OMG! GOOGLE?! NOOOOOO!
Yes, when I first saw the new Google logo my reaction was negative. I was prompted to discover the new logo via text from my friend Jason. Jason works at Google and has known about this change for some time; he was wise—and bound by contractual agreement—to not tell me about it. This would have been a hard secret to keep. I’m fairly certain I would have kept it, but I’m glad I wasn’t tested.
Rather than rant simply about the type and the change, I would prefer to look at this brand identity change in the context of the evolution of Google as a corporation.
This is the second big move in their brand and corporate structure that Google has announced in the past month. Larry Page and Sergei Brin announced their new umbrella company Alphabet on August 10. Three weeks later, today—September 1—they dropped their new Google logo on the world. The creation of the Alphabet parent company is a far more significant change for the Google brand. Reportedly, Google as we once knew it—formerly the parent company of all Google companies—has been demoted to the rank of elder sibling. The parent company of YouTube, Android, AdMob, DoubleClick, Google, et al is now Alphabet. Google’s core business will now be universal search, search advertising, and analytics. It will remain the largest of the Alphabet companies, but Google is attempting to cede its identity as parent company to the Alphabet brand name.
Given its dominance in our lives and commerce in the past decade-and-a-half, The perception shift of Google as anything other than GOOGLE will take time. A brand is ultimately a perception, held by an audience or consumer about an entity. The consumers’ interaction and information shapes their perception of the entity creating an individual and collective impression—we have come to refer to this as the brand. With unparalleled reach and seemingly inexhaustible resources, Google/Alphabet has what it needs to make this shift in perception happen. How successful they are with the invention of Alphabet remains to be seen.
My early prediction is that in the public’s mind, Alphabet will be to Google what PepsiCo is to Pepsi. PepsiCo is not a brand that pops to mind for consumers unless they invest in the snack food business. I would offer that PepsiCo is hardly a brand at all; it is a holding company for other brands—Frito-Lay, Quaker, Tropicana, Lipton, Gatorade, and Pepsi. Alphabet will be of interest mostly to the stock market and its investors as the publicly held mega-corporation with the king’s ransom of a share price.
Returning to PepsiCo for a moment, I think there is something in PepsiCo’s history that may be a reasonable predictor for the future of the Alphabet companies. In 1997, PepsiCo spun off its fast food restaurant businesses—Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC—as Tricon Global Restaurants. In 2001, Tricon acquired the holding company of Long John Silver’s and A&W restaurants and was rebranded as Yum! Brands (sidenote– exclamation points in brand names are just dumb dumb dumb).
The strategic positioning of Alphabet may have been conjured for a similar kind of corporate shuffling with the former Google companies. Alphabet would serve as a kind of blast protection for big corporate moves, and could minimize the impact to the individual brands. Stockholders would be more confident in the long term health of Google if Alphabet sells off, say, Android. For a business poised to lead for decades to come, this is probably a very smart decision.
So what about that new Google logo?
My opinion on the relative success of this solution is of little consequence. But I do have something of a vested interest. Google has been one of my larger clients since 2011.
In the last few years I have collaborated with Google companies on dozens of projects. I have used the previous two Google logos extensively in videos I have created for Google marketing. When I first began using the logo, I quietly rebelled against the brand guidelines that dictated that the logo should include the highlights and shadows that made it appear like it was made from colorful plastic. I opted for Google’s bright solid colors, without any shadows or highlights. Google eventually came around to my way of thinking and abandoned the plastic candy treatment. In May 2014, that version was tweaked slightly in a way that was virtually unseen to the public. The height and placement of the lower case g and l were altered slightly.
I became a fan of Google logo, set in the typeface Catull, in its bright primary colors and green. It felt like a collaborator in my work. I will miss that Google.
That Catull Google gave the brand a human personality with letters based on calligraphic forms. Pedants would remind me that all letters are based on calligraphic forms, adapted from characters created by the human hand. But Catull is more calligraphic; it includes chiseled serifs and an elegant contrast in thicks and thins that made for a lyrical grace in the appearance of the Google brand. The Google aesthetic beyond the brand mark and Google doodles is predominantly sober, simple to the point of a sparse austerity, devoid of decoration. That serifed logo was a welcome flourish, a reminder that all of this collected data and enterprise was related to human activity and interaction.
And now a new logo, and a new upper case G brand mark. The standalone 4 color G will serve as the favicon and will likely replace the lowercase g in Google app logos. The typeface is a geometric sans serif created for Google—Product Sans. In the canon of type design it falls somewhere between the elegant modernism of Paul Renner’s Futura (1927) and the stark geometric beauty of the 70s-own Avant Garde designed by Herb Lubalin, Tom Carnase, and others. That geometric space occupied by Futura and Avant Garde has been attempted often (see also Kabel). The best modern examples of success in geometric typefaces are Adrian Frutiger’s Avenir (1988), and the popular Gotham (2000) by Tobias Frere-Jones.
All of the mentioned precedents for Google’s Product typeface are better than what I have seen in this new logo. These letterforms—in this weight—are heavy and inelegant. There is something oddly naïve about the logo for this company that seems to know everything. Its proportions and gestalt feel toylike and trivial, where the Catull Google felt sharp and smart. The initial cap G feels off-balance, as if the top arc was cut short as it was drawn on clockwise. The lower case g feels very pedestrian and boring, particularly when seen in the context of the two story g’s with bowls that were considered. The l is an entirely unremarkable green rectangle compared to the elegant Catull l. And that slanted e seems to exist only as a nod to the diagonal thrust of the previous logo’s e. Here, and as seen in a logo animation, the slant seems mostly an afterthought.
But there is an intent to this design. I believe it was created to be subservient to Alphabet. In an attempt to shift focus, Google is aiming to humble themselves and their appearance. By creating a lighter mood for their identity, they may appear less the megalithic dominating force that they are.
The resulting logo is a cold, calculated retooling of the Google brand, one that was manufactured to fulfill the corporate edict. Why should it be anything other than that?
My conclusion is this—the new Google logo appears to be a mark designed by analytics and engineers, not designers. In that, it is both entirely appropriate, and—for me—terribly sad.