SAN FRANCISCO— From a marketing standpoint Google, the enormously profitable Internet search engine, separated itself from the competition early on with its homepage, the iconic Google logo on a blank white screen. The stark design emphasizes the company’s view that it's a search engine, not a news or entertainment site. The homepage never changes, except for those Doodles, the artistic, sometimes funny, sometimes baffling renderings with the logo hidden within - that occasionally appear and have become famous.
Anyone who uses Google will occasionally notice a Doodle, a specially designed logo to commemorate holidays, like Chinese New Year, or obscure anniversaries, like the date the London subway system opened 150 years ago, or a quirky tribute like this Zamboni animation, depicting the machine used to resurface ice skating rinks.
These artistic renderings of the Google logo may bring more users to its homepage. But Ryan Germick, the chief Doodler, said their value to the company isn't found in a traditional business plan.
“Ahh, the existential question of 'why'? We are here to surprise and delight our users and to humanize Google,” he said.
Unlike the business side of Google that constantly analyses data and usage, the Doodles, he said, are evaluated on subjective criteria.
“We look at social networks. We look at press. You know, do we make each other laugh or smile with the thing we are doing? And try to have a more of an emotional connection rather than like this is converting more clicks than the last one,” said Germick.
Doodler Jennifer Hom said the team creates more than 300 Doodles each year in many different languages, but stays away from topics that are political or controversial.
“We basically think of anything that is innovative, artistic and nerdy, something that is appropriate for Google,” said Hom.
She said Doodle ideas can come from just about anywhere. Many, like the suggestion for an interactive rendering of a "buckyball" - a form of carbon composed of 60 atoms that looks like a molecule - come from inside the company.
“I never heard of what this was, but there were like 10 to 12 people in Google who are obsessed with buckyballs," said Hom.
Google's culture of innovation, the relaxed environment, the mix of work and play helps the creative process.
Doodle Engineer Khris Hom, no relation to Jennifer, animates artists' drawings. He said he first got involved with the team as part of a program to nurture innovation and growth.
“My involvement started out as a 20 percent project, which is a phenomenon at Google, where engineers get to spend one day a week or 20 percent of their time working on whatever they want. So I was building some little animation, and someone from the Doodle team saw them and said can you do that on the home page, and I’ve been having a blast here since,” he said.
These Google Doodlers say the irreverent humor of the artwork reflects that culture of innovation and the idea that Google should be a fun place to work or visit online.