What’s Up With Google?
Google’s new logos are odd, even for a company that prides itself on being unconventional. I woke up this morning questioning the Merlot I consumed the previous evening. My phone seemed to be celebrating an occasion I had obviously forgotten.
It took me a few seconds to realize that Google had embarked on yet another ‘branding’ journey culminating in a rainbow-like suite of logos. For those who have read my earlier posts, especially those pertaining to Google’s strange branding endeavors, this won’t end any better.
I get that Google embraces a bit of quirkiness, being ‘Googley’ as they refer to it. But, why do they consistently feel that internal understanding of their brand adventures mirrors external comprehension and acceptance?
First, Say Something Nice
It’s not uncommon for prominent companies to raise awareness about their new brand identities and the design language surrounding them. There is hardly an instance that I can think of, where a senior executive or design leader didn’t speak about the thought-process and intent behind the change.
Even when Google altered the iconic Google logo, they expressed their motivation eloquently on the Google design blog. I quite liked the rationale behind the redesign. I sensed a great deal of diligence behind the effort.
It must be said that the new Google logo borrowed from its predecessor and wasn’t really a paradigm shift from what we’ve all come to love and expect.
So, Why Do I Have An Issue Now?
Well, Google unified the visual language behind their new app logos, a move that flows from their decision to rebrand G-Suite as Google Workspace. This time though, they made a significant departure from the older designs.
In my opinion, Google pushed the unconventional envelope a little more than necessary when constructing these new logos. For instance, they did not incorporate an alphabetical cue to denote the app name, a practice followed by many. Additionally, all logos virtually exhibit the same mix of colors, gradients and angular shapes.
Users are left to decipher the illustrative elements of the logo which can be a little frustrating in the beginning. With time, this would wear off naturally.
I don’t really see a uniqueness to each logo aside from the obvious. The shared attributes make it crystal clear that they belong to Google. But, I wonder if using the same colors as the Google logo is such a good idea.
Does A Precedent Exist For App Logos?
Ever since the mobile screen became the primary platform for design, companies have been keen to create logo tiles that communicate the apps use while aligning them to the main brand or larger portfolio. Let’s consider Adobe and Microsoft for a moment. Does anything stand out… almost immediately?
Both Adobe and Microsoft employ a similar brand identity strategy. Each app is represented by a unique character and color code giving it a sense of individuality. Yet, they also retain a distinct quality that unifies them into a larger collective.
Apple on the other hand, takes the strategy in a different direction. As is customary with Apple, it builds equity in each of its offerings. Their app logos provide visual cues along with limited non-competing color combinations. There does not seem to be an obvious theme. The association of these apps with Apple is built through repetitive use and exposure on their platforms and devices.
Where Does That Leave Google?
By not conforming to these strategies, Google does not concede the opportunity to achieve similar results. It’s just that I don’t find the new logos very stimulating. They appear repetitive with colors and elements cannibalizing each other and competing for visual attention. It feels like an effort in excess.
At smaller sizes, they can be difficult to distinguish, especially when grouped together. The situation turns for the worse when placed against backgrounds with colors that pose visual interference.
To humor my thoughts a little, I attempted to illustrate below how the newer designs compare with the previous versions when clustered together on a mobile phone. I did feel a brief focus strain with the newer group.
On an all white background, the new app logos are easily recognizable and scream affiliation to Google’s stable. However, background personalization by users remains a prime influence to Google’s design strategy.
Google may have trapped itself to that white tile or at least to light and neutral backgrounds. Freeing the logos from their current backgrounds will leave them vulnerable to their environment.
On the positive side, they are a welcome distraction as not many logos are as colorful. So, this could still work out for them.
On a positive note, Google’s colorful designs are a welcome distraction, throwing unconventional at the monotony we have become accustomed to. Perhaps, preliminary research revealed that to the designers.
Where Is Google Taking A Risk?
Color psychology is an essential component of logo development. Our eyes are instantly drawn to color even when it lies in our peripheral vision. The trouble for Google is that their logos incorporate several of them.
While they definitely worked on brining the vibrance and gradients into a more palatable mix, they couldn’t overcome the fact that the colors still compete.
Perhaps, the new logos could have used a more striking color to begin with on the left and cycled through to reflect the way humans read. However, the color sequences seem random as far as I can tell.
In addition, darker colors tend to stand out more against a white backdrop. Notice how the red and blue dominate the yellow or green. As I mentioned earlier, Google will have difficulty extending the these logos beyond a light neutral background.
For instance, I altered my Google Chrome browser theme to test a few bookmarks. Have a look at the images below to see what happens to the new Gmail logo as well as the Google Apps menu.
Google has traded solid shapes for anular designs with a hollow center. Unless of course, the white interiors are part of the overall aesthetic. If they aren’t, then Google logos with transparent elements will allow the background to seep through.
From a distance, it becomes difficult to tell logos apart given that most of them have a similar geometric quality. Even from close proximity, it does take a little longer to process the design. This is something brand strategists look to avoid.
GOOGLES FIXATION WITH OVER-EXTENSIONS
I think that Google has some strange fascination with stretching a good thing. I recently wrote about the over-extension of the ‘Pixel’ brand name to many non-critical or disconnected products citing that it could lead to a delusion of brand equity. Apparently, the same holds true for their logos. As in this case, Google over-extended its core colors.
Google Had A Good Thing Going
Now, Google did have some pretty good logos in there. Logos like Maps, Gmail, Calendar, Docs etc. had gained traction and were instantly recognizable. For apps like Drive and Search, the new logos don’t appear to be a distant stretch. For others, they seem to have passed the horizon.
To be perfectly honest, I quite liked the white envelope with the red ‘M’ for Gmail and the old calendar with that little flap. The colors and designs were prominent, illustrative and well entrenched. The new versions will no doubt leave their mark too. After all, we can’t always cling to the old.
I suppose repeated use and exposure will ultimately acclimate me to the modern motif. But, that does not mean I have to like them as much.