The Blandification of Scalable Logos

Google introduced a new logo today.

The memory of charm, but quite efficient.

At first glance, it seemed exceedingly bland to me; the longer I look at it and a new font that's related, the more I think they made a series of good choices. It's still bland, but it's a well-thought-out bland that makes sense for their company.

Google has never had a strong design sense; Android developed one when Google hired Matias Duarte, who helped bring style, simplicity, unity, and some pizzazz over there. He art directed the creation of Roboto, a bespoke Android font, designed by Christian Robertson. I had the same reaction to Roboto as I do here.

 It runs the gamut from a to b.

It runs the gamut from a to b.

His involvement with the new logo seems remote (he congratulates the team and his name isn't on the designers’ post), but it was clearly informed by similar principles. The logo was developed alongside a new font, Product Sans (Product Sans!), which is also the basis for the Alphabet holding company's logo. (There's a downloadable PDF specimen sheet of the full font.)

No.

When Yahoo introduced a new logo almost exactly two years ago, I was quite contemptuous about it, because it looked bad in a way that any non-design person could see. From the graphic design perspective, all the rationale that Yahoo created around the logotype's design process and final result were nonsense. They had thrown away hundreds of years of understanding about legibility and communication in their pursuit of rationalizing a poor process that started from scratch. (I'm thinking specifically about stroke widths and kerning, which they got completely wrong on the perceptual side.)

Google—well, they did it right. The final result isn't arbitrary. The new logo is purpose built: it carries corporate history while shedding the naive, amateurish (but charming and disarming) details of their longest-running company mark. The redesign is still absolutely Google, while being optimized for legible display at many sizes and for many uses. Having a set of the logo, four colored dots corresponding to the logo's colors, and a single G mark that incorporates those four colors gives them a lot of flexibility and consistency across many platforms and uses. The design team's description of its goals and how it achieved them is solid and even admirable. It's not a series of compromises and justifications that got them here, but a number of constraints in the design brief.

One of my favorite typefaces is Kabel, designed by Rudolf Koch, one of the greatest modern type designers. You can see a little taste of Kabel in the Google logo: the tilted bar of the lower-case e is absolutely characteristic of Kabel and rarely seen elsewhere. More generally, Product Sans reminds me of a blend of Futura and Gill Sans with the idiosyncrasies of both steamrollered out.

Many typefaces still in wide use were designed for books and newspapers, and while adapted to the medium of the web, still haven't caught up with what's needed for mobile. The designed-for-screen fonts of the late 1990s and early 2000s lag because they were born when screen displays were far below today's retina-and-beyond densities. New faces don't need to be bland, but faces with a broad and custom purpose like this will be less interesting and less quirky than those intended for general reading.

Unlike Yahoo, which lacks a mobile platform (though it designs beautiful, highly functional apps), Google needs a font that works everywhere in an ecosystem that has a ridiculous number of screen sizes and densities, devices and intents, and which also has to deal with bandwidth and computational rendering constraints.

I'm not in love with the new logo or Product Sans, but I respect how they made it. Inoffensive can be a design goal for a company.