Inside Google Doodle: What it's like to design the front page of the internet every day

Inside Google Doodle: What it's like to design the front page of the internet every day

For every notable day, or famous person’s death-anniversary, there is often a brand new Google Doodle serving as your entrance to the internet. 

Initially started after Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin changed the Google logo in 1998 to indicate they were “out of office” for Burning Man festival, Google Doodle is now a significant part of the search engine.  

Whether it’s a gif marking the 30th anniversary of the world wide web, or an image celebrating the Russian mathematician Olga Ladyzhenskaya, Google’s Doodles are designed to inspire people on their journeys into the internet. 

But did you know there is a whole team at Google that creates the doodles? We caught up with Google art director, Matt Cruickshank, to find out how the doodles get picked, made and what’s the best part of the job. 

How to get a job at Google Doodle 

Cruickshank is originally from North London, though he grew up in Bournemouth and studied traditional hand-drawn animation at Bournemouth Art College before finishing his degree in Wales. 

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee celebrated with Google Doodle

After working for Warner Bros and Disney for 15 years as a character artist, in 2012 he decided to go freelance and work on different projects for companies in and around Europe.

It was during this time that he took a trip to California, visiting Los Angeles and San Francisco, where he did lots of paintings and sketches. When he returned home, he posted these sketches to his blog, when someone from the Google Doodle team got in touch. 

“I took a closer look at the job. I’d seen the doodles and the illustrations and I thought they were all out-sourced, I didn’t realise there was a whole team inside,” Cruickshank tells the Standard. 

Google Doodle art director Matt Cruickshank loves to doodle (Google ) Cruickshank took the job, moving to Google in 2012 as an artist on the team, and has been there ever since.  “I’d always wanted to combine animation with graphics and it’s an incredible in-house artist job really, because you get to do all these different things and all these different styles, for this huge audience,” he says.  Picking the Google Doodles The Doodle team is a mixture of artists and engineers who translate the designs onto the Google homepage. Collectively, they work on over 400 doodles a year, some that are universal, some that are just on one Google country’s homepage, so it’s a lot of work.  There are a few "standard" doodles that always make the cut: elections, independence days, and things like Valentine’s Day and Earth Day. Aside from those, the team get to propose ideas, other Google staff pitch in, and you can suggest your own ideas on the Google Doodle site. One of Matt Cruickshank's doodles, marking the 93rd birthday of Saul Bass, the American graphic designer and Oscar-winning filmmaker (Google) “The Dr Who doodle came about after a petition online that we saw, plus there was an engineering fan who wanted to celebrate it,” explains Cruickshank. “It’s a case of looking out there and seeing what the opportunities are, we get maybe 700 ideas per year.  “It’s more a question of timing, we don’t want to completely bombard people [so] it’s about finding that balance.” One thing the team has been doing more is working with local artists on particular doodles to showcase their local knowledge and art expertise. For instance, the team worked with UK-based artist Lesley Barnes to create the doodle for St David’s Day.  “That was a perfect example, as none of us speak Welsh,” says Cruickshank. “We think it’s really great to get another person’s thumbprint out there and have that knowledge that perhaps we didn’t have.”  Re-designing the front page of the internet  Due to the amount of time Cruickshank spends re-creating the word Google, he says he sees the letters in his sleep. But when it comes to designing the doodles, projects will vary depending on what the type of doodle it is.  “We sit down once a week with most of the artists together and go through the projects, take a look at things and give each other feedback,” he explains. If it’s a static doodle – i.e one that doesn’t move, it takes around two to three days to illustrate. For the gifs, or even the video and gaming doodles, it can take between one week to six weeks to bring together.  “There isn’t really a set way of making a doodle – it’s part of the eclectic feel of it,” he says. “We are storytelling to some extent, trying to sum everything up in one image, and therefore for us it has to resonate for an audience that is anything from aged 3 to 100.” Another of Matt Cruickshank's doodles, this one marks Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka's 120th birthday (Google) It sounds like a lot of fun, particularly projects such as the Summer Olympics Brazil doodle, which was seven interactive games, or the Dr Who Doodle, which saw people play as the doctor, trying to collect the Google letters from different Daleks. Cruickshank agrees. “Because the search engine is so powerful and useful and there to help people so much, we’ve become more of a ‘cherry on the top’,” he says.  Showcasing the human side of Google Google is one of the tech giants, and the search engine is made up of trillions and trillions of pages that categorise everything online. Cruickshank says one thing Google Doodle does is demonstrate the human side of the company, which is something the team tries to make clear in all doodles.  As a result, the Doodle team does a lot of outreach, whether its competitions like Doodle for Google, or facilitating Make a Wish Foundation visits or going into schools to talk about their work.  “We’re looking for [ways] we can get where people understand tech is fun, and you can do a lot of good with it, and inspire the next generation,” says Cruickshank.  He says he is inspired every time he works on a new doodle, taking the time to learn all about a topic or person, and then trying to represent that in the best light. Though his favourite ever doodle was one focusing on Jane Goodall, the noted scientists and conservationist, to mark Earth Day in 2018.   The Google Doodle about Jane Goodall for Earth Day 2018 (Google) This doodle was an animated video, about Goodall and her work, and one that Cruickshank says was the most watched video doodle ever. “She is so passionate about the planet and it's an important subject for us all,” he explains. “We gave her a platform and I was able to animate her life and add a bit of extra visual to it but in essence, it’s her message that really sticks with us today and I still think about it. “I’m hoping there will be something equal to that that comes along in the near future.” Subscribe to Women Tech Charge, a new podcast from the Evening Standard. From fashion to finance, technology is revolutionising our lives. Meet the extraordinary women who are leading the charge. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 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