For nearly 25 years Google have created illustrations ranging from historical to whimsical. Introducing a splash of colour, a breath of life, and sometimes.. a revolution.
For those somehow unfamiliar – I doubt people like this truly exist, but humour me – the Google Doodle is an almost daily feature on Google’s very spartan homepage. And one which breaks a lot of design rules. In a previous blog, we outlined the disastrous effect of Gap tampering with their iconic logo. It’s a perfect example of why messing with brand recognisability is dangerous. But over time, Google have become so confident and powerful in their position as market leaders, that they’re able to quite heavily alter their logo, without compromising their prestige.
So what are Google Doodles? Well, like any forward facing company, conscious of presenting themselves as human and relatable, these images focus on events, holidays and noteworthy historical figures. Sometimes this can take the form of a portrait in one of Google’s letter Os. Other times, we will see a picturesque landscape painting with the word Google hidden subtly in the scenery. But no matter where their focus is or what the subject matter happens to be, the choice of what warrants a Doodle is an expression of the personality and belief structure within the company. To an extent, you could say that they serve as mini brand stories: putting their company very clearly front-and-centre, while outlining where their priorities lie.
What’s most interesting is not necessarily where Google’s attention has been but how early on this feature was adopted. I won’t bore you with the full history but in 1998, before Google was even incorporated, they temporarily put an image of a stick figure behind their logo to celebrate Burning Man. These humble changes didn’t start out with any particular purpose or agenda, they were simply an extension of the company’s irreverent attitude to stuffy outdated practices. It was an injection of personality that grew from an assignment for outsourced designers to a major in-house design operation.
From there, the concept was expanded to a wider team and beyond the borders of Google’s founding nation. Suddenly the handful of Thanksgiving and Christmas images were accompanied by non US centric events such as German Unity Day, Hinamatsuri and the Cricket World Cup, as well as countless others. Since then, Google have created over 5000 doodles. All of which require internal brainstorming by the “Doodlers,” to ensure reflection of significant events and individuals around the world. But also to present them in a unique, engaging and interesting way.
But in 2010, something very interesting happened. As the internet’s capacity to process data grew, Google upped the ante. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, Google introduced their first interactive Doodle. Sure, there had been a giant leap from static imagery to exciting and dynamic motion graphics. But this was different. Now there was the opportunity to change the image, add motion, but also to harness interactivity. No matter what you came to the site to search for, suddenly your eye is caught by the novel redesign. You wonder, “What are they celebrating today?” The image moves and keeps your attention longer. Before finally you realise that by instinctively clicking the image, you are taken into a full game of Pac-Man.
Entertaining yet still educational and ephemeral. Google had stepped into a world usually reserved for cherry blossoms and aligning planets – a brief collective experience, that you could witness and be part of, before it slipped away. A fleeting curiosity and break from your daily life.
Of course, no company gets it right 100% of the time. And when so many eyes are set on where you choose to strike your colours, discord is always waiting in the wings. This can take the form of platforming events or individuals that can later become controversial or despised. Or it could be a jostling for prominence. So many calendar days are shared by different international observances. Case in point, 21st of March has several notable commemorations. It’s simultaneously International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, World Poetry Day, World Down Syndrome Day and International Day of Forests. So if you’re at Google and planning your annual calendar, what do you do? Toss a coin? Or sidestep all of them by choosing Bach’s birthday?
And that’s before we even get to the political minefield of independence days and religious holidays. Both in terms of how they are visually represented and which takes precedence in which region. It’s enough to make you wonder why you’re drawing all these images up in the first place.
24 years later, Google Doodles have their own YouTube channel acting as a gallery, a collection of short films, detailing the stories behind the subjects. As well as an expansive searchable archive that serves as a catalogue of creativity. And as with all good thought leaders, the world waits with bated breath to see where they will take their Doodles next. Whether that’s further interactivity and complexity or a broader field of inspiration, thanks to their Doodle for Google competition.