Design By Numbers

Via kottke.org, I found this blog post from a departing Google employee with some strikingly resonant themes:

Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” 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.

Analyzing data has a cost, even if it is only a day of time and not focus testing forty-one shades of blue. You can cut that cost significantly by hiring skilled designers who aren’t blinded by the art and engineering problems faced day to day and who only focus on the design problems. But the difference between capital D design above and game design is that everyone thinks they know game design. Everyone’s opinion is just as valuable as the next because everyone plays games, right?

I’ve worked with a lot of engineers in decision-making roles previously and they all without exception follow the “data as arbiter” approach to which apparently Google is addicted. It certainly has its place as designers aren’t Oracles, but designers aren’t to be hired just to make decisions the crowd and powers-that-be agree with but to make decisions based on a underlying design consistency that may be an initial hard-sell. So why do you pay your designer again?

2 Comments

  1. This is a great post, thanks. I’ve read stopdesign in the past but would have missed this entry.

    This is frustrating information for me, because I’ve been attempting to push game design in a more objective, goal oriented direction. Every time I see designers arguing over personal opinions in a design meeting, I see that as a failure of process.

    I really think we do need to start stating our goals up front, and evaluate whether or not those goals are being met, in terms of some form of data. I don’t think we need to go as far as google has, but part of the problem with everybody thinking they can design games is that we allow game design to be too much about random subjective opinions.

    We’re not here to make games based on our whims and personal opinions, we’re trying to achieve goals, and resonate with a certain kind of player, or produce a certain kind of fun which can be defined by thought processes x, y, and z.

    Ok, enough of me ranting in your comments thread heh. If you’re interested, here are some other articles on the subject:

    mikedarga.blogspot.com/2009/01/kill-subjectivity-define-terms-problems.html
    mikedarga.blogspot.com/2008/12/think-more-like-scientist.html
    mikedarga.blogspot.com/2009/03/glossary-essentialism.html
    mikedarga.blogspot.com/2009/03/20-behaviors-of-great-designers.html

    Mike

  2. Thanks, Mike, those are great points.

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