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New logo shares similarities to Microsoft's new logo and Apple's iconic 90s logo; icon is joined by new Sans-Serif corporate logo

Hot on the heels of Google Inc.'s (GOOG) reorganization as Alphabet -- a family of companies with a leaner, more focused new Google at its core -- the maker of the world's most used internet search and mobile operating system has undergone a major rebranding.  The push swaps out the previous icon and corporate logo for new minimalist successors.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the story is my discovery that Google's new work is actually not so new!  Read on to find out what I mean...

I. Extreme Makeover Taps Secret Source

Here's Google's new icon:

Google logo

An interesting fact I haven't seen widely reported is that Google's new logo actually substantially similar to / is derived from a fan-made design created by Turbomilk-affiliated Russian designer Denis Kortunov several years ago.  

Back in 2008 Kortunov -- a vocal critic of Google's mid-2008 icon refresh -- was among a handful of designers to try their hand at a reimagining of Google's icon.  The results were posted to Turbomilk.

It is immediately apparent that the logo above -- Google's new design -- is a only minimally tweaked derivative of Kortunov's second cut.   Interestingly the page for this session has disappeared (perhaps at Google's request), but it's still available in the Wayback Machine.

Denis Korunov
Denis Kortunov, Turbomilk partner, Acronis user experience director, and now creator of Google's new icon... [Image Source: Turbomilk]

Part of the reason this may have been overlooked was that it was Kortunov's final cut slight more skeuomorphic third attempt at the icon that was more widely publicized...

Google Turbomilk

.... but it was his abandoned second cut that best resonated with today's minimalist design atmosphere.  And apparently it resonated with the designers at Google, as well.

Here's a screenshot of his portion of the article in case the archived page somehow is taken down:

Google Logo source


Now, mind you the two logos are not exactly the same.  But they're strikingly similar enough that I would argue the Google logo is obviously derivative of Kortunov, or more aptly a refined version of it.  Here's the relatively tiny tweaks that Google has made (which you might not even notice glacing at the two logos.

Google logo tweaks
I would argue visual evidence inarguably points to Google borrowing and making minor edits to Kortunov's concept.

And that raises some big questions.  Has Google hired Kortunov?  Has it contracted him?  One would certainly hope so given that it directly adopted his redesigned icon.  Kortunov's profile on LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD) shows him as currently work as "Director of User Experience" at Moscow, Russia-based security firm Acronis.

Here's some of the other designs from the post that weren't accepted:

TurboMilk -- Google Logos
For now that's all the information I have, but I've followed up with Kortunov and hopefully will have some sort of update shortly.

II. Product Sans is Introduced

Moving along, the icon is actually only one half of Google's design refresh.  The other, perhaps more significant aspect is the refresh of the full wide corporate logo.  Since 1999, that logo has been tweaked and fiddled with (see further below), but the Serif font face and general letter spacing / shape / etc. remained untouched.

For those trying to recall what Serif vs. Sans-Serif means w.r.t. fonts, the rule of thumb is that Sans-Serif fonts lack the flourishes/notches -- known as "serifs" or "filigrees" at the end on letter strokes.  Perhaps the best known Serif font is Times New Roman...

Times New Roman

Times New Roman is probably the best know Serif font. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

... while the best-known Sans-Serif font is probably Helvetica, aging as it may be:

Helvetica font

[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

I'll discuss the old Serif font Google used in the old logo in more detail later on.  As for the new font, Fast Co. Design reveals that it's called "Product Sans" and that it was designed in-house.  One key feature is that the font is much more scaleable than the Serif font that was previously used, which should help it render more attractively both n small screens (think smartphones) and very large ones (think TVs).

Google Scaleable font



After more or less a decade and a half with the same logo that has changed.  Here's the new look.  Note the new font, revised spacing, and relatively resizing of the individual letters....


Google Logo redesign



...  basically the only thing that was left unchanged from the old design was the color scheme, but even that was made brighter.  So you could argue this is a near-complete redesign.

And here's the new logo in all its glory, with the old logo animated in, as well, for comparison's sake:
Google Doodle

Note, this change also modifies the icon used in the browser tab like so:
Google Icon
The Verge with seeming sarcasm commented on Microsoft's 2012 rebranding -- which employed the designs of Paula Scher of Pentagram -- "The Windows logo is evolving backwards."

For Google the same is somewhat true in spirit.  While it may not have legacy designs of its own from the 80s and early 90s to tap (it didn't exist back then) Google -- like its rivals -- is embarking on a bold return to minimalism, a style that dominated much of the branding of the late 80s and early 90s.  Yes, Google too is arguably "evolving backwards" and some would say that's awesome.

So how did Google get here?  And what were its influences?  Read on to find out.

III. Back to the Future

The path to this major rebranding lies largely in the brand evolution of Silicon Valley's other top three tech companies -- Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) and Apple, Inc. (AAPL).  Historically Google's design has appeared intimately tied to some aspects of these rivals' branding, and we see a continuation of that theme with the recent makeover.  From  Apple's trailblazing rainbow legacy logo logo to Microsoft's recently refreshed corporate logo design, things have seemingly come full circle in Silicon Valley design-wise.

While borrowing ideas of a technical nature (like a "rectangular" phone) gets you sued in Silicon Valley these days, the common design language of Apple, Microsoft, and Google over the years speaks to the space's culture of comraderie, where borrowing is celebrated and not verboeten.
 
Apple 80s logo
Apple's iconic 80s logo would prove inspiration for Microsoft and Google's recent colorful logo redesigns.
[Image Source: BitRebels]

One of the formative seeds was Apple's colorful logo from the late 70s.  Rob Janoff hatched the latter design back in 1977, adding a bit of color to the tech world.  It's worth noting that Apple didn't design the logo in-house.  At the time Janoff was actually a contractor, working for "legendary marketer" Regis McKenna's Palo Alto, Calif.-based marketing and design studio.  (McKenna also designed for other prominent market pioneers such as Intel Corp. (INTC), AOL, Inc. (AOL), and Lotus.) Though Apple left the logo behind in 1998, it remains a pop culture icon in every sense of the word.

Microsoft, who was founded just two years before Apple's logo makeover in 1975, went through several revisions to its corporate logo in the early 80s.  But by 1987 it had settled on what would prove one of the longest-lived corporate logo.  The design was elegant simple -- its name in black Sans-Serif text.   

The logo used a precursor to Fonts.com's Neue Helvetica® 96 Black Italic scaleable typeface (h/t to Feilong on Google Answers for that find), with a notch to the 'o' to subtly set it apart.   That simplicity helped it endure two and a half decades following its adoption in 1987.

Microsoft's Windows operating system also evolved a rich design language unto its own.  Windows 1.0's logo was almost unseen and Windows 2.0-3.0 used a bland black and white woodblock-esque logo (similar to Apple's first logo, for those taking notes).  Things took a decidedly different turn in 1992, though, with the launch of Windows 3.1.  The OS featured a brand new bright, colorful logo, which borrowed from Apple's design language paring down the colors to just red, yellow, green, and blue -- the same colors Google would later use.

Windows 3.1
Windows 3.1 [Image Source: YouTube]

It's unclear exactly who designed the logo.  While she does not appear to have designed the logo itself, one person who likely influenced its inception was Susan Kare.  

Kare's career had made a name for herself at Apple, but at one timer her future looked to take her along an entirely different path.  In 1978 Kare was working on installation sculptures in California having just received her PhD in design from New York University.  But a fateful twist would take her away from a career in the fine arts, and inject her into the digital arts.  A former high school classmate, Andy Hertzfeld, recruited her to join Apple at the decade's close working on what was then a secretive project.  That product was the Macintosh computer

Mac Icons
Kare's Macintosh icons are iconic (no pun intended).

At Apple Kare worked as a "computer iconographer", designing most of the Macintosh OS's core icon set.  She is credited with meticulously crafting the 30x30 pixel icon set, which was featured in 1984's hit Macintosh 128K (her recently unearthed sketchbook concepts for the icons is worth a look).  The icons include such classic as the "dog-cow" and a computer emoticon.  In an 80s interview with the San Jose Mercury Journal, she recounts:

[Computer design is] a real niche.  I don't think it's something you'll find in the Yellow Pages.  I pay attention to every dot.  If you like needlepoint, you'll love bit-editing.  Anything that's bound for the screen, I do on the screen.

Kare is also credited with creating the looping symbol found on virtually all Mac keyboards to this day.  She also created some of the first scaleable, proportionally-spaced digital fonts.  These fonts helped set the Macintosh apart at a time when most personal computers were using monospace fonts.



The UI designer's meticulous attention to detail impressed Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  When he left Apple in 1985 to found NeXT Computer, she was among the six initial employees Jobs convinced to leave Apple to work at his new firm.  But Kare would only commit to NeXT as a part time designer.  Still, Jobs felt her contribution vital enough to name her chief creative director at NeXT and to list her as a company cofounder.

Susan Kare at NeXT
Kare listens to a presentation by Jobs during her time at NeXT. From: "Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley, 1985-2000", by Doug Menuez (review)

Given its respectively low profile, her work with NeXT would largely be overshadowed by her influence as a design contractor for Microsoft.  Frustrated at unfavorable comparisons of Windows 1.0 and 2.0 to the Macintosh computer, Microsoft brought in Kare to personally redesign its icon set, fonts, and overall design language.  The result was Windows 3.0, Microsoft's best received Windows version to date.

(Interesting side note -- Windows 3.1 stuck around until 2008, licensed in the embedded space, making it one of Microsoft's most long-lived operating systems alongside Windows XP.)

Kare's injection of Apple-esque design into Microsoft would live on for years in certain niches.  One instance is the built-in Solitaire game, which Kare designed the cards for (the game was coded by Wes Cherry, an unpaid Microsoft intern).  Bundled with every version of Windows except for Windows 8 -- billions of units of OS software -- the program is often cited as one of the most played video games of all time.

Whatever contractor or Microsoft employee designed the iconic Windows 3.1 "flag" logo it is obvious that the Apple-like design infusion Microsoft received from Kare likely helped to inspire it.

Logo evolution

(Another interesting side note -- Kare was recently accepted an executive position as Pinterest's creative chief, her first full time position at a company since her time at Apple in the early 1980s.)

The bright color scheme of the Windows 3.1 flag logo is arguably one key influence to Google's logo -- and even more so now with its new brightly colored makeover.

IV. Google Branding: From GIMP to Gustav Jaeger

In 1997 Stanford University PhD candidates Sergey Brin (now Alphabet's CTO) and Larry Page (now Alphabet's CEO) were forming a new search engine form.  Initially named "BackRub", the firm was renamed "Google" in 1997 and a goofy pseudo-3D word art logo was introduced.  The logo's authorship is unclear, but it may have been the work of Brin himself.

Brin is known to have used Linux graphical editor GIMP to create the more orderly word art logo that was introduced in Sept. 1998.  The logo drew even more sharp parallels to the colorful design language of Microsoft Windows and Apple than its predecessor.  

Ironically, that same year Apple would drop the color from its logo, adopting a series of mostly grayscale logos that would culminate in the current white transluscent design (Note: Apple still commonly uses the 1998 monochrome logo as well, in spite of it being set aside as the "official" company logo.)

Apple Logo

In Oct. 1998 Google would employ graphic designer Ruth Kedar to clear up Brin's mess early work.  She recounted to Wired in 2008:

There were a lot of different color iterations.  We ended up with the primary colors, but instead of having the pattern go in order, we put a secondary color on the L, which brought back the idea that Google doesn't follow the rules.

For a time Google did, however, follow veteran search rival Yahoo! Inc.'s (YHOO) branding, including a now-defunct exclamation point ('!') at the end of its name.  A year later, Kedar and company decided to drop the exclamation to give Google more of an independent identity.

Google bounce
[Image Source: Reuters]

The result was a somewhat skeuomorphic take on the thin Serif font that featured dropped shadows, as well as fairly heavy shadow on the text itself giving it a 3D sort of look.  The finished product, which endured from 1999 until 2010, used Catull BQ font, a typeface designed in 1982 by designer Gustav Jaeger for defunct German type foundry H. Berthold AG (aka the Berthehold Tye Foundry).  Born in 1925 Jaeger enjoyed a long life and was able to see Google put his fonts to new use.  He passed away in 2010.

Microsoft, meanwhile, had gone deep into the Sans-Serif territory with the release of Windows XP in 2001.  In 2007 Microsoft would debut a new skeuomorph gem-style logo for Windows Vista.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a major fan of skeuomorphism, an early builds of his iOS mobile operating helped to further popularize the style in the public eye.  And yet even as software's big three -- Google, Apple, and Microsoft -- all trended towards a more rich, hyper-realistic design language in the 2000s.  But by 2010 that was starting to wear thin.

Google would take a baby step towards more minimalist designs in 2010, with a logo redesign.  While it would retain the Catull font, it axed the dropped shadows and lessened the shadows on the lettering, adding mild highlights.  The result was a flatter, more colorful icon.

While Google logo hadn't seen a complete overhaul since 1999 (over a decade and a half), in addition to the aformentioned tweaks it was often swapped out for topical stand-in "Doodles", e.g.:

Google logo

Google Doodle

Such designs lent some freshness to Google's aging corporate branding.

V. The New Age of Minimalism

Microsoft would take things a step further, with the introducing the world to "Metro" (later renamed Modern UI) in 2012.  The Modern UI/Metro would be a key feature of Windows 8 and one of its most controversial.  Undeterred by the critics, Microsoft went full bore at colorful, yet minimalist designs, it debutted its new corporate logo that same year.  (It took the color out of the Windows logo, similar to the approach Apple took for its corporate logo.)

Microsoft logo
Microsoft's logo has evolved 4 times in the company's almost four decade history.
[Image Source: Microsoft via The Seattle Times] 

Microsoft logo new size
The new logo [Image Source: Microsoft]

This time around it was Microsoft who would lead and Apple who would follow from a design perspective.  With the release of iOS 7 in 2013 and OS X 10.10 ("Yosemite") Apple largely purged Jobs' treasured skeuomorph design flourishes.




Yosemite emulated Microsoft's design direction to the horror of some fans.

The change was enabled by new CEO Tim Cook, who clearly diverged from Jobs' design idealogy in some regards.  With Cook's blessing Apple chief designer Jony Ive was able to bulldoze traditionalists supporting Jobs' old design language.  The end result was an exodus away from skeuomorphism and towards the same minimalist look that Windows 8 thrust into the public eye.  Some Apple fans were predictably horrified, but much like Windows 8 critics, they were forced to learn to live with the new look.

For opponents of the minimalist design direction, the last holdout of sorts was Google.  But starting in 2013, Google too began to flatten some of its icons for the PC, including Chrome which saw a dramatic transition away from skeuomorphism:
Chrome makeover

With Project Moonshine (released with Android 5.0 Lollipop), Google's minimalist makeover neared completion.  Moonshine gave Android and online apps a fresh set of flattened iconography.  A new set of design guidelines dubbed "Material Design" were also introduced.




That only left one element untouched -- the classic Google logo.  But that at last has changed.  Google's design team has clearly been hard at work.  Product Sans and the new corporate logo are likely to be viewed as inspired designs to fans of minimalism, and as more sand in the face for those who favored the brand of rich, faux-realism design which dominated in the likes of iOS 4 and Windows 7.

Google design team
Google's designers are seen examining design proposals. [Image Source: Fast Co. Design]

But it's equally important to note the elsewhere undocumented contribution of Denis Kortunov.  Google is the world's second most valuable publicly traded company (behind only Apple) and a leader in tech market.  While I would hope/assume that he was well compensated for his work, the recognition of his authorship of the design is equally important, I feel.

Sources: Wayback Machine [Turbomilk page], Google





"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad













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