The Science of Color

blueSunday’s New York Times has a piece on Google’s Marissa Meyer, an engineer, designer, and Silicon Valley celebrity.  There’s a nugget in this article about how seriously Google takes the little things and how evidence trumps intuition in its culture.  Here’s an excerpt describing a disagreement about the shade of a color used in a toolbar.

…[T]here’s a measure of protection for her in guidelines and decisions based on research, not on subjective whims. “Then it doesn’t become, ‘Who does Marissa like better?’ ” she says.

Despite such good intentions, Ms. Mayer sometimes appears to allow subjectivity — albeit temporarily — to reign as she helps steer Google along. How she navigates that divide surfaced during a recent kerfuffle over what shade of blue to use for the toolbar on Google pages.

A designer, Jamie Divine, had picked out a blue that everyone on his team liked. But a product manager tested a different color with users and found they were more likely to click on the toolbar if it was painted a greener shade.

As trivial as color choices might seem, clicks are a key part of Google’s revenue stream, and anything that enhances clicks means more money. Mr. Divine’s team resisted the greener hue, so Ms. Mayer split the difference by choosing a shade halfway between those of the two camps.

Her decision was diplomatic, but it also amounted to relying on her gut rather than research. Since then, she said, she has asked her team to test the 41 gradations between the competing blues to see which ones consumers might prefer.

This approach echoes one of the guiding principles at the Center:  Intuition is not good enough.  At Google, intuition drove a group of engineers toward a shade of blue that’s less effective at garnering clicks than other shades.  In the pharmacy benefit, intuition drove programs with financially based incentives to improve health and value, while behaviorally based incentives often produce better results.

(Note: this entry originally appeared at

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