Google: Time for a re-brand?

Mikey 13 comments
  • Design
Google: Time for a re-brand?

It recently occurred to me I have never heard or read the term 'Google designer'. Does Google employ designers at all? Judging by the services pages offered by the search giant, I would hazard a guess at 'no'.

Branding is a funny thing. A good brand can etch itself into our minds and a bad one will be forgotten as quickly as it was exposed. In some cases an ugly brand won't be an issue when there is enough marketing and funding behind it and your services are good. Google may fall into the latter category after recently being .

I remember when I first started using Google back in 1998, the same year it launched. My immediate reaction upon the first page load was something to the effect of: "It's obvious a programmer designed this. It's probably temporary".

Nearly ten years on and everything about Google still looks like it was designed by programmers (no offense to our programmer audience!).

Microsoft was even guilty of 'programmer design' not too long ago but apparently now have some obvious design talent, even if they still can't get a page to validate (that's a topic for another time).

Should Google change? To be fair they have and search results look & feel over time but ever so slightly. My main gripe isn't so much the use of awful primary colours or lack of style, it's the inconsistency between service branding.

(Side note: Google's main logo still reeks of 'Photoshop amateur was here'. Bevels and drop shadows anyone? Neither amateurs or Photoshop should be allowed near a logo. Put a pro in front of a vector based app like Illustrator!)

"Though some of it is undeniably Google, it's still quite a mess"

I have never seen a variation greater than Google's in my career. As a person who designs corporate identities and web pages for a living, I know the importance of keeping things consistent across your letterheads, business cards, web sites, and other marketing material. Some of the organisations I deal with have a style guide with specific conditions, such as "if logo X is to be used against a blue background, then logo X must be filled solid white" and things of that nature.

Here's a handful of some of the images on Google's service pages:

Google Logos

Though some of it is undeniably Google, it's still quite a mess. Think about this: If you gave the task of designing these different service identities to someone in your design team, and he/she came back with that (pic above), could they justify the gross differences and would you (or the client) accept it?

Google's style guide (if one exists) might read something like:

"Where the term 'beta' is required, uppercase type must be used although you can decide if you want it bold or not and also decide what shade of grey it may be. Whatever your mood! The word 'beta' can also be any size you desire. When a service name is used in conjunction with the Google logo (gmail, base, groups etc...), use a shade of blue that suits you and any particular size you think looks good. An exception exists for 'Google Talk', where the complete opposite is required by having the word 'Google' as the smallest component and without colour, and the service name (Talk) as the dominant component (with colour!) and in a completely different font, but not the same font used when 'beta' applies. Another exception exists for 'Analytics', where instead of following the same style of the other services (not including 'talk') with the word 'Google' as the dominant component and the service smaller underneath, 'Analytics' may float right of the word 'Google' and be separated by a one pixel vertical grey line. The word 'analytics' may also be a different font..."

You get the idea.

I don't think having oddles of services built over years is an excuse for design laziness. In fact the job should be easier in that context.

Service branding inconsistencies aside, Google still needs an entire design overhaul. Looking inside any of the services (Gmail, Groups, Analytics for example) there are no clear connections between the design elements, as if they were designed by different people who never communicated with one another. And the general look and feel leave a lot to be desired.

I am well aware design only makes up part of an entire application. But a good design can make things so much better from a usability perspective as well as an aesthetic perspective. It's win-win.

Today many online services have similar functionality, speed and options, so the only real choice left is which one is easier to use and easier on the eye - two important factors with any good design. That's why I chose LiveMail over Gmail. Please don't hate me.

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Friday 6th July 2007 | 10:13 AM

Those logos are all over the shop.

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Green Guy

Sunday 8th July 2007 | 04:33 PM

Google has a designer but he does the festive and speciality logos you see occasionally. But he might just be a contractor.

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K. Vlado

Tuesday 17th July 2007 | 08:18 PM

And I thought I was the only one who had a problem with the Google logo. Thanks for making me feel less alone in the universe :-)

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Wednesday 18th July 2007 | 03:56 PM

Wow, that was quite a rant - I got about half way and realized you were still going. Seriously though, the original idea of Google was to keep it simply. You go to other search engine sites such as Altavista or Yahoo (Yes they use google search now..) and the loading times on a dial-up computer is RIDICULOUS, the amount of time it takes I could have been in and done on Google. It's the old physcology trick of having something simple everyone can relate to.. Change/remove that and they are lost.

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Wednesday 18th July 2007 | 04:27 PM

I guess as a designer I am anal about those sorts of things. If any designer under my command produced these sorts of results (inconsistencies, dated look and feel) I would be asking them to look into a new career.

Google pimps itself and comes across as a very professional organisation, but seem to have dropped the ball with aesthetics. Not only is it slack, but the only explanations can be either laziness or lack of caring. It mocks my profession! :-)

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Wednesday 18th July 2007 | 05:38 PM

Google is the pinnacle of "programmer presentation".

I think it's a good thing because frankly, it lowers the bar for the rest of us! ;-)

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Tom Paris

Friday 27th July 2007 | 02:34 PM

I believe Google needs no redesign. Design today is boring industry that produces all the same looking sh*t anyway. And after all, why everything has to be beautiful and modern looking, plain and sterile and written in sans serifs?
We live in an ugly world and Google reminds us of that.
I'd prefer sincerity over false image anytime.
Tom Paris
Art Director

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Friday 27th July 2007 | 02:42 PM

Believe it or not, you can have both sincerity and good design. It sounds like you are assuming that if Google were to rebrand, it would result in an insincere outcome. That might not be the case. Google can still keep it simple, but with polish. I also prefer simple.

I will agree there is a lot of redundant crap out there though. And I shudder every time I hear the term 'web 2.0' thrown around like it has some sort of design significance.

Design Director

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Tuesday 7th August 2007 | 12:36 AM

you never hear people say i will yahoo it, they always say i will google it..........

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Marnie J.

Friday 26th October 2007 | 10:19 PM

Well I am not alone after all! You forgot to mention the other sin of using primary colours.

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Wednesday 7th November 2007 | 06:40 AM

I agree with Michael that the google logos are very very inconsistant across the spectrum. But they do a usability guru.

But I think the one thing that gooogle did do is put that element of reason in our minds that you can design with simplicity in mind and still have a sticky brand....and one more thing, web 2.0 is to a large extent cool design/user experience....the programmer part is a really really old concept....

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Wednesday 7th November 2007 | 08:19 AM

Thanks Sanshew. Wow did she drop the ball with Gmail then. I find it the most un-userfriendly experience I have ever encountered. I have been using it for several months now and every time I want to do something in it my mind keeps forcing me to go in another direction. But then it is still a beta!

That's why I started using this Grease Monkey script:

It's essentially just a skin for Gmail and a huge improvement.

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Wednesday 7th November 2007 | 01:54 PM

I took it a step further and just dumped em....used it for about six months and now am a very satisfied customer of hotmail....they seem to be the best of the BIG THREE.....

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