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Google Doodle team lead Jessica Yu tells Culture Trip how the search engine’s iconic illustrations reflect, celebrate and honour cultures around the world.
A few days before Google incorporated, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin added the Burning Man festival logo to the Google homepage to indicate they were out of town. With this, a colourful legacy was born: homepage Doodles.
Over the last two decades, artists from around the world have created thousands of illustrated, animated and interactive Doodles. From international illustrations based on global events such as International Women’s Day to country-specific Doodles tailored to local culture, San Francisco-based Google Doodle team lead Jessica Yu talks Culture Trip through the process.
Culture Trip: How do you decide what to celebrate with a Doodle?
Jessica Yu: Doodle team members get together annually to decide which topics will be celebrated with a Doodle. The ideas come from numerous sources, including Googlers and Google users from around the world. While there are many considerations, overall the Doodle selection process aims to celebrate a diverse mix of topics that reflect Google’s personality, teach people something new, and most importantly, are meaningful to local culture.
CT: What is the process for honouring figures of diverse cultural backgrounds from around the world?
JY: There is a team of illustrators (we call them Doodlers) and engineers that work with our Googlers (we call them Local Doodle Managers) in each country to make sure Doodles are the best they can be, both artistically and culturally. In addition, we also frequently commission artists local to the native country to create the art.
CT: What has been your favourite doodle to work on, and why?
JY: Tough to pick just one! Our Oskar Fischinger interactive was an audio-visual delight that taught me about a person I had never heard about before. It was an honour to work on Maya Angelou’s Doodle. Her words are still so resonant today and I was inspired by the people we collaborated with (her son, Oprah, etc.) to make them come alive. For sheer artistry, I love the paper cut outs utilized by our guest artist [Mumbai-based Sabeena Karnik] for India’s Independence Day.
CT: Do you get Google doodle submissions from all around the world? Is there a particular country that submits more often than others?
JY: We get submissions from all around the world. We don’t track where they are coming from though, so it’s hard to say who submits the most. Once a year in various countries however, we open up to student submissions through our Doodle 4 Google contest, where we ask K-12 artists to design a Doodle centered around a common theme. The winning artist receives a scholarship and technology award for their school, and the winning Doodle appears on the Google homepage of the participating country.
CT: How have Doodles evolved over the years, and what can we expect next?
JY: Over time, Doodles have become more technologically advanced. The first live-action Doodle, for Charlie Chaplin’s 122nd birthday in 2011, featured appearances from the entire Doodle team, with Doodler Mike Dutton in the starring role. In order to stay as close to Chaplin’s original films as possible, it was recorded in Niles, California on the same set where many of his silent movies were filmed.
In 2018, the first Emmy-nominated VR/360 Doodle celebrated the pioneering French illusionist and film director Georges Méliès. The Doodle team’s Hélène Leroux, in collaboration with Spotlight Stories and Nexus Studios, told the story of a Méliès-like character and his adventures on a virtual film set.
Unfortunately, we can’t share specifics about upcoming Doodles, but we have a lot of exciting plans in store. Stay tuned!