Google's doodles used only for celebratory instances, not for sale

The people behind Google's popular, quirky, whimsical doodles get hundreds of requests from all over the world on how they should alter the brand's ubiquitous logo on its homepage.

As free and creative as the doodles can be, the team turns down some requests.

"Even if presidents or prime ministers want a doodle, unless it fits with our principles, we would have to say no," says Mr Ryan Germick, 34, the team leader.

For one thing, the doodles are not commercial and are not meant to generate revenue for the company.

"We get asked almost every day to put an advertisement on the Google homepage with a doodle, and we respect the Google user's time and space of the doodle to make it not about a commercial or promotion but more about something that is really fun... and worthwhile to shine the spotlight on," says Mr Germick in a recent video conference with Life! and Indonesian media. He was in Beijing to speak at the 2015 GeekPark Innovation Festival.

The line is also drawn at anything controversial or related to adversity.

Mr Germick says: "By definition, the doodle is playful. We are taking this established corporate logo and messing with it in some way and with that playfulness, it's a celebration and we think there are more nuanced and sensitive ways to deal with topics that are more tragic in nature.

"We wouldn't want to commemorate in a playful way something where people were hurt. The doodles are reserved for more fun and celebratory instances."

Essentially, he adds, "doodles should be like a gift to users".

And a gift they certainly are, bringing much joy and fun to hundreds of millions of users globally since the first doodle was created in 1998.

Popping up on Google's homepage of vast whiteness unexpectedly, the doodles are date-specific and positive in nature, featuring anniversaries, tributes or significant events.

From a doodle where users can play the classic video game of Pac-Man, to another commemorating late actress Audrey Hepburn's birthday with a pink, black and white illustration that encapsulates her beauty, the options are endless to what a doodle can be.

There have been more than 2,500 doodles, with 400 created last year by a 16-man team based in Google's headquarters in California.

Mr Germick, who has been the team's leader since 2011, joined Google as a designer in 2006. He started pitching in doodles from 2008 and as the doodle team grew, the complexity of the illustrations evolved from a simple image to interactive games.

A doodle can take between a couple of hours and several months to create depending on the features it may encapsulate, including animation or gameplay.

Without revealing the number of views for the most popular doodles, Mr Germick says that hot favourites include the interactive Les Paul doodle in 2011 of an electric guitar, where users could strum the instrument and create their own tunes.

Though doodles normally stay on the homepage for a day, an exception was made for the Les Paul doodle and it was kept for a second day due to "popular demand".

Some doodles are limited to country- specific homepages. For Singapore, there have been charming doodles of the city's skyline in honour of the country's National Day as well as one last year in tribute to the late famed musician Zubir Said, best known for composing Singapore's national anthem.

With a job scope that is limited to all things pleasant or entertaining, it seems that Mr Germick and his team have one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world.

"It is very rewarding but it's hard work. Our team, which includes 10 illustrators, does almost a doodle a week.

"I think what's really wonderful is to be in a creative process that is relatively pure - we are not trying to make money or push a particular agenda here," he says.

The doodles this year have already been planned by the team, but he refuses to give anything away:

"The first principle of doodles is that they are meant to surprise and delight... and there would be no surprise if I reveal our secrets."

gurveenk@sph.com.sg