The Doodle Story

Doodles are absent-minded drawings, but Google decided to make them anything but that.


Photo credit: Google/Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sanjana Vijayabaskar

In 1998, even before incorporation, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, chose to go creative to let everyone know that they were, “out-of-office” for the Burning Man Festival in the deserts of Nevada. On the homepage of the browser, they decided to place a stick man drawing behind one of the ‘o’s in Google, beginning what has now become an official, organized task by a team.

In its early stages, the Doodles were neither hyperlinked nor animated, they were simple drawings with hover texts that described the occasion they represented. Eventually, the first animated Doodle was featured in January 2010 to commemorate Sir Isaac Newton’s 367th birthday, where an apple could be seen falling from a branch. Later that year, the first interactive Doodle was published to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac Man, with an “Insert Coin” button replacing the “I’m Feeling Lucky Button”, that enabled the user to play the game and also add a player. Gradually, hyperlinks that lead to the search results for the theme/topic of the doodle came about.

Artists like Jennifer Hom, Ranganath Krishnamani, Dennis Hwang, among others, have been a part of the “Doodlers” team, creating Doodles that celebrate not just important events and public holidays, but also artists, famous personalities and historic events. The Doodlers were no longer just a team of employees when the “Doodle 4 Google” was launched. This competition let school students across nations design their own Doodles, where the winning Doodles would be featured on the homepage and its creator would win a visit to the Googleplex and/or a cash prize. As of 2019, the Doodles amount to around 4,000.

Although these Doodles were initially designed to celebrate holidays and commemorate achievements and historical figures, they eventually turned into a form of audience engagement and interaction for Google. This change in dynamics added the weight of responsible decision making on their part: deciding which of the many events falling on the same day should be prioritized.

From choosing Roald Dahl over Rosh Hashanah and not featuring Memorial Day and Veterans Day in 2007; to choosing Japanese Go player, Honinbo Shusaku over the D-Day invasion in 2014, to featuring Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist and member of the Revolutionary Action Movement on its US homepage in 2016, Google faced criticism and created controversy, that often resulted in quick alterations to the Doodles and even erased records of the controversial ones.

These criticisms weren’t just limited to the choice of people being featured but also their lack of gender and racial representation that was highlighted in a report by the SPARK Movement in 2014. Following this, Google decided to increase the representation of women and racial minorities in proportion.

Despite the occasional adversities, Google Doodles play an important role in interacting with their diverse audience to commemorate and spread information about distinguished individuals, important events and create social awareness. To spread awareness about the ongoing pandemic, Google had its Doodlers design animated Doodles that emphasized wearing masks and practising social distancing. Doodles were also used to encourage people to have fun indoors and to thank frontline workers and coronavirus warriors.

Apart from issues that require serious attention, the Doodles also feature sports matches, like the World Cup and the Olympics. They focus on regional events through the doodles, to connect with people from all over the world and make Google feel closer to home. They also share information on discoveries and inventions across the globe. For instance, they featured a Doodle where Google was written with water-like graphics to announce the discovery of water on the Moon. Google decided to take it a step further by not focusing only on popular figures and worldly events, but also conveying their wishes to their users with their Happy Birthday doodles.

Something that started as an in-house comical announcement has now grown into one of the most beloved creations all over the world, managing to provide knowledge to their users. In Larry Page’s words, “My goal is for Google to lead, not follow.” Google has made simple art into a daily campaign that speaks for itself, unlike anything before.

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