you’re “visually literate” (which Adobe defines as the “ability to construct meaning from visual images”, which anyone older than an infant can consistently do), you “just know it”.

There isn’t really much else to say about this. I’ve read quite a few articles that side with Bowman, and quite a few that side with Google, and many of them on each side were great articles with great points. This was not one of them. I’ve never heard of Joe Clark before, and based on this, I hope I never do again.