Sept. 02--MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Ditching corporate trim for letters that evoke a preschooler's wood blocks, Google on Tuesday unveiled its most dramatic logo makeover since it was a startup tinkering with its identity in 1999.
The company faced a perilous challenge as it sought to adapt its desktop-era logo to the way most of the world now gets to the Internet -- through smartphone screens and apps. More than a billion people use Google each month, and no one wanted to ruin a familiar emblem.
"When you're a brand as big as Google, it's scary to introduce a new logo," said Brian Hoff, a former Apple worker who now runs his own digital design firm.
Hoff said the design has a "nice rhythm and balance" and signals a friendlier tone for the global tech behemoth. But others complained that it makes a company known for its algorithms and artificial intelligence even less human.
"Generally, it's cleaner, but by being cleaner and simpler, it's lost some of its distinction," said Angie Wang, a professor who teaches typography at California College of the Arts. "In simplifying, they've sort of eradicated the humanistic tendencies. Is that good or bad? It depends on what they're trying to achieve."
The company convened a team of its designers in New York for a weeklong brainstorming session earlier this year.
"We started by distilling the essence of our brand down to its core -- four colors on a clean white background -- and built it back up," said a company blog post. "Stickies were stuck, pins were pushed, and Béziers were animated."
Among their goals: create a symbol that translates better in "constrained spaces" such as phone or wristwatch screens and can playfully swirl and bounce around for different tasks.
The letters that Google revealed on its home page Tuesday use the same color combination of blue, red, yellow and green that has defined the company since 1998, but they've gone "sans serif" -- dropping the decorative serifs, or lines, that characterized the old logo.
The most noticeable change was in the second "g," which lost the figure-eight shape it's had since 1999 in favor of a simpler open loop at the bottom. Preserved in the new logo was the tilted "e" meant to show the company's quirkiness. Also joining what Google calls its new "brand family" are a microphone icon to activate the intelligent personal assistant Google Now and moving dots that show how the app is responding to the user's demand.
The company on Tuesday began replacing the signs that mark its office buildings, starting with the biggest one that hangs on Building 40 of the Googleplex in Mountain View.
"It's very drastic," said Matt Luckhurst, who has worked on rebranding projects for Airbnb and Spotify and helped craft the logo for Facebook's new personal assistant. "This looks like something made in 2015. It's clearly designed to be friendly, to be legible. It feels very elemental, like learning how to write something at school."
Luckhurst said it also aligns with Alphabet, the newly formed umbrella company of which Google is now a wholly owned subsidiary.
But what some designers saw as elemental, others viewed as elementary.
"It conjures up children and children's rendering of type. I don't find that especially inspiring," said Mark Fox, who also teaches at California College of the Arts and works with Wang at a San Francisco firm. "It's gotten clean, which means it's legible and easier to reproduce. From a practical point, I can understand that, but I think they lost some visual cues."
Not all logo changes go smoothly. Tropicana suffered a sales disaster when it pulled the familiar straw-pierced orange from its orange juice cartons, and San Francisco retailer The Gap shocked customers when it dropped its square blue box. Both companies quickly backtracked and restored their legacy designs.
Supporters and critics of Google's new logo agree on one thing: The new customized font is unlikely to cause such an uproar.
"It's still very on-brand," Hoff said. "I don't feel like I'm disconnecting. They still kept the core essence. That's a hard thing to do."
Contact Matt O'Brien at 408-920-5011. Follow him at Twitter.com/Mattoyeah.
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