Google logo: Why do businesses change their typeface?

By Harry Low
BBC News Magazine

image copyrightGoogle

Google has altered its typeface. Cue much discussion about what subtle message the company is trying to convey.

After Google's biggest logo redesign since 1999, people have likened the typeface to that used in a children's book. Some suggest it is "infantilised" while others believe the hoo-hah will soon die down. A few have even expressed delight at the redesign.

"It's amazing what clipping off a few serifs can do," wrote Slate Magazine's web designer Derreck Johnson. "The letters have this flow to them, a rhythm and a balance," typography expert Brian Hoff told Fusion.

media captionGoogle released a promotional video on its blog showing off the new logo

Serifs, in layman's terms, are the "little tails" on letters in some typefaces. Google's new logo, having last been updated in September 2013, has done away with serifs in a bid to appear "simple, uncluttered, colourful and friendly". It comes a month after it announced plans to create Alphabet, a new parent company. Both will use the typeface Product Sans.

When Google first rose to prominence, it was generally accessed from a desktop computer. The challenge for the company now is to be easily understood on a multitude of platforms, devices and apps which didn't previously exist.

Google says the logo was "tested exhaustively" before being chosen. In an official blog post, it suggests it was looking to retain a "simple, friendly and approachable style". The new typeface is easily scalable.

A glance at some of the oldest newspapers in the world reveals a strong penchant for serifs. The Daily Mail, the Sydney Morning Herald and the New York Times all use them, although the latter recently refreshed the typeface of its magazine to reflect how times have changed since the pullout was first printed in 1897.

image copyrightAP
image captionIt's all change for this logo at Google's headquarters

Companies change their typefaces to keep them up to date, or because an old logo no longer fits with a new business strategy, says graphic designer David Airey, author of Logo Design Love. This could range from a small refinement to a complete redesign.

"Google is one of the world's most innovative companies, so the previous serif wordmark was never really the right fit, particularly considering the young age of the business. Serif typefaces are generally more suited to traditional companies with a lot of history and heritage. It makes sense for Google to be identified by a more contemporary mark."

The cost of implementing the physical change at its offices is likely to be quite small although the company has already updated the logo outside its headquarters in California.

Google is hoping this update will stand the test of time. For those interested in those redesigns which haven't endured, there's a place you can search for that.

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