Some say it’s the search algorithm. Others would attribute the success of Google to being in the right place at the right time. Then, there’s a knowledgeable group who believe that the simplicity of their design is what propelled them to greatness. The beauty of it is that they taught themselves.
“I had just assumed that Google was hostile to designers,” says Matias Duarte one afternoon this summer. We’re in a drab Google conference room at the Plex, and Duarte sports a red-and-yellow floral-print shirt, skinny khaki pants, and a pair of white sunglasses. With his short, matted hair, he looks more like a Madrid clubgoer than your typical schlubby Google engineer. That’s the point. Duarte is one of the most storied designers in the mobile software industry. In the early 2000s, he led the design team at Danger, where he helped create the Sidekick, a phone that became a hit with celebrities for its amenability to texting. Later, he led the team that built the critically acclaimed user interface for Palm’s mobile operating system.