Google has changed its logo… or has it?

Google has changed its logo… or has it?

Google’s new logo comes hot on the heels of Tokyo’s logo debacle. It’s a good news story that represents the evolution of a successful brand, done in the opposite way and for the opposite reasons as Tokyo’s. That’s a good thing.

But is this a rebrand, as some websites describe it, a new logo, or merely a new typeface?

Let us explore.

First, the typeface. It’s called Product Sans, and it’s been developed exclusively for Google. Expect to see knock-off versions appearing on free font websites from next week. But is it really a new typeface? Those with the 1988 Letraset book (you know who you are) have probably already gone back to see how much it differs from Avant Garde Gothic Medium, with its character-set alternates that don’t usually make their way into computer fonts.

Avant Garde Gothic in the 1988 Letraset book

Avant Garde Gothic in the 1988 Letraset book

Well, you can see that they aren’t entirely identical, but it’s evident where Google is coming from on this one. I entirely applaud this. Avant Garde enjoyed a spell of popularity in the 1990s with the rise of Postscript printers, but it tended to get used in the wrong places. It is a beautiful font, one of the best of the geometrics, and it is a fine thing that its heritage is now in the Google logo.

But what of the logo itself?

Just quickly Google ‘evolution of Google logo’, will you? Seriously, you owe it to yourself to do this via Google rather than taking my word for it.

What you’ll see is that from 1999 onwards, the logo has been entirely consistent. The early 1998 version had a green initial G. The 1998-99 version had an exclamation mark. From the 1999 version, the colours have stayed the same, only the typeface and treatment have changed.

As Daniel Kahneman pointed out in Thinking Fast and Slow, what we see first is the colour of a logo, then its shape, and finally its content. Distinctive colour is hugely important, which is why Cadbury was not happy when a competitor wanted to use purple to sell its own chocolates.

As a general rule, we discourage multi-coloured logos. Apple’s original logo was multi-coloured, and there were Apple devices which may have cost more to emboss and print that logo on than to construct the functional part of the device. Now the world’s biggest brand, Apple has opted for a purely monochrome device. Very nice.

The reason for avoiding multi-coloured logos, though, is mainly to do with consistent reproduction and efficient reproduction. Every colour on the original Apple logo was a separate print process. A multi-coloured logo means you always have to print in CMYK separations, or print four separate Pantone plates. When printing in CMYK, the colours are never quite right anyway.

The exception, of course, is for a logo which exists only in the online world. Yes, you do occasionally see ‘Google’ printed, but you know that the ‘real’ Google logo is the one on your screen. Not only can it be as many colours as Google likes, but it’s more appropriate if it is, especially for a search engine dedicated to producing the most varied results possible, based on your query.

Logo designers (quite correctly) like to fix the form of the logo absolutely, even down to the white space surrounding it. When an organisation receives its branding instructions, they come with stern warnings not to rotate, squeeze, distort, layer, shadow or do anything else with it that is not explicitly allowed in the Corporate Identity Guide.

Google has never played by those rules. The common points are: always the word Google (it was originally called ‘Backrub, but we’ll forget about that), and always, since 1998, in Blue-Red-Yellow-Blue-Green-Red. For the rest, Google plays with its logo on an almost daily basis. Christmas versions, Halloween versions, commemoration of a famous person versions, and much more.

The core of Google’s logo is the distinctive name, and the colours. That’s it. Unless brand-fascists have taken over, we will probably continue to see the playful transformations to suit the days and seasons.

So, rebrand, new logo, or just a tweak?

For my money, it’s a tweak. The Google logo is the name and the colours. I would be willing to accept that it genuinely is a new logo, though, especially to avoid a fight (someone threatened to defriend my on Facebook this week just because he didn’t like my views on spacing).

A rebrand, though? No, not at all. The essence of the Google brand remains the same: the easiest and most trusted search-engine, coupled with a variety of useful and interesting extensions, not all of which are guaranteed to work. Google-plus? Never really caught on. Google Maps? Indispensable to many. Google Mail? Lifeblood for some, anathema to others. Google Hangouts? To be honest, I’m not even really sure what they are, though I do remember trying them. Googling is an officially accepted word (if you think the Oxford English Dictionary makes things official). The Google name is inextricably linked with ‘to Google’. Not bad for something which began as a spelling mistake.

Your brand is a combination of what you promise, what you deliver, and how you present it. We’ve seen a minor change to Google’s presentation: a different typeface, but less different from the ones it tries out during a typical year. What it promises (successful Googling) and what it delivers (well, the same as that) are unchanged. It is the same brand. And long may it be so.

In the meantime, let us continue to reflect on the fact that almost all great brands simplify their logos as time goes on. Food for thought for anyone contemplating making theirs more complicated.


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