One of the convictions that I brought with me to Google was that you needed to present your company’s graphic signature in a monomaniacally consistent manner; to pound it into the public consciousness with a thousand tiny taps, each one exactly the same as the one before.
So when Sergey reminded me that he wanted us to play with Google’s signature home-page graphic in 1999, I put my foot down. This was not only the most prominent placement of our logo; it was the only placement of our logo. We weren’t advertising on TV or on billboards or in print. The logo floating in all that white space was it.
Sergey didn’t see the big deal. He had changed the logo twice during Google’s infancy, adding a clip-art turkey on Thanksgiving in 1998 and putting up a Burning Man cartoon when the staff took off to explore nakedness in the Nevada desert. But now Google was a real company, I told him. Real companies don’t do that.
Even as we argued, Sergey enlisted webmaster Karen White to resurrect the turkey for Thanksgiving, create a holiday snowman in December and festoon the logo with a hat and confetti for New Year’s 2000.
“What about aliens?” he asked. “Let’s put aliens on the home page. We’ll change it every day. It will be like a comic strip that people come back to read.”
I tried not to be condescending. I gave him my spiel about consistency of messaging and uniform touchpoints and assured him that it wasn’t just my opinion; it was the consensus of marketing professionals world-wide. I knew I had finally convinced him when he stopped asking me about it.
Michael Jackson’s birthday, 2009
I was wrong. Sergey wasn’t convinced; he just didn’t like repeating himself. So he turned to marketing manager Susan Wojcicki, who found illustrator Ian Marsden and put him to work. In May 2000, Ian created the first Google doodle. It featured—surprise, surprise—aliens making off with our logo.
Our users loved the randomness of the logo artwork and sent us dozens of appreciative emails. Google’s brilliant strategy of humanizing an otherwise sterile interface with cute little cartoon creatures was an enormous hit.
It was so blindingly obvious that I was right, yet I was so clearly wrong. Google did that to you—it made you challenge all your assumptions and experience-based ideas until you began to wonder if up was really up, or if it might not actually be a different kind of down.