Google Branding Case Study

A lot of hullaballoo accompanied Google’s recent logo change from Google to Google.

So it's no surprise corporate rebranding is becoming one of those pillars of the calendar around which the tongue wagging masses re-orientate their year.

With that in mind it’s worth pausing to look at a recent trend in the evolution of corporate branding because it brings to question what we want from the companies we’re surrounded by.

It's always worth reminding ourselves that the incremental visual shifts of these behemoths, despite their lofty, acronymic status and felicitous tax arrangements, dependent upon our opinions.

So what does a rebranding or series of rebrands reveal?

Well, on first viewing, a rather dry utilitarianism: recently there has been a collective drive towards minimalism - a flattened functionality - in most of the world’s big brand players.

Odd then, that these brands who’ve become famous for creating an all-encompassing multifacetedness should push for such a singular aesthetic. Let’s look at Google over the years:

The transformation of the google aesthetic from a Toys R’ Us like bright’n’chunkiness – belying its earlier ‘disruptive’ approach through a youthful, catch-all and attention grabbing symbolism – to its current flattened, unassuming logo suggests an attempt to professionalise the visual experience of encountering/using/worshiping google.

As with the McDonalds arches or the inimitable London Underground template, more flattened, minimalist images tend to be adopted by marketers and designers in the quest for instant trademark recognition.

It’s the prevailing brand tactic of our age of austerity. Jack Self writing in the Guardian put it this way:

“Shortly after the global financial crisis – and following a prevalent ethos of austerity – the creative professions began to eliminate unnecessary ornament and complexity in favour of a practically puritan asceticism.”

This in turn:

“saw a sudden lurch towards a reinterpretation of mid-century modernism: clean, geometric fonts with uniform weights and bold primary colours.”

This move towards minimalism in imagery has occurred in conjunction with a move towards maximalism in products and applicability. Google went from a search engine, basically a reference library less detailed than Wikipedia, to a lifestyle-work-business-technology-information-machine-guru-and-all-round-Master-of-the-Universe; from search engine startup to a corporate body capable of negotiating with national governments (and other shadowy organs of state and commerce).

Minimalism simplifies the central idea of the company whilst paradoxically extending its capacities; a corporate skin shedding that on the surface subtracts whilst at the same time subliminally adds something: potential.

One has to assume then that following its much-publicised transition into the Alphabet holding company, Google is shoring up its brand library of idents to consolidate its position as an entity capable of extending its digital hand to ground previously reserved for more traditional multinationals and conglomerates in services, goods and manufacturing.

But what is interesting here is that it is through an act of effacement that Google appears to be achieving this perceptual shift, and that brands and designers like Apple are using this same approach of effacement so suited to a minimalistic aesthetic.

Following the Snowden leaks a gradual (even snail like, but nonetheless tangible) increase in digital accountability has emerged which, paralleled by an economic downturn that has frayed peoples patience for globalisation, multinationals and immigration, has forced big corps to retreat into their “clean, geometric fonts with uniform weights and bold primary colours” (barring Apple, who don't like primaries any more).

Google, as the touchstone for businesses that emerge on a purely digital basis and subsequently extend into the more physical, tactile industries, embodies the nebulous, potentially infinite spirit of e-commerce. 

Yet they’ve engineered their position as a provider of business and consumer services whilst also estranging themselves from the idea of conventional exchange.

For the average lay person, one does not associate ‘product’ with Google in the way one associates ‘product’ with Apple (Google Glass being a forgettable exemption that may end up proving the rule).

Whereas Apple has zeroed in on the selling potential of putting a face to their marketing approach that balances its emphasis on a fetishised, abstracted quality of sleek 'innovation' with a desire to convince us we'd all be dead without Steve "for it is him" Jobs, Google remains almost completely virtual: a virtual host (free at the point of access to boot).

And what is a host but a faceless symbol facilitating a potential or actual exchange between interested parties?

Faceless: as insubstantial as air, leaving only a vague trace of flattened multifariousness: that is 

the internet, but also its greatest practitioner’s own chosen image. You could say the same about the logo, really.

Whether small businesses can or want to channel the same ethos remains to be seen.