The Google logo as we knew it came into existence 16 years ago, when Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were just PhD students at Stanford University – albeit students with a small company and a big vision. Ruth Kedar, principal at Kedar Designs and the designer of the old Google logo, was a professor at the university when she was introduced to Page and Brin, who were looking for someone to create Google’s logo and brand identity. The project, which took roughly only two months to complete, resulted in a logo that has now represented the company for close to two decades.
A week after a common friend connected Kedar to Page and Brin, she received an email asking “if we could talk about possibly designing a brand for Google,” says Kedar. Initially, there was no brief; it was more of a conversation. As Kedar explains, Google was just a small company with five or six employees and it had gone through its very first round of funding at the time. “They were at a place where they had to talk it out,” she says. They were at least talking to one other designer at the time, but, Kedar says, it was probably her approach that made her stand out. Kedar has done her fair share of traveling the world and understanding different cultures – something that, she thinks, translates into her work. “I kind of live in two worlds. I love technology and come from a tech background as well as an artistic and aesthetic one,” she says. Her interest in how products and technology have developed symbiotically means that she’s looking to turn her work into something that can continue to evolve with the brand as it grows.
What’s going on?
Google wasn’t exactly anti-establishment, but it was looking to bring in a fresh culture and a way of doing things – typical of the youth. Kedar says that, at the time, the Internet was really in its infancy. Although it had been around for a while, in terms of universal adoption, “people weren’t really going in droves to use it – unless you were in computer science”. Psychologically, people were also intimidated by this new technology: “They were afraid of using the Internet and making mistakes, [as if] you would click on a button and the world would explode.” This presented Kedar with the challenge of making Google accessible in a way that would establish trust, so users could initiate and engage with something they didn’t fully understand.
On the other hand, while analyzing the competition and what other brands – such as AltaVista, Netscape, Hotbot – were doing on the Internet, Kedar realized that a lot of it was jarring and amateurish. “They were either taking a newspaper pretty much the way it is in print and putting it out there, or thinking that it’s a completely new technology and forgetting everything we’ve ever learnt about aesthetics,” she says.
This or that
At some point, it was collectively decided that the logo would be typographical, instead of a symbol. It was important to Page and Brin that the word Google stayed prominent. “From the get-go, it was clear that it [the logo] wouldn’t be a huge icon with the company’s name in small font next to it,” says Kedar. She worked on various iterations, combining typography and symbols, but, “at the end, we decided that we were getting a lot more if we would take away any imagery that, in some ways, would limit the ability [of the logo],” she adds. A good decision, considering that the logo, which was created when Google was only a search company, has continued to represent the organization through its vast expansion and diversification.
Kedar explains that fonts are very influenced by technology. For instance, the letterforms of the Phoenicians were influenced by the fact that they used chisels on clay; the Greeks used chisels on marble and had to write from left to right and vice versa, resulting in a certain symmetry in their letterforms; and the use of the quill led to the cursive style of writing. Kedar wondered how the new font she was planning to create for the logo would fit in with this new technology. “For me, search is where the past and future meet,” she says. “Today, you’re looking for something that exists in the past so you can solve a problem for the future.” That’s why she wanted to use a typeface that was a connection between the past and the future: something that was classic and yet modern. “I also wanted to play with colors and be a little irreverent – even if we’re going primary – and play with fonts, so it wouldn’t feel monolithic, corporate and daunting, but inviting and playful,” she explains.
A new world
When the new logo was being designed, no one anticipated that Google would become the giant it is today. “No one imagined it would be this huge, because what happened in the last 16 years is the stuff of science fiction,” says Kedar. She did buy into Page and Brin’s version of being “big, but no one knew ‘big’ meant this big,” she adds. Although Kedar didn’t work on the minor tweaks to the logo she created and wasn’t approached for the new logo either, she admits that rebranding a company is way harder than creating a brand when you have a clean slate. With a rebranding, the company is dealing with “a very complex problem”, since it already has a history that users relate to, a presence in the minds of consumers, critics and competitors – and “here you are, saying to the world, ‘Wait a minute, I actually mean this’.”
Most technology giants, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, started off the same way as Google did – by placing importance on typography. “There is so much choice for consumers today for any given product and we have very short attention spans. We move very quickly between things. So, if you’re a new brand looking to establish yourself, it makes sense for you to put your name out there and make it recognizable,” she explains. Going by the progression of these companies’ logos, it seems that, once the name has become identifiable and has resonated with consumers, brands can chisel it down to something more symbolic. “So, Twitter has gone through different iterations and, now, it can be distilled to the bird. Today, if you see an F in a blue background, you’ll recognize it as Facebook,” adds Kedar.
Google seems to be doing the same thing with its new logo by distilling it down to the multicolored G. For Kedar, this simplification of the Google logo – and its form, more specifically – is an opportunity to continue to address challenges and new areas of business – even ones that it’s not aware of. Yet.