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Sunday, 1st November, 2015 | By Jeremy Girard | Category: Website Design and Development

Six Lessons from the Google School of Logo Design for a Digital World

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Recently, Google set the design world abuzz when they unveiled their new brand identity. Gone was the familiar, sophisticated serif font reminiscent of classic books and newspapers that rolled off the printing presses. In its place, a new mark that retains Google’s trademark rainbow of colors but with a new sans-serif typeface of the company’s own creation called “Product Sans.”

Love it or hate it, Google’s reasoning behind their redesign and what they hope to achieve with this new logo offer some interesting insights that any company in today’s multi-screen, multi-device world should take into consideration.

1. Size matters.

In their article rolling out the redesign, Google cites the need to “create a scalable mark that could convey the feeling of the full logotype in constrained spaces” as one of the challenges that they wanted to address.

The need to consider a variety of screen sizes has become incredibly important over the past few years with the growing adoption of small-screened devices – from mobile phones to wearables like smartwatches. The relatively tiny screens on these devices put space at a premium, and most brand marks that were created prior to the advent of these small screens struggle to adapt to a much smaller canvas.

For a visual brand to be successful in today’s world, you must ensure that it can scale and adapt to work effectively on any screen size or device.

2. You must consider the whole ecosystem.

In the not-too-distant past, when designing a new visual identity, there were only a limited number of applications that had to be taken into consideration: business cards, letterhead, signage, collateral materials, ads, product packaging, etc.

This is why many early websites were little more than digital brochures. Companies took what they already understood (printed brochures) and tried to port them over to a brand new medium (the Web). This was obviously not an optimal solution, and since then, web design has come a long way from the days of static brochure sites.

In much the same way, it’s time for logo design to evolve by taking into account the full array of digital platforms in which brands must reside today, including websites, mobile apps and social media sites, just to name a few. Taken as a whole, these make up a complex ecosystem with different channels that build upon and feed off of others.

As a result, Google’s new identity takes the form not of a singular logo but of a system comprised of three “elemental states” that are flexible enough to be used across all mediums and platforms:elements

  • Google logotype: The sans serif logtype retains Google’s signature multi-color sequence.
  • Dots: A dynamic distillation of the logotype that takes the form of four animated, perpetually moving dots that are used for interactive, assistive and transitional moments.
  • Google G: A compact version of the Google logo that works in small contexts.

When evaluating your own logo and how it translates across different platforms and channels, it’s important to make sure that all of its elements and iterations work together seamlessly so that they feel connected to your core brand identity in order to protect the integrity of your brand throughout the ecosystem.

3. There’s more to logo design than choosing a typeface.

Talk to someone who does not understand the nuances of design, and they are likely to assume that the process of creating a logo is comprised of little more than selecting an attractive font and maybe adding an illustrated icon in front of it. In truth, however, logo design is its own unique and complex discipline.

Just as Google did, any successful logo design process must consider the weight and legibility of that logo along with “spacing, clearance rules, and specification for in-product treatments.” It also must factor in big-picture thinking, such as how the logo will transform in various applications (when it must be displayed in black and white versus full color, for example) and whether it sets the right tone for the brand. Yes, using attractive letterforms is part of designing a quality logo, but this process goes way deeper than just font selection.

4. Performance matters.

How quickly a website loads is more important today than ever before. With mobile devices making up a larger and larger percentage of website traffic, and with emerging countries becoming an important part of the audience on the Web, the need to create sites that load quickly for all users is paramount. To accomplish this, website designers must look for ways to streamline a site’s overall file size.

The new Google logo is only 305 bytes, which is a significant decrease from the old logo, which weighed in at ~14,000 bytes. Google actually had to deliver a text-based, non-image version of their old logo in some instances, but the new one is so small that it can be delivered to all connections, keeping the brand identity consistent.

Overall performance is critical to the success of a website – after all, no one ever complains that a site loads too fast. You may not be thinking about download size and performance when creating a logo, but you should be, because improved performance should be a thread that runs through every decision you make on your website. Better performance can mean happier visitors, improved search engine rankings and better conversions rates for your website.

5. You can’t please everyone.

As soon as the new Google logo debuted, there were people praising the design as well as those tearing it down. Even within the design community, reactions on Twitter ranged from “The beautiful balance of utility and joy” to “I love the font in the new Google logo – a revival of Paul Renner’s rarely seen 1934 masterpiece, Futura Jackas” – proof that no matter how well-reasoned or well-intentioned the principles behind your design are, you simply cannot please everyone.

One of the most challenging realities of a redesign, whether it is for a logo, a website or an application, is that you are forcing change upon people who did not ask for or expect it. Even if the change is for the better, it’s human nature to favor the familiar and therefore to react strangely to a change that they did not initiate themselves. Couple this with the fact that people are more likely to contact you when they dislike something than when they like it, and a redesign can quickly generate what feels like an overwhelming amount of negative comments.

For some companies, this initial wave of critical feedback can be scary and may lead to the temptation to revert back to the old design. But you cannot give into this! If you followed a good process and if the new design is well thought-out and executed, you need to give it time for people to grow accustomed to it and embrace it.

You cannot please everyone, but given ample time, you will find that a quality redesign will win people over, and all of those detractors will fall silent.

6. Redesign for the right reasons.

Because introducing a new visual identity can be disorienting for your customers, and because there’s no purely scientific method to ensure your redesign will be well received, it’s important to make sure that there is good reason behind your decision to reinvent the look of your brand.

With Google, the logic behind their decision was clear: “Since its inception, the Google.com homepage has been strikingly simple: The quirky, multicolored logo sits above a single, approachable input field on a clean white canvas. But as technology moves forward, the canvas itself is changing, and the inputs and needs are becoming more diverse. New classes of devices and ways to interact and communicate have emerged with wearables, voice technology, and smart devices in the world around us. Users now engage with Google using a constellation of devices, and our brand should express the same simplicity and delight they expect from our homepage, while fully embracing the opportunities offered by each new device and surface.”

In short, Google needed a new identity that would represent the brand as effectively to someone who is typing keywords into a search bar on a desktop as one who is using a smartwatch as one who is using a device that may not yet even be conceived – or at least available to the general public.

Likewise, while you should never redesign your company’s logo just for the sake of redesign itself, if your brand has evolved since your logo was originally conceived – whether in terms of the products you offer, the audience you serve or the channels and platforms through which they interact with your brand – it may well be worth the risk to introduce a new, modernized identity that will support the growth of your company now and for many years to come.

Jeremy Girard
Jeremy Girard has been designing for the web since 1999. He is currently employed at the Providence, Rhode Island-based firm Envision Technology Advisors and also teaches website design and front-end development at the University of Rhode Island. In addition, Jeremy contributes regularly to a number of websites and magazines focused on business and the Web, including his personal site at Pumpkin-King.com.