Interview with Google logo designer

Doodling with the face of an Internet giant

It may be Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Vincent van Gogh’s birthday when Internet users notice that the logo on the global search engine Google has changed. The designer behind the changes is Dennis Hwang, a Korean American who, as Google’s international webmaster, is in charge of all the content that appears on Google Web sites globally.
The JoongAng Daily caught up with the busy Hwang last Wednesday while he was on a brief visit to Seoul to give a lecture at a technology expo.

Q. How did you become a logo designer?
A. Ever since I was little, I loved doodling and was scolded in elementary school for doing so. Later I majored in art with a minor in computer science so when I was an intern at Google, the founders were like, “Hey, you’re an art major, right? Why don’t you try designing the logo?” My first one was on July 14, 2000, and it was very exciting.

Are there any fun anecdotes related to some of the logos you’ve designed?
On Aug. 15, 2001, I designed a logo for the liberation day of Korea, but received a lot of e-mail from Indian users because the day also was the founding day of India. There were also complaints from Japanese users, many of whom told us that the Google site was hacked because they didn’t think that Google would put up a logo for the Korean holiday on the international Google site.
Once, when I drew autumn leaves in a logo for Thanksgiving, there were protests from Australian users. It was quite a shocking experience for me and from then on, I’ve learned to be more careful when it comes to seasons or culture.
One positive thing I remember is on Louis Braille’s birthday, I made the Google logo in Braille [Louis Braille was the inventor of Braille, a worldwide system used by blind and visually impaired people for reading and writing].
I heard that on that day the traffic at Web sites for organizations for the visually impaired increased 10 times.

How many logos do you design a year?
I think I design more than 50 a year, but you won’t find them all on Google Korea’s site because some of them are specifically for regional sites.

Do you paint or draw at home?
I have a lot of work, and it’s difficult to find time even to make the logos. By the time I’m home, I don’t feel like drawing any more. Making the logos fulfills all of my artistic desires.

From a designer’s perspective, what do you think of the layout or design of Korean portals such as Daum and Naver?
Those portals have different goals. They have integrated search functions and are convenient because you can find all that you want on the first page.
The latest, newest technology is available in Korea, and the Internet speed in Korean households is more or less homogenous, so Internet portals don’t have to worry about people’s Internet environments.
However, on a global basis, there are still people who use text browsers, or vision-impaired people can’t run script that involves Active X, so I think we’re aiming for different things.
Also, unlike other portals, Google doesn’t consider itself as a portal. Our goal is to have people come, find their information and leave as soon as possible. We don’t want people to come and spend a lot of time on our site, so we eliminate unnecessary images and design factors.

You have to oversee all the webmasters. What is your management style?
I’m strict about mistakes to make sure it doesn’t happen again because if one person makes a mistake, the experience of hundreds or thousands of people can change. I’m not the kind of person that yells or turns over chairs, though. I think it’s inefficient. You have to make people voluntarily want to work because they love it, not out of fear.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? Will you still be “doodling” Google logos?
I’m the kind of person that likes to hide in the corner and work quietly in front of the computer. My job now requires a lot of human interaction, because I have to recruit and make sure everyone is happy and so forth.
In a sense, it’s a job that’s not really me. I still have dreams as a developer, which I believe is every engineer’s dream.

By Wohn Dong-hee


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