The secret life of Google doodles
MANILA, Philippines - There are days when we just open the Google home page, Google something and then forget about it.
Then there are days when we open Google and see the logo magically transformed into a set of toys, a Japanese calligraphy painting, a small mountain village or a basket of Faberge eggs.
Before we know it, we have spent time playing around with those interactive Google logos; so much time that we have forgotten what we were going to Google in the first place.
We imagine Google “doodles,” as these special logos are called, to come from somewhere mysterious and far away. But last month, I was able to chat with one of the few professional Google doodlers in existence, an artist whose work is seen by millions yet who many probably have not heard of before.
Jennifer Hom is a 25-year-old Chinese-American who, as a little girl from Rhode Island, New York, loved to “draw unicorns and lots of girly stuff.”
She convinced her parents to send her to art school where she further honed her painting and drawing skills. One day, Google visited her school looking for artists. They saw her work and recruited her.
Jennifer’s first doodle was for the 89th birthday of Hachiko, the dog who waited 9 years for his dead master at a train station in Japan and became a beloved symbol of family loyalty for the Japanese.
She also drew the doodle celebrating painter Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday, a little work of art in itself that is astonishingly similar to the original “The Kiss” painting.
The extremely popular animated doodle for legendary Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday is her work. It took 4 months to make and features the Queen hit, “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Watch the doodle here.
The first doodle was born in 1998 when Google founders put a stick figure in the logo’s second “o” to tell users that they were attending the Burning Man Festival in Nevada and would therefore be “out of the office.”
Two years later, they created a doodle for Bastille Day, a doodle so well-received by users that they decided to make doodles more often.
To date, Google has come up with over 1,000 doodles celebrating every kind of anniversary or event from the invention of the zipper to the London Olympics. There is now a team composed of illustrators and engineers solely devoted to the creation of doodles.
The making of a doodle
With so many things to celebrate, how does Google decide what to make a doodle for?
“A doodle has to reflect the personality of Google, our love for innovation, technology and anything groundbreaking. We also see it as a sort of stamp. Is that person or event important enough to have a stamp?” explains Jennifer.
Ideas for doodles come from inside and outside Google. Sometimes, Google employees would suggest events that are relevant to their specific country such as Hachiko’s birthday for the Japanese and the Indonesian Independence Day. But basically, anyone can suggest a doodle by emailing the doodle team at firstname.lastname@example.org
After the creation of doodle ideas comes intensive research. In this aspect, doodles are a serious business.
“So many people look at our doodles. If we make a mistake, we get lots of angry emails from scientists or historians,” says Jennifer.
This is why they rely on cultural expertise especially when it comes to country-specific doodles. In making the Indonesian Independence Day doodle, Jennifer consulted Indonesian Google employees. It was one of them who suggested she use the games that Indonesian children play on that day in her design.
With so many special occasions happening regularly such as Christmas and the Olympics, how do doodlers keep doodles of the same theme interesting?
The answer is a very Google one: ceaseless innovation and an eye for fresh details.
Jennifer says, “We’ve changed dramatically in terms of style. Now, we have interactive doodles. The best way to see how doodles have evolved is to look at all the Halloween doodles.”
The first of its kind, the Halloween 1999 doodle is a stone-age painting compared to the latest Halloween doodle, a crisply drawn delight complete with spooky sounds and doorways that reveal monsters in the shape of “Google” letters when clicked.
While static doodles take 2 to 4 hours to make, interactive doodles, such as the complex Little Nemo in Slumberland tribute by Jennifer, can take up to 6 months.
Then there are the really cool interactive doodles like the Les Paul one, celebrating the iconic guitar’s 96th anniversary. The doodle, in the shape of a guitar, can be strummed to create your own melodies, with each “string” creating its own sound. You can hit the record button and record your own songs.
Jennifer says hundreds of users, delighted by the doodle, even sent their recordings to the team. You can check out the doodle here.
The same concept drives the doodle for Robert Moog’s 78th birthday. Moog, who pioneered electronic music in America, invented the Moog synthesizer. The doodle is a Moog synthesizer on which users can create their own electronic music. Try it here.
You want to doodle too?
If doodling is sounding like the perfect job for you, you’re in luck because Jennifer says they are in search of more doodlers. Certain characteristics set apart a true-born doodler from the crowd.
“We’re looking for people who have stylistic diversity [in their drawing style], unabashed nerdiness and a willingness to push their artistic boundaries,” says Jennifer.
Its doodlers like Jennifer who strive everyday to continue that spirit of interaction and creativity on Google’s homepage. A doodle is more than just a fancy Google logo. According to Jennifer, it’s Google’s way of saying, “We’re humans, not just a search engine. We have interests, personalities and quirks.”
And above all, it’s a way to celebrate the collective spirit of humanity, our tradition of celebrating together and as one.
In Jennifer’s words, doodles are “a greeting card for our users.” - Rappler.com